ANFSCD: Why Barthes should have been Vegetarian

During a first year Theatre Studies Class we were inducted into Roland Barthes theories through his writings on Steak and Chips: “Steak is a part of the same sanguine mythology as wine” … “to eat steak rare therefore represents both a nature and a morality.” During the subsequent class discussion (which was heavily in favour of the above sentiments) there was a gap in the flow of conversation, into which I slipped
“I’m vegetarian. I’ve never eaten steak.”
A boy across the room replied:
“You haven’t lived.”
I gave him the finger, but this is what I should have said.

The reason my mother became vegetarian in the 70s was political. It revolved around the fact that resource-wise it was far more productive to farm legumes and other crops than to participate in animal husbandry. The politics may have shifted since then but the essential principle remains the same and is even more pertinent considering the challenges we are facing with Climate Change. In times of increasing awareness on creating a sustainable lifestyle, veganism, vegetarianism, or at least minimising meat dietary content is a key element.

Raising animals to slaughter requires a large amount of grazing pasture, but land wastage is further increased by the grain needed to feed such quantities of animals. According to a 1997 United States Department of Agriculture Report 80% of the total agricultural land in the United States is used for the animal husbandry industry. Reinforcing this unsustainable practice is the fact that it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat. Reclaiming most of the land, grain and other crops used currently for feeding farmed animals would provide a more sustainable food future for the world.

Water efficiency as well as land efficiency holds compelling arguments for reducing global meat consumption. Water is arguably our most precious recourse and the use of water in farming animals is unsustainable. It takes 5,000 galleons of water to produce one pound of meat - the equivalent weight of wheat-crop requires 25 galleons. Indeed it has been argued it has been argued by John Robbins that it is possible that you save more water by not eating a pound of meat, than not showering for an entire year!

The inefficiencies of meat production are unsustainable but equally disquieting is the pollution and energy consumption of the industry. According to a 2006 United Nations report the meat industry produces more greenhouse gases than all the cars, trucks, planes, and ships in the world combined. Considering this, it is unsurprising that the Live Earth campaign lists going vegetarian/vegan as the “single most effective thing you can do to reduce your Carbon Footprint.” The high concentration of animal farming is also significantly contributes to Methane and Nitrous Oxide pollution, both greenhouse gases. With this all in perspective it is an undeniably inefficient way of farming.

16 pounds of grain + 5,000 galleons of water = a one pound steak, a steak that according to Barthes may be “the heart of meat.” Yet perhaps the true “heart of meat” should come from minimising its consumption - for the heart of our planet. Now that’s living.

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And Now For Something Completely Different postings are somewhat off topic to the general vibe of this blog - but nevertheless I think are interesting and important issues that should be discussed/aired etc. This article was originally published in the Swipe Media 2009 Test Edition 'Faragopoly'. Besides considering it mentions Theatre Studies AND Roland Barthes it proves that it is connected. Sort of.