Letter to biologist Jean Lemire

(Translated by Sonia Mitchell)

After watching the film "Le Dernier Continent" (the last continent) by Jean Lemire, Anne-Marie Roy, Nutritionist and Vice-President of the Association Végétarienne de Montréal, couldn't resist writing to the scientist/ecologist/filmmaker to ask about the eating habits of environmentalists and to encourage him to adopt a vegetarian diet to help save the planet.

This letter, which eloquently conveys both passion and logic, caught the attention of Le Devoir newspaper, which published it on January 9, 2008. In addition, Anne-Marie Roy was invited on Christiane Charette's radio show to comment on the letter and to discuss vegetarianism. The show will air on Radio Canada on January 10th from 9:00 AM to 10:00 AM.

Here is the translated version of the letter (main message portion):

"Think beyond the tongue!"

Letter to biologist Jean Lemire

People are scrambling to find more ways to help our fragile planet. We recycle, use public transit, use energy-efficient light bulbs, etc., but what else can we do to help?

If you have read the report by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), you are surely aware that the production of beef and its resulting waste products are among the major causes of global warming.

We now know that intensive bovine farming produces more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined (i.e. cars, trucks and planes.) Bovines are responsible for 37 % of methane emissions (one ton of methane equals 23 tons of CO2), 65% of nitrous oxide emissions (one ton of nitrous oxide equals 296 tons of CO2) and 65% of ammonia emissions (which contribute to acid rain and the acidification of ecosystems).

In order to produce a single pound of meat, an average of 10 Lbs of grain and vast amounts of water are needed (more than 9000 liters.) That one pound of beef will also leave behind 40 Lbs of excrement. Producing animal flesh demands eight times more energy than growing vegetables. About 3.7 liters of fuel are needed to produce a pound of beef–this energy is required to feed, transport and freeze the animal, and for the fossil fuel-based fertilizers needed to grow food for bulls and cows.

To feed the cattle, human beings clearcut invaluable forests, deplete fertile soil and contribute to the disappearance of thousands of species. Animal production occupies 70% of agricultural land and 30% of the planet's surface. In the United States, cattle ranching is responsible for 55% of soil erosion, for 33% of all phosphate and nitrate content in the waters and for 50% of antibiotic use. All this to satisfy our palate! But at what environmental cost? From now on, before eating, we must think beyond the tongue.

To reduce environmental damage, the FAO clearly states the urgency of reducing meat production by at least 50%. Yet, forecasts indicate otherwise–that meat consumption will double by 2050.

I believe that a role model like yourself, an ecologist, should lead by example. In your movie, Le Dernier Continent, I would have much rather watched you eating grains, nuts and beans on your sailboat, rather than ham and barbecue-grilled meats.

My question for you is this: why do environmentalists repeatedly sidestep this issue, as though it were not serious? The reality is that it is very serious! A report by the World Watch Institute reveals that "[...] few environmentalists have suggested that meat-eating belongs on the same scale of importance as the kinds of issues that have energized Amazon Watch, or Conservation International, or Greenpeace. Yet, as environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future--deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease."

As a nutritionist, my goal is to help people understand that by reducing their meat consumption three times a day, they can help the planet and be healthy. Yet to accomplish this, I need the support of environmentalists like yourself. Can I count on you?

Anne-Marie Roy
Nutritionist
Vice-President of l'Association Végétarienne de Montréal

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