Opinion: Doubt there’d be a line at Big Mike’s Bean House

Published 2:45 am Saturday, December 30, 2017

By Gary Smith

My friend, Covington County Circuit Judge Ben Bowden, recently sent me an article from The Atlantic written by James Hamblin entitled, “If Everyone Ate Beans Instead of Beef.” He sent it to me to see if I thought it was satire. Since there are other studies and articles on the effects of diet on climate change, I am sure it is a serious article.

The article focuses on “ecoanxiety,” a term coined in 2011 by the American Psychological Association to describe “the dread and helplessness emanating from the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change and the worry about the future for oneself, children, and later generations because of changes to the environment.” The remedy for ecoanxiety (assuming there is one) is understanding what can be done to mitigate environmental degradation in a country whose economy and society is so greatly dependent upon carbon emissions.

The article’s answer to ecoanxiety is found in a study done by Helen Harwatt, a researcher trained in environmental nutrition, who focuses on developing food systems that balance human health and sustainability.

The study performed by Ms. Harwatt and scientists from Oregon State University, Bard College, and Loma University calculated the effect of every American making a dietary change of substituting beans for beef. If they could and would make the change, the United States could come close to meeting the 2020 greenhouse emission goals pledged by President Obama in 2009.

Ms. Harwatt states, “I think there’s genuinely a lack of awareness about how much impact this sort of change could have. A relatively small, single food substitution could be the most powerful change a person makes in terms of their lifetime environmental impact – more than downsizing one’s car, being vigilant about turning off light bulbs, and certainly more than quitting showering.”

The articles states that more than 33% of the land on earth fit for the growing of crops is used to grow feed for livestock and 26% of the earth is used to graze livestock. Up to 42% of America’s farmland would be freed up if beef were traded for beans. Livestock consume many more calories of feed than they yield in meat. The inefficient process of converting feed to beef means additional clear cutting of forests to feed cattle. The article points out the high levels of greenhouse flatulent gases emitted by livestock but does not mention the increase in human release of greenhouse gases if the beans were directly consumed by humans.

Ms. Harwatt states, “It can just be a positive, empowering thing for consumers to see that they can make a significant impact by doing something as simple as eating beans instead of beef. I think it’s such an easy-to-grasp concept that it could be less challenging that a whole dietary shift. Rather, the beans for beef scenario is the dietary equivalent of effective altruism – focusing on where efforts will have the highest yield.”

Finally, the article concludes that the benefits of a bean for beef substitution brings empowerment, or at least reprieve from ecoanxiety. There is apparently some satisfaction in knowing how far an individual can go to save the world just by eating beans.

I think the article has much more to do with what comes out of the bull instead of what goes into the bull. Climate change may or may not be impacting the world. If it is, the impacts may or may not be caused by human activity. I don’t know and you don’t know, no matter of your opinion of climate change. No one knows, even those scientists that claim they know.

If climate change is a serious problem, it demands serious responses, not this comical “everyone can eat beans instead of beef and save the world” nonsense (who commissions and pays for studies like this?). Assuming the climate is changing because of human activities, serious efforts are undermined by approaches that people will not accept or pursue like eating beans instead of beef, using a lot less energy, giving up their SUVs, quitting showering, spending more of their disposable income on energy, or committing billions of tax dollars a year on efforts that will have no impact on climate outcomes. People cherish their lifestyles and freedoms. They will not give up those lifestyles and freedoms easily. More serious efforts should be directed towards how we live with the results of climate change, if it is occurring, instead of focusing on how to modify personal behavior or restrict personal freedoms to prevent it.

Big Mike’s Steakhouse opened in Andalusia about a year ago. People still wait in line Friday and Saturday nights to enjoy their steaks. They like Big Mike’s steaks. How many people will have enough ecoanxiety to wait in line for a great meal at Big Mike’s Bean House?


Gary Smith is CEO of PowerSouth.