I recently finished reading Dr. Richard Oppenlander’s monumentally inspiring book entitled “Comfortably Unaware,” and I have been wondering how best to bring it up here. I struggle to bring it up because I could say so many great things about it. Every page of the book is strewn with my highlights. It’s not very long at all, and I could hardly put it down when I was reading.
Basically, Oppenlander declares livestock production and sea animal harvesting as the single largest contributors to the depletion of natural resources on a global scale. This includes small farms, grass-fed farms, “sustainable” fisheries, and of course factory farms. This book is extremely important.
. . . And surely gathering a huge line of haters.
So, naturally, I googled Oppenlander’s name to see what the most recent buzz is.
One of the top hits was a site called Paleo Hacks, and to their credit one user there recommends that even grass-fed beef gobblers in the Paleo/Primal crowds take a look at the book.
But instead of the usual frustration with reading the comments on sites such as this, I realized almost every single contestation presented in the comments falls into one (or all) of three categories that I discuss at length in my previous post, The Vegan’s Dilemma.
The three categories are:
1) Double Standards of Stringency (DSS)
2) Fear of Deprivation (FOD)
3) Meat for My Health (MMH)
So why don’t we go ahead and discuss some of the gems from Paleo Hacks? I’ll offer my response both as a vegan and as a reader of Dr. Oppenlander’s book.
Let’s see what happens.
A user by the name of “Bread-Eating Beelzebub” (I’ll let you run with the irony) writes,
“[Oppenlander] just happens to be an animal rights zealot (meat=murder), as are most of his endorsers.”
Though Beelzebub might not be aware of it, we immediately have a case of Fear of Deprivation (FOD).
Beelzebub is not truly opposed to “chickens having rights,” as he (I am guessing) so eloquently states it; he truly is opposed to feeling deprived of something he loves.
Beelzebub wants vegans both to appear extreme and separate from him and his loved ones so there is absolute delineation between the two camps.
But, he doesn’t truly want vegans to appear extreme for being kind to chickens, because, literally, there is nothing extreme about being kind to chickens. Instead, he wants to make vegans appear extreme for threatening to take away something he loves, hence, Fear of Deprivation.
What Beelzebub doesn’t realize, however, is that over time he could replace his love of the taste of (seasoned, cooked, fried, grilled, baked, breaded, sweetened, modernized) flesh with a much greater, deeper love and respect for the individual life of the animal he has chosen to ingest. And he could also replace the base for those same flavors with much more potent, healthful plant-based options. Because honestly, what does a steak taste like without being cooked, seasoned, and slathered in steak sauce? Or a burger without being cooked, seasoned, and topped with ketchup and veggies?
We love our pets, so we don’t eat them. We love our family members, so we don’t eat them. Eating someone is not, contrary to popular belief, the best way to express one’s love. But if eating is your best way to express that love, you must execute it on all levels just as the vegans practice. Vegans love all animals so eat/wear none. If you love your girlfriend, you best get out that butcher’s knife.
Beelzebub’s next argument is a sure-fire case of Double Standard of Stringency, also a very common occurrence in Meatlandia. This is where the meat-eaters attempt to use their rational thought to poke holes in the vegan case.
“[Oppenlander] also says that XYZ amount of quinoa could be grown on the land that cattle are grazed on without telling us how soil fertility will be maintained.”
Suddenly, this corpse-cruncher is highly concerned with—dun dun dun—soil fertility.
This is the perfect use of the Double Standard of Stringency.
In other words, vegans are fighting for humans to uphold stronger, stricter standards for themselves, their health, and the planet, but then meat-eaters ask that vegans consider all the ways that those standards should really be much higher.
Like, what are you vegans going to do about all that soil fertility we meat-eaters care so much about, huh?! If Beelzebub really cared about soil fertility, he would be looking into the devastating effects that meat-eating has on soil fertility, which is a subject discussed in the book that Dr. Oppenlander wrote and that Beelzebub does not have time to read.
Beelzebub forgets that vegans already know and have evidence that livestock farming—whether grass-fed or not—depletes the soil’s fertility at a much greater rate than simply growing quinoa and kale. Overgrazing is a major factor in increasing the chances of desertification. We, as vegans, cannot claim to circumvent soil depletion entirely—we only strive to reduce it and to use what it can offer more efficiently and sustainably. In the purest sense of the words, growing plants is more efficient and more sustainable than growing and killing animals.
Beelzebub suddenly acts as if the vegan camp wants to put something in place that will make life on this planet, somehow, worse—when the intention and the goal in being vegan in the first place is directly contrary to this assumption. This irrational thought is inextricably linked to FOD, so it makes sense it would not make sense.
Beelzebub also implies that cow manure (or any animal feces) is the only possible option for fertilizing soil or maintaining soil health.
I wonder if Beelzebub has been around a farm (like myself or Dr. Oppenlander has).
Did you know that steaming, wet manure from grass-fed ruminants (like horses and cattle) is actually toxic in large quantities to growing grass and soil health? Manure can only properly be used as fertilizer once it has been “cured” or “seasoned,” for roughly a season or longer, so that it can be dried out and then safely applied to fields without annihilating the pH balance of the soil.
I don’t think there are magic elves that run around under the cows’ butts catching the wet manure and hording it away until it is ready to be placed back on the soil for optimal “soil fertility.” (Maybe Beelzebub does this, though—no judgment.)
So, we clearly have a case of Double Standards of Stringency for the second Beelzebub argument.
What will Beelzebub’s next argument against adopting a vegan lifestyle be?
Continuing, Beelzebub writes,
“[Oppenlander] also acts as if the water drunk by cattle simply disappears and is gone forever and totally wasted, which violates physics and also ignores the fact that opportunity cost of water use is a localized issue.”
Here we see the Double Standards of Stringency again.
In his book, Oppenlander makes no such mistake whatsoever. If Beelzebub had read the whole book, he would realize that.
Oppenlander dedicates an entire chapter to the “physics” of water and how water usage in our modern world context (I also discuss this idea in my older post) is no longer a localized issue in the least bit.
Oppenlander’s main point to the whole water debate is grounded in what the best use of our limited resources truly is—he doesn’t claim that water “disappears,” but he does claim that it can be mismanaged so that the fruits of this particular natural resource are not as abundant, healthy, efficiently used, or accessible, depending on which industries use how much and how often.
Oppenlander discusses how the Colorado River used to flow “mightily” all the way to the sea through Mexico—now, it barely makes it to the ocean due to all the farming, damming, irrigation, re-routing, and syphoning off that we have demanded of its flowing molecules over the last 100 years or so. The Colorado River is just one example Oppenlander uses to make his point.
Of the 2-million acre river delta that used to serve as a fertile, abundant, life-giving cushion between the end of the Colorado River and the mouth of the sea, Oppenlander writes,
“Unbelievable as it might seem, the mighty Colorado River ends in the desert, some two to three miles from the sea, and has only reached the ocean sporadically in the last 80 years. […] The water that does eventually make its way to the Mexico desert is heavily laden with chemicals, such as pesticides and fertilizers, which is runoff from all the alfalfa fields in California and Arizona—alfalfa fields that are producing feed for cattle operations.”
Of course, Oppenlander has citations for all of these claims—you can read the book yourself if you are interested in learning more about water usage in the United States and why all livestock production (not only factory farms) is the leading contributor to our depleting water resources.
Again, Beelzebub is wielding his Double Standard of Stringency to purport that the vegan camp isn’t meeting his high standards of environmental awareness. But, as we know, if he truly had high standards for environmental stewardship and awareness, he would go vegan.
Beelzebub finishes his rant, writing,
“It’s pretty telling that his last chapter is basically a guilting chapter about the poor sad animals and how evil humans are.”
Beelzebub’s final response to the book (which he has not read) proves that he is indeed suffering from, again, the Fear of Deprivation (see my Vegan’s Dilemma post).
He is so afraid of being told he cannot have the meat he craves, that he is trying really hard to let everyone know that Dr. Oppenlander will attempt to guilt you into feeling bad about the “poor sad animals.” Because guilt is the best, most professional way to solve the world’s problems.
Oppenlander eschews all sentimentality in this book, presenting only facts and evidence. But, clearly those facts contribute to Beelzebub’s guilt regarding his individual contributions to the mass murdering of billions of innocent lives every year (65 billion, to be exact—he would know that if he read the book).
And in the depths of his FOD and DSS, Beelzebub forgets the thesis that Dr. Oppenlander is truly, whole-heartedly championing within his book: human ingenuity and our marvelous ability to adapt and make changes for the better.
At the base of Oppenlander’s fabulously detailed environmental exposé, he truly wants to remind humans of the power we hold. All of his research, his studies, his interviews with experts—everything he does—is aimed at helping people understand the truth so they can make changes that will positively affect our planet and our future.
At its core, vegan ethics is not about judging others, or making others “feel guilty for what they’ve done,” or telling people that “humans are evil.”
Instead, veganism celebrates what humans can overcome; it celebrates our ability to use our incredible intelligence for goodness, and above all, it celebrates our phenomenal capacity to express love and empathy.