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Tilting at Windmills

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April 11, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

FOOD PRICES....This has been all over the news lately, but here's a particularly striking chart showing the stunning increase in food prices over the past year. It looks an awful lot like NASDAQ charts from 1999 and housing charts from 2006. World Bank president Bob Zoellick explains:

Zoellick says prices for basic staples will remain high for an extended period of time. "I think you have a perfect storm of things coming together," he tells NPR's Steve Inskeep in an interview. "You have high energy prices. You have the increase in demand from some of the developing countries....As the Indian commerce minister said to me, going from one meal a day to two meals a day for 300 million people increases demand a lot. You have some of those countries moving to a different diet. So more meats require more grains. You have the biofuels expansion, which is a big source of demand."

Of course, the other thing this chart looks like is oil prices circa right now. Peak oil is driving up oil prices, and that in turn is driving the ethanol boom, which is reducing the supply of foodstocks available for people to actually eat. I think we can expect this to continue getting worse.

Via James Joyner.

Kevin Drum 10:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

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Comments

So can we stop this put-ethanol-in-my-Ford Extinction's tank nonsense now? Jesus, what does it take?

Posted by: thersites on April 11, 2008 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

Feeding our crops to animals first wastes about 90% of the calories, compared to just eating plant foods (like Boca Burgers, Gimme Lean, Tofurky slices, etc.) directly. As Time Magazine predicted:

Much as we have awakened to the full economic and social costs of cigarettes, we will find we can no longer subsidize or ignore the costs of mass-producing cattle, poultry, pigs, sheep and fish to feed our growing population. These costs include hugely inefficient use of freshwater and land, heavy pollution from livestock feces, rising rates of heart disease and other degenerative illnesses, and spreading destruction of the forests on which much of our planet’s life depends.

Time Magazine Report: Visions of the 21st Century, “Will We Still Eat Meat?”

More here

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on April 11, 2008 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't that a food commodity price chart?

Posted by: freelunch on April 11, 2008 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

If soya-based meat substitutes are such a good use of resources, why are they so expensive?

Posted by: freelunch on April 11, 2008 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

From the NY Times:
"Once, these animals were raised locally (even many New Yorkers remember the pigs of Secaucus), reducing transportation costs and allowing their manure to be spread on nearby fields. Now hog production facilities that resemble prisons more than farms are hundreds of miles from major population centers, and their manure “lagoons” pollute streams and groundwater. (In Iowa alone, hog factories and farms produce more than 50 million tons of excrement annually.)

"Animal welfare may not yet be a major concern, but as the horrors of raising meat in confinement become known, more animal lovers may start to react. And would the world not be a better place were some of the grain we use to grow meat directed instead to feed our fellow human beings?"

But as Cleveland Amory pointed out, people have an infinite capacity to rationalize, especially when it comes to something they want to eat.

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on April 11, 2008 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

Freelunch -- right now, they are expensive because of relatively low demand and government subsidies for meat, eggs, and dairy (see this handy chart for a summary of where tax dollars go).

As more people choose to eat cruelty-free, competition for the growing market will drive down prices and improve choice and quality.

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on April 11, 2008 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

The inputs to the food production process have also risen dramatically. Take fertilizer - the price of a ton of DAP (diammonium phosphate) has risen from about $250 per ton wholesale to $650-750 per ton. Almost tripling in one year! DAP is essential for corn production. Same story for potash and nitrogen/urea products.

Most tractors run on diesel fuel - diesel is over $4 per gallon in the Midwest now. With these high input prices, is it any wonder that corn is over $6 per bushel now and soybeans over $12! These are all-time highs! All this means that the refined food products you buy in the grocery store are likely to triple from where they were a year ago.

We are looking at the meltdown of the American economy.....

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on April 11, 2008 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

my local pizza place has a little sign on their counter that says (in effect) "sorry about the price increase, but since so much food is going towards ethanol production, the prices we pay are going up"

not sure how much corn it takes to make a pizza. but i don't argue. the owners are grumpy old Italians who would probably ban me for life if i questioned them.

Posted by: cleek on April 11, 2008 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

When you fall for the "blame it on biofuel" line being fed to us by Big Energy, you leave out the fact that food prices are far more dependent on energy prices than they are on commodity prices.

Transportation, processing, packaging, retailing, etc. all take a larger piece of your food dollar than the actual raw food does.

This PR 'storm' about biofuels is letting Big Oil off the hook at a time when the profit of just ExxonMobil is more than the selling price of the entire US corn crop. And corn ethanol is only consuming a small fraction of that.

Big Energy is greedy. They don't like to lose even a few percent to alternatives they can't control.

Posted by: LiberalPercy on April 11, 2008 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe now we can all go on a diet and solve our obesity problem.

Posted by: AJ on April 11, 2008 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

The price lurch is certainly attributable to the ethanol boom, but IMO only partially so. Fertilizers which require fossil fuels to mfg are also partially to blame (would be neat to see a graph of common bulk fertilizer prices). I believe *most* of it however is commodities speculation. It is the Hot Money™ phenomenon that Stiglitz talked about in "Globalization and its Discontents".

Capital is WAY too concentrated in too few hands, and the velocity of its movement is at light speed now. If one investment looks *slightly* sour, with a few clicks later it can be moved into something else that will make a tiny percentage extra (or computers that will automatically trade it based on cues). Right now there is a stampede away from currencies into commodities. Methinks the huge sea of petrodollars in the Middle East may be a big player in much of this...

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on April 11, 2008 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

mmmm. Soylent green.

Posted by: on April 11, 2008 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

LiberalPercy, commodities speculation is lifting crude prices artificially, which *is* increasing the transportation costs of the food itself. So, this is creating a multiplier effect...

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on April 11, 2008 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

What is this a grpah of exactly? I know prices have gone up, but this chart seems to say they've increased by about two-thirds in the last year (~110 in Jan 07 to ~180 at last point). Doesn't this seem like too much of an increase?

Posted by: Jeff on April 11, 2008 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

Anyone listening to NPR this morning would have heard Bob Zoellick obstinately refusing to admit that our ethanol obsession was the primary cause of this staggering ramp-up. It was hilarious.
Ethanol sucks. ADM is double dipping - they get the tax incentives to produce corn for ethanol, but they also get the price gouging effect of producing less food corn. These guys are criminals and should be cut off at the knees.

Posted by: Govt Skeptic on April 11, 2008 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

Just wait until the global-warming-driven megadroughts kick in world wide and global agricultural output drops to about a tenth of what it is today, while at the same time the world's major fisheries collapse, and at the same time the world's major supplies of fresh water for drinking and irrigation are exhausted or lost to glacier melt.

The single most important thing that people in the developed word -- like most readers of this blog -- can do to mitigate their own contribution to anthropogenic global warming and the world food crisis is to adopt a vegan diet, consisting of locally, organically produced fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes, harvested and consumed in-season and with minimal processing.

The environmental impact of switching from the standard American meat-based diet to a vegan diet is at least as great as that of switching from an SUV to a Prius -- and it will have direct benefits to your own health and longevity.

I have been a vegetarian for 34 years and a vegan for 20 years. It is a very healthy and enjoyable way to eat. And it is much, much easier than trying to track down "sustainably" or "humanely" produced animal foods.

If you have the resources to do so, grow your own -- even an average sized suburban yard can produce large quantities of food as the WWII era "victory gardens" demonstrated, with no more cost and effort than suburbanites commonly put into maintaining lawns, shrubs, flowerbeds and other decorative plantings.

If you don't have the resources to grown your own, then seek out local farmers' markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA) farms in your area. You will not only improve your diet and your health, and reduce your environmental "footprint", but you will be helping to build local food production systems that will be vital for survival in the globally-warmed, post-peak oil future.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 11, 2008 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Doc is on to something. I see various reports of U.S. farmers finding foreign markets more lucrative versus domestic buyers. That would explain the rise in prices here. But what of the effect of increased U.S. commodities flowing to foreign consumers? Shouldn't it alleviate their food shortages to some degree?

Posted by: steve duncan on April 11, 2008 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

Eat the rich.

Posted by: rusrus on April 11, 2008 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

freelunch wrote: "If soya-based meat substitutes are such a good use of resources, why are they so expensive?"

Gore/Edwards 08 replied: "... they are expensive because of relatively low demand and government subsidies for meat, eggs, and dairy"

Another reason is that most "soya-based meat substitutes" are heavily processed, packaged "convenience foods". I buy locally-produced, organic, fresh, plain tofu and prepare it myself, for a fraction of the cost of industrially-processed "soya-based meat substitutes" like Boca burgers and the various shrink-wrapped soy-based meat-like "deli slices". Organic dried beans and lentils are even cheaper than the tofu.

If you want to cut your food costs, buy whole unprocessed grains and legumes, in bulk when possible, along with fresh produce from your own garden and local farmers, and learn (or re-learn) how to cook. It's also a good idea to learn how to store food properly.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 11, 2008 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist, IOW, get used to eating beans, there's hard times a coming.

Makes sense.

Posted by: Archie on April 11, 2008 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

But I heard on Rush that soy protein will make me gay. Supersize me, dammit!

Posted by: thersites on April 11, 2008 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

Just about the first mainstream blog post I've read which uses the term 'peak oil' as if it's a commonly understood factor in our world, rather than a speculative theory or a crackpot crusade. Is this a tipping point of some sort in our understanding of what's to come?

Get used to not having any cars at all.

Posted by: gkoutnik on April 11, 2008 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist, IOW, get used to eating beans, there's hard times a coming.

Yes, but it's not a punishment. Besides being cheap, these are high-quality protein sources and are extremely delicious when prepared with some creativity.

Posted by: shortstop on April 11, 2008 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

gkoutnik wrote: "Get used to not having any cars at all."

That's not the half of it.

Get used to not having any diesel-fueled, refrigerated semi trucks to haul pesticide-drenched, natural-gas-fertilized spinach grown in irrigated deserts in California to grocery stores 3000 miles away in the mid-Atlantic states (which have a much better climate for growing spinach to begin with).

Posted by: on April 11, 2008 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

Wall Street needs a new bubble.

Capital takes food out of poor peoples' mouths and turns it into fuel for the wealthy's luxury cars.

Even poor people will not be able to afford beans. The magical fruit will become a food staple for the middle class, who will covet the upper class's meat.

Posted by: Brojo on April 11, 2008 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

people have been eating beans for a long time and the vast quantities of meat consumed nowadays used to be the privilege of the rich...and the rich had all the attendant diseases from eating huge amounts of meat; gout, arthritis, heart attacks (yes, I am oversimplifying some)

Lower level foods are usually healthier for omnivores. However, if you must have animal protein in large quantities, consider the lowly fly maggot, tasty battered and deep fried, or the crunchy grasshopper. Ants aren't worth the trouble, unless you have some really large species hanging around.

Posted by: Carol on April 11, 2008 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

G/E 08, you're conflating several things. There's, variously:

- Vegan, vegetarian, ovo-lacto, less meat, careful meat, or careless omnivore

-energy consumption, GHG emissions, cruelty, sustainability

Most of the population does not care too much about how the meat is produced, and most of the population does not want to listen to lectures on how they can get balanced proteins if they mix corn and beans. If this were not the case, your work would be done, right?

If, on, the other hand, you could get many people to eat less meat, and eat much less meat from mammals, and eat much less deep-sea fish, that would really help, and people might do it, and it would make a difference to our GHG generation, our energy imports, and to the cost of grain world-wide.

If you tell people they should go vegan/vegetarian, the overwhelming majority will say (perhaps to themselves) "I can't do that". Choosing chicken/turkey instead of beef/pork/lamb, and eating a little less of it, is something that people do know how to do, and thus you'll get more people willing to try it.

Posted by: dr2chase on April 11, 2008 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Damn, damn, damn. Here we are at the start of a food bubble. Just after I worked so hard to lose 20 lbs. Now I got no fat to sell, just as the price is going up! Sheesh, typical me, buy high, sell low.

Posted by: optical weenie on April 11, 2008 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

Brojo wrote: "Even poor people will not be able to afford beans."

The unfortunate reality is that billions of the world's poorest people are going to perish in the next several decades from famine, plague, displacement and war -- all driven by anthropogenic global warming and other destructive human activities that are making a global ecological collapse and mass extinction all but inevitable, combined with military confrontations between various factions of the world's ultra-rich over adwindling supplies of fossil fuels, fresh water and arable land.

The human population of the Earth by the end of the century will be no more than two billion, and very probably much lower than that.

In a truly worst-case scenario involving an extremely rapid onslaught of global warming and consequent climate change and ecological collapse -- which the empirical evidence increasingly suggests is probable -- and large-scale, possibly nuclear, war, the Earth's human population may be reduced to a small percentage of its current numbers by mid-century.

If you assume that "Bush's base", a.k.a. "the top one percent", know this, their actions make a lot of sense. They are consolidating their grip on power, wealth and resources to prepare for the coming catastrophe in which only the ultra-rich and ultra-powerful will have a hope of survival on a degraded Earth wracked with war. And they couldn't care less about the die-off of the other 99 percent of humanity.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 11, 2008 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Beans are neither musical nor a fruit

Posted by: bart simpson on April 11, 2008 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

If you assume that "Bush's base", a.k.a. "the top one percent", know this, their actions make a lot of sense. They are consolidating their grip on power, wealth and resources to prepare for the coming catastrophe in which only the ultra-rich and ultra-powerful will have a hope of survival on a degraded Earth wracked with war.

100,000 acres on a fresh-water lake in a country with no extradition treaties, anyone?

Posted by: shortstop on April 11, 2008 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe now we can all go on a diet and solve our obesity problem.

Of course, junk food is a much cheaper calorie source than healthy stuff...

Posted by: anonymiss on April 11, 2008 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist: "The single most important thing that people in the developed word -- like most readers of this blog -- can do to mitigate their own contribution to anthropogenic global warming and the world food crisis is to adopt a vegan diet, consisting of locally, organically produced fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes, harvested and consumed in-season and with minimal processing."

The single most important thing that people can do is not to have children. There is a saying: "Be a child and pollute for a lifetime. Have a child and pollute forever."


Posted by: wab on April 11, 2008 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

I figures, just when KD says peakoil, as if we are already there, the latest report show Jan 08 just beat out Oct 05 for all time greatest production. So never mind, the world has infinite oil! Running out is an impossibility! Happy motoring!

Posted by: bigTom on April 11, 2008 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

dr2chase wrote: "... most of the population does not want to listen to lectures on how they can get balanced proteins if they mix corn and beans ..."

There is no need to listen to such lectures because the belief that it is necessary to carefully mix and match different plant foods -- e.g. beans and corn -- to get adequate "balanced" protein is incorrect. It was popularized years ago by Frances Moore Lappe in her groundbreaking and otherwise excellent book Diet For A Small Planet. In later editions of the book, Lappe subsequently acknowledged that she was in error.

The idea was based on dietary studies of rats which found that egg white protein produced the greatest growth, and extrapolated this finding to conclude that egg white represented the ideal mix of amino acids for human beings and assumed that human requirements for dietary protein were similar to those of rats. The protein-combining technique was designed to produce a mix of amino acids from plant sources that corresponded to that of egg whites.

However, the protein needs of rats are much greater than those of humans (adjusted for body size of course), and it is now known that it is NOT necessary to provide all the essential amino acids in the proper balance in the same meal in order from humans to fully utilize all the amino acids.

The fact is that virtually any reasonably balanced diet of plant foods that provides enough calories to live on, will provide plenty of protein for human beings. The only plant-based human diets that provide inadequate protein are diets that would lead to starvation from insufficient calories or other essential nutrients anyway.

dr2chase wrote: "If you tell people they should go vegan/vegetarian, the overwhelming majority will say (perhaps to themselves) 'I can't do that'. Choosing chicken/turkey instead of beef/pork/lamb, and eating a little less of it, is something that people do know how to do, and thus you'll get more people willing to try it."

Often, opinions about what "the overwhelming majority" of people will do, or how they will react, arise from one's own feelings rather than from actual observation of how a great many people do in fact react.

Having said that, few people in our society have been born and raised as vegans, so the vast majority of vegans followed some path from meat-eating to a vegan diet. Some changed abruptly. Others took a gradual path.

In my case I made an abrupt choice, based on an ethical epiphany about killing animals for food, to become a lacto-ovo vegetarian overnight. Fourteen years later -- following a brief period of "backsliding" in which I occasionally ate fish or chicken at social gatherings, although I remained vegetarian at home -- I became a vegan and have been so for 20 years.

One simple, effective gradual path is for people to eat an occasional vegan meal. If they are adventurous they can do this by experimenting with new recipies and cuisines. If they like to stick with comfortable, familiar foods, then there are many common and popular recipes that can be made "meatless" quite easily. Once a person becomes comfortable with an occasional vegan meal, they can move on to eating one vegan meal per day, or eating vegan one day per week.

The practical problem with being a "responsible" meat-eater, even assuming that you have no ethical concerns about unnecessarily slaughtering animals simply because you enjoy the taste of their flesh, is that it is difficult and expensive. Food labels that refer to "humanely" or "sustainably" produced meat are unregulated and meaningless and the only way to really verify how the animals were treated is to visit the farm -- and the slaughterhouse. And even then you will have to pay a high price for such meat, which reflects the much higher cost of raising animals for slaughter in anything resembling a "humane" or "sustainable" manner.

There's no question, though, that a lot of people don't care about this stuff, just like they don't care about a lot of things they do that have horrendous consequences for themselves, other humans, non-human animals, and the Earth's biosphere.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 11, 2008 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

This is why I smirk a little whenever I read someone pointing out that, adjusted for inflation, the price of oil isn't really that high.

Energy price is a significant driver of inflation. When the price of oil goes up, the price of everything else goes up, and money doesn't go as far. So it's a little bit like saying "adjusted for inflation, the dollar is now worth the same as it was 50 years ago"--a tautology.

Posted by: Evan on April 11, 2008 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

I'm just thankful that the price of food isn't included in the most-popularly-reported inflation rates. After all, it's not like anyone is forced to buy food, no?

Posted by: jimBOB on April 11, 2008 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

Excellent point,Evan. (someone noticed :)

Posted by: Archie on April 11, 2008 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Secular Animist, do you have furniture in your home? If so, you are participating in the unecessary killing of animals, killing purely done to increase your physical comfort. Same with anyone who lives in an abode of more than perhaps a couple hundred square feet or so. People can eat whatever they want for all I care, but unless a person is living a materially spartan life that nearly no person does in the country, they are participating in the killing of animals, and not just insects, but our feathered and furry friends, purely to increase the killer's comfort, and not for survival.

As to ethanol, it's just great that the transformative Senator Obama is one of the more reliable ethanol whores around.

Posted by: Will Allen on April 11, 2008 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

Can you say "Weimar Republic" boys and girls? I *knew* you could!

Posted by: e. nonee moose on April 11, 2008 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

As long as we're ragging on the vegans, here's a cool factoid - all vegans would display symptoms of pernicious anemia, if it weren't for fecally-contaminated vegetables.

This food scare is another example of mistaking cyclical price pressures for secular ones. Peak food, as it were.

Posted by: hannibal on April 11, 2008 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

As long as we're ragging on the vegans, here's a cool factoid - all vegans would display symptoms of pernicious anemia, if it weren't for fecally-contaminated vegetables.

This food scare is another example of mistaking cyclical price pressures for secular ones. Peak food, as it were.

Posted by: hannibal on April 11, 2008 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

hannibal, I'm not an economist so explain to a moron what is a secular price pressure? Or are you talking nonsense?

Posted by: thersites on April 11, 2008 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

Why Thersites, secular price pressure is when non-religious folks go to church (or synagog or temple) bazaars and start bid wars over a funky smelling overcoats or jackets that just absolutely mesh with the look of the day.

Posted by: optical weenie on April 11, 2008 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

I remember seeing a story last year about the price of beer in Germany skyrocketing because more farmers are growing ethanol instead of hops - they can make more money at it. There are food riots going on in many countries. There is only so much good farmland available in the world. People will begin to starve simply so industrialized countries can drive their cars.

Posted by: Speed on April 11, 2008 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

"Just about the first mainstream blog post I've read which uses the term 'peak oil' as if it's a commonly understood factor in our world, rather than a speculative theory or a crackpot crusade."

Actually, Kevin's been blogging about it for years. I first heard the term on this blog.

Posted by: Cornucopia on April 11, 2008 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

Weenie, are you telling me (in an indirect way) that hannibal is talking nonsense?

Posted by: thersites on April 11, 2008 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

Now when have I ever questioned someone's intellectual grasp of a subject or proper use of grammar!

Secular pressure is real man. It can go up and down, just like your blood pressure does.

Posted by: optical weenie on April 11, 2008 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

Friday is not cat blogging day, it is learning new physics day. Turns out that independent of religion, there is secular pressure, associated with deep sea stuff, and probably lots more.

"When such regions are exposed to external loading, secular pressure changes should drive fluid flow independent of local buoyancy forces, for the duration of the governing rate-dependent timescales. The accumulated heave of the process is also estimated."

Posted by: optical weenie on April 11, 2008 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

But getting back to the subject -- I have enough of a lay person's grasp of basic ecology to know that food demand in the wild is cyclical. Unfortunately, the downturns in demand are preceded by downturns in population. As SecularAnimist noted above, the future does not look pretty.

By all means grow food if you can. It can be done without having to give the Home Depot folks hundreds of dollars for chemicals and gas-powered tools.

A read a book by an American woman who traveled through rural Vietnam.* One thing that struck me was that, when she showed the people she stayed with pictures of the US they were shocked at the amount of land "wasted" on ornamental lawns that could have been producing food.

*"Hitchhiking Vietnam" by Karin Muller.

Posted by: thersites on April 11, 2008 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

Thersites - so you are volunteering to come and dig me a veggie patch in my back yard?

Posted by: optical weenie on April 11, 2008 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

Sure, if you'd rather give me a few hundred bucks gas money for my Ford Extinction.

Posted by: thersites on April 11, 2008 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

hannibal wrote: "As long as we're ragging on the vegans, here's a cool factoid - all vegans would display symptoms of pernicious anemia, if it weren't for fecally-contaminated vegetables."

That's not true. An "oid" of some kind it may be but a "fact" -oid it is not.

You are referring to vitamin B12, which is an essential nutrient in human nutrition -- in very tiny amounts, measured in micrograms.

First of all it is not true that the only source of vitamin B12 in vegan diets is "fecally-contaminated" vegetables. B12 is produced by bacteria -- not only by the bacteria that live in animals' digestive tracts but by soil bacteria as well. So plant foods with even small soil residues, such as unpeeled potatoes, may contain some B12 from soil bacteria. B12 is also produced by yeasts. Red Star brand "Vegetarian Support Formula" nutritional yeast is a good natural source of vitamin B12. And B12 from non-animal sources is commonly added to "fortified" soy milk and other vegan foods.

There is in fact no epidemiological evidence indicating that vegans are subject to vitamin B12 deficiencies.

The typical American meat-based diet is far more likely to be lacking in essential nutrients than a balanced vegan diet consisting of a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables along with grains and legumes.

Second, pernicious anemia has nothing to do with a dietary deficiency of vitamin B12. Pernicious anemia is an inability to absorb dietary B12 which is why it is treated with intravenous injections of B12.


Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 11, 2008 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Speed wrote: "I remember seeing a story last year about the price of beer in Germany skyrocketing because more farmers are growing ethanol instead of hops - they can make more money at it. There are food riots going on in many countries."

Just wait until the beer riots start.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 11, 2008 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen wrote: "Secular Animist, do you have furniture in your home? If so, you are participating in the unecessary killing of animals, killing purely done to increase your physical comfort."

If you have any practical suggestions as to how I can reduce the harmful impacts of my household furniture on animals, I'd be grateful to hear them. Pretty much all my furniture is old, hand-me-down, and/or handmade (by me), so that's the starting point upon which I need to improve.

If you are suggesting that because having furniture and living in a house causes indirect harms to animals, that it is therefore useless and/or hypocritical to take readily available and easy steps to avoid other practices (such as eating meat) that cause direct harms to animals, that is the sort of nonsense I'm accustomed to hearing from people who are primarily concerned with demonstrating their moral superiority and not really concerned about the well-being of animals at all.

For the record, I don't give a damn what you eat.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 11, 2008 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps a vegan could explain to me exactly why eating milk, eggs, and cheese is "bad"? I don't see any animals being killed to produce those food sources.

Posted by: lux on April 11, 2008 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

Calm down Sec, Thersites in much bigger sh*t than you, he just admitted to driving a Ford Extinction.

Have a nice weekend.

Posted by: optical weenie on April 11, 2008 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

Gore/Edwards,

As more people choose to eat cruelty-free, competition for the growing market will drive down prices and improve choice and quality.

Increased demand drives down prices? Who knew.

We need to get our facts straight. The price of soybeans and corn have doubled because of bio-diesel and ethanol. For some reason people choose to ignore the bio-diesel.

The price of wheat has TRIPLED because of a drought in some areas of production and also an increase in demand as it is substituted for soybeans and corn.

As the price of food rises (which it most certainly do) there will be reduction in the purchase of meat by people who must save money.

All you vegans just chill out, the poor will reluctantly give up meat. They won't eat healthily, though, because the cheapest calories will be the vegetable fats. Fresh fruits and vegetables are already too expensive for the poor who cannot garden.

Meat will go back to being a luxury item. My truck driving grandfather considered himself a success when he could finally afford meat once a day and a week at a cabin for vacation. Many of the poor back then hunted and fished for extra protein. We'll see if that comes back. Depends if we kill off the wildlife or not I guess.

Africa will be the first to succumb to widespread starvation, then rural India and China. It will be very difficult to continue social order in those places.

Posted by: Tripp on April 11, 2008 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

optical weenie,

Calm down Sec, Thersites in much bigger sh*t than you, he just admitted to driving a Ford Extinction.

Thersites is a guy?!! Sonaffa. Well that stops all my efforts to impress him/her.

For my money nothing beats the Canyonero. The Simpsons rule!

For your listening pleasure:

Canyonero

Can you name the truck with four wheel drive,
smells like a steak and seats thirty-five..

Canyonero! Canyonero!

Well, it goes real slow with the hammer down,
It's the country-fried truck endorsed by a clown!

Canyonero! (Yah!) Canyonero!
[Krusty:] Hey Hey

The Federal Highway comission has ruled the
Canyonero unsafe for highway or city driving.

Canyonero!

12 yards long, 2 lanes wide,
65 tons of American Pride!

Canyonero! Canyonero!

Top of the line in utility sports,
Unexplained fires are a matter for the courts!

Canyonero! Canyonero! (Yah!)

She blinds everybody with her super high beams,
She's a squirrel crushing, deer smacking, driving machine!

Canyonero!-oh woah, Canyonero! (Yah!)

Drive Canyonero!

Woah Canyonero!

Woah!

Posted by: on April 11, 2008 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

Re why eating milk, eggs, and cheese is "bad"? They're terribly fat-laden, not to mention these days full of hormones, antibiotics and other various chemicals. Dairy causes a lot of undiagnosed intestinal distress and various colon problems; lots of people are lactose-intolerant but don't realize it. And you can get the calcium you need from lots of vegetables, which will also give you fiber and other nutrients you don't get with dairy, without all the fat and lactose distress.

Posted by: redwoodgirl on April 11, 2008 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

Secular, I didn't perceive you as trying to convert the heathen, so I apologize for my tone. I was just noting that furniture is not needed for human survival, with some rare exceptions; the purpose of furniture is pretty much to provide humans comfort, and the manufacture of fruniture inevitably involves killing animals. My comments would have been better directed at those who do try to convert people to veganism, on the principal that killing animals, strictly for the purpose of providing humans with pleasure, is wrong. I've been around the world a few times, and the only folks I've sen come close to that standard are a small number of people in various religious orders who lived extremely minimally, materially speaking.

Posted by: Will Allen on April 11, 2008 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

Thersites is a guy?!!

You missed the thread where I talked about my boner pills.

redwoodgirl, I get all the calcium I need from the Tums I take after I stop at BurgerMeister.

Posted by: thersites on April 11, 2008 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

lux wrote: "Perhaps a vegan could explain to me exactly why eating milk, eggs, and cheese is 'bad'?"

As redwoodgirl explained, dairy and eggs are unwholesome for human consumption. I would add to her comment that allergy to cow's milk is extremely common, which is not surprising considering that the milk of all mammals contains powerful substances that promote the development of their infant offsprings' immune system, and the substances found in cow's milk are not, shall we say, appropriate to the immune systems of human beings, especially the still-developing immune systems of human infants.

With regard to the ethical aspect of dairy and egg production, the animals from whom the milk and eggs are taken are treated very inhumanely while they live and are ultimately subjected to a cruel and premature death.

The overwhelming majority of "dairy cows" today are maintained in confined, intensive, highly-mechanized "factory" environments and subjected to chemical and biological agents to increase milk production. And their male offspring, being useless to the dairy industry, are sent off to be raised for veal -- which is to say, confined in near-total immobility, fed iron-deficient liquid diets to produce the desired pale flesh, and slaughtered at an early age.

And chickens raised for their eggs are among the most extremely abused animals in the world -- packed into tiny cages in dark sheds for their entire lives, subjected to debeaking with a hot knife, as well as repeated rounds of "forced moulting" through deliberate starvation in order to get a few more eggs from "spent" hens before they are cruelly slaughtered.

Yes, it is possible to find dairy products and eggs from animals treated "humanely" -- at high cost and with some effort. And, as I mentioned above, because labels such as "humane" and "sustainable" are unregulated and meaningless, if you really care about how the animals were treated you will have to visit the farm and the slaughterhouse to see for yourself.

But you don't need these foods. You are better off without them. There is no cost to you, only gain, in withdrawing your energy from the cruel and destructive systems that produce them.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 11, 2008 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

Gore/Edwards 08 wrote: "As more people choose to eat cruelty-free, competition for the growing market will drive down prices and improve choice and quality."

Tripp replied: "Increased demand drives down prices? Who knew."

I think that G/E was suggesting that a growing market would lead to larger scale production, and that as these foods move from "boutique" items to mass market items, economies of scale would reduce prices.

When I became a vegetarian in 1974, it was difficult to find foods specifically for vegetarians -- especially the "meat substitute" foods that many new vegetarians enjoy while they learn to make a transition to a diet based on whole, minimally-processed fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. I was fortunate to live in a town with a large population of Seventh-Day Adventists, many of whom are lacto-ovo vegetarians according to their religious beliefs, so there were several stores that catered to them and sold various soy and wheat based "meat analogues", produced by only one or two companies in the country.

Today it is entirely different, with a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan meat-substitutes (eg. Boca Burgers) as well as soy and rice beverages and "egg replacers" from dozens of different producers commonly available in mainstream supermarkets, at no more cost than "conventional" meat products.

So to some extent, what G/E was saying has already happened.


Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 11, 2008 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen wrote: "My comments would have been better directed at those who do try to convert people to veganism, on the principal that killing animals, strictly for the purpose of providing humans with pleasure, is wrong."

I don't say that anything is "wrong" and the only principle I adhere to is, to quote Aleister Crowley, "Do as thou will shall be the whole of the law."

However, the fact that one may be unable -- or unwilling -- to avoid or eliminate all possible direct and indirect harms that one causes to others in one's pursuit of "life, liberty and happiness" is no argument against taking readily available, relatively easy measures, such as adopting a vegan diet, that not only dramatically reduce one's harmful impacts on others but are of great benefit to one's own well-being.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 11, 2008 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but you can read more about what SecularAnimist talks about in his 5:47 post at the Humane Farming Association website.

Posted by: thersites on April 11, 2008 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

Glad we just recently got a Prius.

Posted by: Boorring on April 11, 2008 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

Another good source of information about the treatment of chickens raised for eggs and meat is United Poultry Concerns.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 11, 2008 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

I read an article in an environmental magazine several years ago that showed pictures of chickens having their beaks cut off. I have tried to stop eating industrial raised chicken and eggs since then.

Eliminating meat and animal foods from one's diet saves a lot of money, but now those savings are disappearing because of the poor maintenance of the dollar and the need to make fuel from crops grown on land traditionally used for food production. I understand okra grows almost anywhere. Older people dislike okra because it used to be all there was to eat. Now their great grandchildren will learn to dislike it, too, if prosperity should ever return.

Posted by: Brojo on April 11, 2008 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe lots of people, especially overweight Americans, will realize they can protect their health, save money for the future, and reduce food prices by reducing demand, if they'd (right for most of them) just eat healthier and less?

tyrannogenius

Posted by: Neil B. on April 11, 2008 at 7:38 PM | PERMALINK

Ugh, ethanol has nothing to do with food prices.

The price of the damn diesel to power the trucks and planes and boats that bring us our 'cheap' food just doubled.

That impacts our food prices. The rest of it is hot air.

Posted by: Crissa on April 11, 2008 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

I must say, Animist, it's really not difficult to live without furniture. I've done it for weeks at a time in some countries. Wasn't hard at all. This doesn't apply to you, but I've met more than few vegans who are as obnoxious as fundamentalist religious types, whose attitudes can be often summed up as, "What I'm willing to give up proves that I'm a good person. The stuff I don't want to forgo, well, that stuff isn't important."

Posted by: Will Allen on April 11, 2008 at 9:48 PM | PERMALINK

Crissa: ethanol has nothing to do with food prices.

Or maybe it does.
(h/t Blue Girl for linking to this.)

Posted by: thersites on April 11, 2008 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

This is a good post, with some excellent comments -- most by Secular Animist. I'm surprised that wab was the only one to mention overpopulation.

It would be nice to see more people aware of/concerned about the carrying capacity of the planet. But to put it simply, the more people, the faster resource depletion will occur. This seems so obvious, yet it's seldom mentioned.

The commodity price issues (food and oil) here are a lot more complex than excess demand, however. Several people, including Kevin, mentioned oil prices as contributing factor. And what's at the bottom of oil price increases? Excess liquidity in the money supply.

Anyone notice every time Ben Bernanke cuts the federal funds rate or bails out another investment bank or opens the cheap money window, the price of oil goes up? Price inflation of everything denominated in dollars (including oil) comes back to our monetary policy.

This isn't about Peak Oil (yet). We're suffering from bad Federal Reserve policy. If the Fed raised interest rates, stopped protecting Wall Street and let the banking industry suffer the consequences of its reckless lending, oil prices would come down quickly.

It would also dampen the speculation on agricultural commodities, which is killing people in the third world.

Posted by: DevilDog on April 11, 2008 at 11:08 PM | PERMALINK

I do not think the doubling of diesel costs is wholly responsible for the tripling of rice prices in Bangladesh. Farmers' cost inputs for fuel are up by quite a bit, but probably not enough per bushel to explain the dramatic increases for grains.

Posted by: Brojo on April 11, 2008 at 11:27 PM | PERMALINK

Brojo: Farmers' cost inputs for fuel are up by quite a bit, but probably not enough per bushel to explain the dramatic increases for grains.

You're right. In addition to oil prices (which are to some degree a function of monetary policy), there are the other factors mentioned in the World Bank report: specualtion, increasing demand, and the food vs. fuel tradeoff discussed extensively by previous posters.

Posted by: DevilDog on April 11, 2008 at 11:52 PM | PERMALINK

I'll bet you would find the destructive children of Wall St. involved too via the commodities markets.

Posted by: bob h on April 12, 2008 at 8:15 AM | PERMALINK

It is not oil prices driving the ethanol boom, it is government subsidies for crop ethanol, pure and simple. Eliminating the corporate welfare will eliminate the ethanol boom and bring down the price of food - and reduce CO2 emissions.

Posted by: Ian on April 13, 2008 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

"A hungry man is an angry man"


Bob Marley

Posted by: ZombieNation on April 14, 2008 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

OK, I think people have personal beliefs that they want to highlight their cause. If I only eat free range products does this meet their requirements? What about fish I catch deer that people hunt? I have no lactose issues and drink fat free milk. Vegetables can have contaminants which cause issues as well. What about allergies to peanuts and other non-meats?

Back to the subject. The cause of high food prices is not just ethanol. Oil prices probably have a bigger impact, fast growing population, China and India standard of living going up and buying much more pork and beef and oil, droughts in parts of the world, free trade reducing food inventory levels, etc. In 2008 the acreage for wheat will be up 6 to 8% which is back to normal. My guess is this will not decrease the cost of wheat. The issue is population is demand is increasing way to fast and cost to support is increasing too fast.

Posted by: Open Mind on April 14, 2008 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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