Northeastern Vegetarians Are Hypocrites

vegetarian food festival
Vegetarians on the attack!
I always thought New York City chef Dan Barber was a veg-friendly guy. Some of the most luscious vegetable dishes I've ever eaten were at his restaurant Blue Hill. And Stone Barnes Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York, where he is co-owner and has another restaurant, is known as much for its spectacular organic vegetables as for its eggs, turkeys, and lamb.

Yet just a few days ago he declared in an interview, "You have blood on your hands when you eat vegetarian."

Is this a declaration of war against vegetarianism? Is Dan taking on the new paleo diet? What exactly does he mean by blood on your hands -- beet juice?


It's a declaration of war against vegetarianism -- but with a location-based twist. Barber actually thinks going vegetarian if you live, say, in southern California where you can get a bounty of locally-grown fruit and vegetables year-round is a good idea. But if you live in the northeast? Not so much. He explains why.

If you want to be in New England and you want to improve the ecological conditions of where you are, you’re eating meat. There is no healthy ecological system that I’ve ever seen that doesn’t include animals. The manure from the animals is a free ecological resource that amends the soil that gives you better-tasting and healthful vegetables ...

So to say that vegetarians live on this higher plane of ethics (and I’m not here to argue that slaughtering animals doesn’t carry with it some weight), but you have blood on your hands when you eat vegetarian as well, especially if you’re in the northeast.

Because your food is coming from somewhere, and your calories are coming from somewhere in the winter, and if they’re traveling hundreds of miles, and in many cases thousands of miles, you are burning fossil fuels to get them there, and generally they’re produced in monocultures, and that has a huge cost on natural living systems.

Okay, let's get a little perspective here. I live in the northeast, and I eat locally-raised meat. But I've also got one of those wicked little plastic packages of California-grown salad mix in my refrigerator. It's December, after all, and I need my vitamins! (Also, pre-packaged salad mix is my one convenience food indulgence.) But I can still see Barber's point.

The world of eco-friendly eating is changing -- fast. Think the sustainable thing to do is to go vegan and start eating soy-based fake meats? Wrong. Soy is a giant, environmentally-damaging industry, and it's not even that good for you. Lots of vegans and vegetarians are sourcing their protein now from nuts and coconuts instead of soy, but a new philosophy of sustainable eating is growing momentum: eating pasture-raised meat is green, maybe even greener than going vegetarian.

In the end I suspect it's all a wash. Personally I think it's more important that more of us become conscious eaters -- and that what we each ultimately choose almost doesn't matter so long as we're eating thoughtfully.

What do you think? Is NOT eating meat murder? Is grass-fed beef the new soy burger?

Image via angela thrust/Flickr.

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