Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Six Baby Steps Toward a More Sustainable Animal Diet by David Kirby

A new book is released today entitled 'Animal Factory:The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment'. We will review this interesting book in a couple of weeks, and in the meantime we are happy to bring you an article written by the author, David Kirby.

6 Baby Steps Toward a More Sustainable Animal Diet

by David Kirby,
Author of Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment

The most common question I get about my new book Animal Factory, which comes out Tuesday, March 2, is, "Am I going to have to become a vegetarian after reading this?"

My answer usually throws people off.

"No," I say, "You're going to want to eat even MORE meat, eggs and dairy!" Then, as a bemused brow breaks over their face, I add: "But by that, I mean more that is raised humanely and sustainably, without harm to human health or the environment."

Most people I speak with inherently sense that their meat and dairy should be raised as "humanely and sustainably" as possible, but don't really know what those terms mean. The whole new morality of shopping the supermarket meat aisle can seem so daunting, especially while trying to sort through the various "cage-free" "humane" and "organic" labels.

Meanwhile, the painful ordeal of shelling out big chunks of one's paycheck for pricey protein from boutique sources other than CAFOs -- (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or factory farms), is just too onerous for some to ponder. And if even they were to make the sacrifice to "go sustainable," they ask, how are they going to find such vaunted foodstuffs, both at home and on the road?

Still others beg off the subject entirely with a wince, a wave, and an "I don't want to know!"

But some of my friends really do make every last effort to eat only sustainable animal protein and, when not available, to go without. But I also understand that, for most Americans, it is exceedingly difficult and prohibitively expensive to switch overnight to a 100 percent CAFO-free diet, unless they are planning to go completely vegan.

I do not believe in telling others what to eat or, more importantly, what not to eat. It's a deeply personal choice. But I do believe that we all have a responsibility -- even a solemn duty -- to inform ourselves about the origins of our food, and the impact it had on people, places and animals.

Just remember, that pork chop may have been raised in a crowded North Carolina CAFO, whose liquefied manure emits noxious gases into the air, might leak pathogens and nutrients into state waters, and has been known to coat neighboring homes, cars and people with the greasy, misty detritus of a massive manure "sprayfield," Carolina style.

So what's a conscientious but somewhat underpaid omnivore to do? What follows are just a few suggestions -- some baby steps to reduce your reliance on cheap animal factory food, whence most American meat, egg and dairy "outputs" are now derived.

Be Label Conscious - You have rights as a consumer, but you also have responsibilities, in my opinion, and that includes self-education and being savvy about labeling. In Animal Factory, I describe some of the competing food labels (organic, humane, cage free, etc.) and the different criteria they require to earn their endorsement. There's a lot of cross-over, and a lot of confusion. Some consumers are now looking for what is widely considered to be the most stringent label of all, "Animal Welfare Approved." AWA requires all animals to have pasture-based certification, prohibits the use of liquefied manure, and only certifies farms "whose owners own the animals, are engaged in the day to day management of the farm, and derive a share of their livelihood from the farm." You can search a database of farms and where to find AWA products at www.AnimalWelfareApproved.org.

Pick A Protein - Begin your path towards being a more sustainable epicure one food at a time. Pound-for-pound and dollar-for-dollar, eggs, cheese, or butter are good starter products. For example, I only buy humanely raised, certified organic eggs at my local supermarket. They cost $3.99 a dozen vs. the $1.99 a dozen for factory farmed eggs -- a difference of about 16.5 cents an egg. And while I have the admitted luxury of not having to support a family, I am more than happy to double my costs and expend an extra 33 cents in the morning for my omelet. Organic (pasture-fed) cheese and butter also have manageable price point ratios to their commercial counterparts, so you might want to pick one of those as one of your switchover foods as well.

Become Cooperative - A few national chain stores, and of course your local farmers market (the ones in New York are a marvel) are usually excellent and reliable sources of sustainably raised protein. But the prices can sometimes make you laugh out of sheer exasperation -- I have seen $27 chickens, which for most families is too extravagant. On the other hand, I have seen $2.70 chickens in my supermarket, which to me at least seems too cheap for the life of a bird. Another alternative is to seek out a food coop in your area that specializes in local, sustainable meat and produce. I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, home to the nation's oldest coop, which offers deep discounts on delicious, fresh, local meat, dairy and eggs. Unfortunately for me, the place is so popular that I have not yet been able to get a slot in the mandatory orientation for new membership, but I keep trying.

Go Red-Tag Shopping - I have noticed that the meat department at my local place tends to get rid of its older stuff on Mondays and Tuesdays, slapping a bright red, easy-to-spot sticker with the words "Manager's Special" onto the cellophane. I make it a point to shop on those days or, sometimes if I am just passing by, I might pop in and make a quick run down the aisle, eyes peeled for those exciting red tags as I scan the row. The discounts are usually about 30% off the normal price, and sometimes more. Whole organic chickens are often reduced from $3.99 to $1.99 a pound. If you don't eat it that day, freeze it.

Go Online - Another great resource for finding local, sustainably and humanely raised animal products is Sustainable Table, and its Eat Well Guide -- with a Zip-code based searchable database for farms, markets and restaurants in your area that offer food that did not take a toll on humans, animals or the environment before landing in your mouth.

Eat Less Meat - This is a suggestion, not an order, and it doesn't come from me, it comes from the "Meatless Monday" campaign. But reducing your animal protein even a little bit each week will contribute to easing worldwide animal demand from any source. Check out the Meatless Monday virtual online support group for temporary withdrawals of the flesh. Think of it this way: for billions of people in the world, it's going to be "Meatless 2010," so a 52-day sacrifice is not that hard to make.

Copyright © 2010 David Kirby, author of Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment

Author Bio
David Kirby, author of Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment, is a Huffington Post contributor and author of the New York Times bestseller Evidence of Harm, winner of the 2005 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for Best Book, and finalist for the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein award for Excellence in Journalism. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Visit www.AnimalFactoryBook.com.

On the pricing of ebooks and why publishers want readers to pay more

Motoko Rich wrote a very interesting article yesterday on the New York Times, presenting the costs involved in producing books and comparing the revenues publishers make from hardcover books and ebooks.

The data presented in the article was simplified and based on rough averages, but the bottom line was quite surprising: publishers can make even more money of e-books priced at $12.99 than they make on hardcovers priced at $26. And not only that, but even with a price tag of $10 for an e-book, the revenues are quite similar to those made of hardcovers.

Here are the profit figures (before overhead):

For a hardcover book with a list price of $26: $4.05

For an e-book, consumer price $12.99: $4.56-5.54

For an e-book, consumer price $9.99: $3.51-4.26

So, it definitely makes sense to see publishers fighting to sell e-books in $12.99, or even up to $14.99, instead of $9.99, as we saw in the case of
McMillan and Amazon, and as we learn from the negotiations of the big publishers with Apple on the sales of e-books on the iPad. But it seems that publishers don't feel too comfortable to base their willingness to see higher pricing of e-books just on a pure economic basis (aka making more profits), so they are presenting another reason why e-books shouldn't be sold in lower prices: The implications on bookstores.

The article explains:

Another reason publishers want to avoid lower e-book prices is that print booksellers like
Barnes & Noble, Borders and independents across the country would be unable to compete. As more consumers buy electronic readers and become comfortable with reading digitally, if the e-books are priced much lower than the print editions, no one but the aficionados and collectors will want to buy paper books.

“If you want bookstores to stay alive, then you want to slow down this movement to e-books,” said Mike Shatzkin, chief executive of the Idea Logical Company, a consultant to publishers. “The simplest way to slow down e-books is not to make them too cheap.”

This is definitely a better cause than just making more money, but is it really the story here? does it really matter to the publishers if their books are sold on BN.com or on one of Barnes & Noble 777 bookstores? I don't think so. Somehow it looks more reasonable that their own good and business success are the first priority when pricing is at stake.

Just take a look at the statement John Sargent, Macmillan USA's CEO, has issued on the Amazon deletion of an appreciable fraction of all of English literature from its store. He writes the following:

In the ink-on-paper world we sell books to retailers far and wide on a business model that provides a level playing field, and allows all retailers the possibility of selling books profitably. Looking to the future and to a growing digital business, we need to establish the same sort of business model, one that encourages new devices and new stores. One that encourages healthy competition. One that is stable and rational. It also needs to insure that intellectual property can be widely available digitally at a price that is both fair to the consumer and allows those who create it and publish it to be fairly compensated.

As you can see,there's no word there about the current bookstores and their survival in the digital age. It's true that higher prices can help smaller retailers, but I still don't think that's what's on the publishers mind when they negotiate the pricing.

In all, we still have to remember that e-books represent only 3%-5% of the market and will take sometime before they'll have a significant market share. Nevertheless, the digital era is here and the publishing industry is changing. Business models are changing. And those who won't know how to adopt to these changes, whether they're bookstores or publishers, will find themselves eventually lagging behind.

And what about the green element? Well, I believe that going green will be part of the new business model for anyone involved in the book industry. As we mentioned here many before, many of the components that don't work well in the current model are also not eco-friendly (for example, the fact that 25% of the books that are printed are not sold and returned to the publisher by booksellers).

Many other components, such as using virgin paper that is responsible for the larger part of the books' footprint will make less and less sense from an economic point of view with the expected regulation that will put a price tag on carbon emissions and with the growing demand of readers for eco-friendly alternatives. The bottom line is that making your business more sustainable is equal in the book industry to making it more economically viable, no matter if it's a hardcover book or an e-book that you're publishing or selling.

Raz @ Eco-Libris

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