Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Green is the new purple

I apologize upfront for the bad joke about liturgical colors. (Sadly, I still think it’s funny.) But, it does make the point that some of the traditions of Lent blend naturally (and spiritually) with ideas for green ministry.
Many of us have known people who adopt a Lenten discipline, and some of us do this ourselves. (In brief, some Christian traditions enjoin adherents to fast, take a holiday from certain vices, or add structured reading or prayers to their daily routines during the 40 days of Lent.) Among other things, this practice is intended to exchange people’s focus on worldy things for a focus on God’s grace and the reasons we need it.
This year, I plan to participate in this tradition for the first time. However, rather than the age-old practice of giving up meat (that seems like cheating, since I’m a vegetarian), or a more contemporary discipline like parting with chocolate or TV, I plan to observe Lent by giving up disposable cups and bottles, and anything made of Styrofoam. I don’t use much of these, but I get lazy sometimes, and I think there’s a legitimate sacrifce in going from few to none.
This may at first seem a little odd, but it fits the bill for a good Lenten discipline. These are conveniences I can forgo to remind me to reflect on the coming Crucifixion and Resurrection, some of the most important principles of my religion, and arguably the most important points on the liturgical calendar. In this sense, my green discipline is no different from the traditional ones. But at the same time, this helps me to be a good steward of the natural environment and a good neighbor by producing less trash.
Some other ideas for green Lenten disciplines include:
Drink tap water instead of bottled
Adopt meat-free days each week, or go vegetarian until Easter
Abstain from driving one day per week
Avoid buying new goods (with the exception of food and other essentials)
Or serve the community directly by collecting trash and recyclables once a week at a local park or roadside

The possibilities are endless. If you’re interested in doing something green for Lent, but none of these ideas strike a chord, feel free to ask me about others.

Image source: Wikipedia

22 comments:

Pat Jenkins said...

what would abstaining from meat eating erd have to do with the enviroment?

Sue said...

The raising of animals for meat affects the environment in hundreds of ways, Pat. The land and soil, water, and energy used to feed a meat eater is many times greater than what is required to feed a vegetarian. The world can feed millions more people well as vegetarians than as meat eaters, so more people can be healthy and well fed. Less fossil fuels (or energy of any kind) is needed to feed vegetarians, so fuels are more available for other human needs. Less of our fresh water resources are used for a vegetarian diet than a meat diet, so more people can drink clean water. The land that is needed to grow grain/feed for animals can be used to feed more humans, or homes for humans, or parks for humans.

Even if people don't want to be vegetarians, they can reduce the amount of meat they eat (which is healthier for our bodies, less fat, less heart disease), and still have some of the benefits mentioned above.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Sue,
I couldn't have said it better myself.
I may post on the hunting caveat in the future. But in brief, I don't object to resposible hunting. White tails aren't raised on crops that could be fed to people.

Pat Jenkins said...

guys come on now! if raising livestock is "more" harmful to the enviroment, you have to say mere living is in effect a sin!... but with that said if someone chooses to enjoy a pure vegetarian diet good for them. but to eat meat does not mean the "world" is coming to an end!

E. R. Dunhill said...

PJ,
I've reread my post (and Sue's comment) and I'm a little confused. What did I write that suggests that I think that the world is coming to an end?
What I've written here are a few fairly simple steps people can take to reduce their environmental impacts. One of those steps happened to be reducing meat consumption, which reduces energy and water consumption and reduces stress on farmland. What's wrong with trying to reduce personal impacts on the environment?
I should also point out that while on rare occassion I talk about some environmental benefits of reducing meat consumption, I've never advocated that anyone become a vegetarian and I don't intend to.

Pat Jenkins said...

erd i don't want to pick apart everything you mention, but what do you think not having individuals eat meat anymore will do to farmland... helloooo... we may need to triple the amount of land used to feed the world.. but let us address the point here. if you think living off the land, which is what livestock does, is bad then i must say you have lost sight, in my humble opinion, of what good "stewardship" to the planet is!

Sue said...

Pat -- if everyone was a vegetarian we would need LESS land in farms, not more. We would actually need one-eigth the amount of farmland to feed Americans (who are largely meat eaters). Think about how much land that would free up for other things -- homes, parks, etc.

It takes 4 acres of land to feed ONE meat eater for a year, it only takes 1/2 an acre of land to feed a vegetarian -- less than that if the person is a vegan (a vegetarian who doesn't eat eggs or milk or cheese). Check out the PowerPoint presentation by the biology department at Illinois State University.

Sue said...

Oh, yeah, and Pat, most cattle do not "live off the land." Most of the beef in American grocery stores spent the last months of their life in a feed lot, where they are fed grain (not grass), and they are confined to small pens (to keep them from running off the weight). And when cattle do "live off the land" it can be one of the most destructive uses -- we call it "over grazing" where there are more cattle than the land can support, and the grass is destroyed. That's not stewardship.

Stacey D said...

ERD - what a fun way to observe lent. I felt inspired to do something enviro-friendly myself but had already planned on a liquid fast. Then I realized that my fast is vegan while I would normally consider myself a vegetarian, so ta-da! Giving up eggs and dairy for 40 days is my part :) Thanks for making me think about it.

Also, I wanted to respond to the note you left on my blog about heirloom seed sources. We source the vast majority of our seeds from http://www.seedsavers.org/ which is located in Decorah, IA (about 135 miles north of Iowa City). Our local co-op carries their seeds. They have a beatiful variety of organic and heirloom seeds to choose from :) Do you have space to do a little garden of your own? It's so rewarding - we started seeds on Saturday and already had some sprouting (broccoli) by Monday. It's such an exciting way for my family to move toward a more sustainable lifestyle, and including our community makes it even better!

E. R. Dunhill said...

PJ,
It's a common misconception that the animals we consume mostly eat natural vegetation like grass. In truth, most of the calories commercial livestock in the US consume comes from corn and other commercial crops.
Depending upon a number of factors, it typically takes between 8 and 15 pounds of feed to produce one pound of beef. Obviously, there are parts of the cow we don't eat, the cow uses much of its food to for its own life processes (moving, breathing, eating, maintaining its body temp), and as someone who has spent a lot of time on a beef farm, I can attest to the fact that cows produce a great deal of waste from that feed. In other words, 8 people can each eat 1 lb of corn, or we can feed those 8 lbs to a cow, so that 1 person can get 1 lb of beef. (For reference, each pound of pork requires between 6 and 12 lbs of feed; each pound of poultry requires between 2 and 4 lbs of feed; farm-raised fish require about 1.5 lbs of feed per pound of meat.) This is part of why modern animal agriculture is so resource-intensive. But, again, I don't advocate vegetarianism. I simply think Americans should eat meat in servings closer to the size that a human body can actually process (and diets should favor poultry and fish). There's no point simply wasting our most resource-intensive foods.

E. R. Dunhill said...

...also, I'm a little surprised that the meat issue has garnered so much attention. I'm glad to be able to address the issue, though.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Stacey,
Thanks for stopping by. I've heard of people going from v to V for Lent, but I don't know anyone who's actually done it. I'd love to hear how it goes.
I'm familiar with seedsavers.org. But, I plant my little piece of the world with heirloom stock from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. They're located within about 100 miles of where I live, and they specialize in strains that were bred in the region. After a hiatus last spring (my son was born in March, and somehow sleep seemed more important that gardening), I plan to do some modest gardening this year. I'd like to plant a couple of American hazels and a paw paw this spring, as well.
Do you rainscape?

Pat Jenkins said...

erd and sue i don't want this to sound confrontational but are listening to yourselves! somehow it is virtuous to limit or reduce the feeding of livestock for the good of the earth? i am going to be honest this way of thinking is beyond me! i love mother earth, but not more than its inhabitants. but to each his own. and i pray your sacrifice for lent erd brings a closer and deeper relationship with the Lord!

Sue said...

to hell with the "earth," Pat -- I like PEOPLE better than cows. I want to feed more PEOPLE!! If the fat people of the fat countries like the U.S. would just eat less cows, then the starving people in the rest of the world would have enough grain to eat. Do you care more about cows than about starving people?

E. R. Dunhill said...

PJ,
If people reduce their meat consumption, we can feed more people with the same amount of land. Why is that bad? How does providing for more people put the Earth ahead of those people?

E. R. Dunhill said...

PJ,
Something just occurred to me: Would you describe placing a donation in a church offering plate as being "about money"? Would you describe making sandwiches for a local homeless shelter as being "about food"? Do these gestures put money and food ahead of people?
I would argue that they don't. Rather, in these instances money and food are simply means by which helps someone else. Serving people by improving environmental quality is no different.
Communities of people share all kinds of natural resources, whether that's air, water, soil, or whatever. If I reduce my own impacts on these things, I'm ensuring that there's a greater (or better quality) share for everyone.
I still don't understand why you believe that any of these ways of trying to help other people are bad things. Can you elaborate?

Pat Jenkins said...

now erd you seem to of strayed from your original arguement. because i asked how not eating meat was good for the enviroment, correct? to which both you and sue described the to me the negatives of supporting livestock. which was a drainer of resources. so which are we discussing now, what is good for the earth or good for us guys? if it is us guys we should never limit our sources of "protein". of course that means a good diet of meats, fruits, and veggies. now if we are concerned about the green earth, my complaints are aimed at making sure we do not limit our consumption capabilities because it will be harmful to our existence. i do not think we should have a disagreement there do we?

E. R. Dunhill said...

PJ,
If people eat less meat, then those people's diet causes less impact on water and land. (Rather than rehashing that point, please see Sue's original comment about why.) That's an environmental benefit. At the same time, that reduced impact on water and land helps people. (People need things like land and water to survive.) That's a human benefit that comes from improving environmental quality.
That's why I drew the parallel to other types of stewardship. Again, helping people by improving environmental quality is no different from those other types of stewardship.

E. R. Dunhill said...

...
PJ, it occurs to me that there's a logical fallacy in your last comment that may be the source of the confusion. You wrote, "so which are we discussing now, what is good for the earth or good for us guys?"
The answer is both.
Just because something is good for the environment doesn't mean that it's bad for people. In fact, in many cases, the truth is that good for the environment is good for people. If I do something to prevent some degree of water pollution, this action is good for the environment. But, people also need water for all kinds of things. Healthy air? Good for both. Safe water? Good for both. Less hazardous waste? Good for both. Biodiversity? Good for both. People often benefit when someone does something that benefits the environment.
This point is basically true of everything I've posted (and plan to continue posting) on green ministry.
Value judgments can be difficult, as can investments in environmental quality, and change in general. But what I've described in this post are examples of a few simple things people can do if they want to reduce their impact on the environment. That reduced impact on the environment directly or indirectly benefits other people.
I'm still curious as to why you think this is bad.

Pat Jenkins said...

erd livestock is good for man, right? for as much as humans may need the water and grasslands for growing goods, he needs the "production" of livestock as well. and i dare say livestock can be a more "predictable" source for his nourishment than grown goods can be at times. but let us agree that if one feels compelled to refrain from meat good for them. but meat is also a vital part of diets and that should be encouraged for healthy living as too....

E. R. Dunhill said...

PJ,
Again, I haven't suggested that people stop raising livestock, nor eating meat.
As far as predicatbility or security of a food source goes, livestock really aren't more predictable or more secure than crops. Keep in mind that in modern commercial husbandry, livestock eat tons of crops, chiefly corn. You can go to a higher-end butcher and get free-range grass-fed beef (it's expensive), but what you find in a typical grocery store or in a hamburger at a restaurant is beef from a cow that ate a great deal of corn, soybeans, and/or other grains (and quite possibly bits of other livestock). Grass only made up part of that cow's diet, and when local water (and thus local grass) is scarce, more and more of the cow's diet has to come from crops raised elsewhere. The feed component of cattle's diet is part of why the price of beef shot-up when the federal government "stimulated" the ethanol fuel industry a couple of years ago: Farmers started selling their corn to fuel producers, which drove up the price of feed for cattle. Similarly, if there's a bad drought or infestation, or anything else that makes corn scarce, it has a direct impact on the price and availability of beef. Expensive feed = expensive beef. And, animals need water just like crops need water, so droughts directly impact livestock, as well. The same relationship applies to other meats, just on a smaller scale, because other animals (pigs, chickens, farm-raised fish) are more efficient at turning feed into meat.
As it happens, there's an article in Reuters today about ranching in TX. It talks a lot about the effects of drought on cattle, and a little about the use of feeds.

Stacey D said...

ERD - Hey, so yeah, lenten fast had to be modified, but is going well and has proven fruitful already so I must be doing something right.

I do have plans to tackle some rainscaping this year after the veggies are planted. The bottom of the hill in my yard gets pretty slushy and the city has funding available specifically for rain gardens so it's a pretty clear solution.

I'm also looking forward to a perennial herb garden replacing the front lawn and pairing our existing cherry and apricot trees for pollination. It's going to be a busy year, I'm so looking forward to it.