Anirvan Chatterjee: February 2008 Archives

I started eating a primarily lacto-vegetarian diet about a decade ago, driven primarily by selfishly anthropocentric environmental concerns. The more I read, the more obvious it became that eating lower down on the food chain’s more sustainable for human societies, because it uses fewer resources than eating meat.

Over the past year, I’ve been reading more about animal rights and global warming. Animal rights is clearly linked to vegetarian (or better yet, vegan) diets, but global warming? The data’s depressing.

Food writer Mark Bittman summarizes some of the latest findings in a recent New York Times article, “Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler”:

  • global demand for meat is skyrocketing
  • raising livestock for meat is incredibly land- and energy-inefficient
  • the FAO estimates that livestock production causes more greenhouse gases than transportation; sources include animal manure, methane, and trees felled to provide pastureland for animals
  • Americans eat way too much meat as it is, and about twice the recommended daily allowance of protein

According to an often-cited University of Chicago study, switching from a meat-based to a vegan diet eliminates about 1.5 tons of CO2 per year. While the implications of this have been widely debated by environmentalist number-crunchers, it’s clear that eating an increasingly vegan diet is a useful (and easy) way to help ensure more usable croplands for all humans, and a lighter carbon impact on the planet.

I’ve been watching the Code Pink / World Can’t Wait Marine counter-recruitment activities in Berkeley with interest for some months now, both as a Berkeley resident critical of militarism (and this particular war), as well as a small businessperson located in the same building as the Marine recruiters. Watching events in my neighborhood turn into an issue of national importance has been fascinating.

I spent nine hours yesterday outside City Hall, talking to pro- and anti-war protesters, and eventually speaking to the council on the issue and being one of the few people to watch the subsequent debate live.

Here’s what the media missed:

  • The City Council did not by any means apologize or rescind its proclamation. There was a motion to issue an apology, and the motion overwhelmingly failed. Instead, the council substituted somewhat more diplomatic language in its original measure—reiterating its support for individual members of the military, as well as its strong continued opposition to the illegal and immoral US war.
  • The other measures remained untouched; this includes the issuance of a parking space and noise permits to protesters, the active encouragement of peaceful resistance to recruiters, and a request to city staff to investigate whether the recruiting center’s homophobic hiring policies violate city anti-discrimination ordinances.
  • If pro-war protesters considered this a victory on their parts, as some appeared to do in the media, then good for them; anti-war groups were also happy with the outcome, making it a great compromise all around.

The media also totally ignored the fact that both of the two council members with military backgrounds (Mayor Bates, a former Army captain, and Max Anderson, a former Marine) took strong stances in favor of anti-recruitment activities:

  • Mayor Bates spoke clearly about all the ways that the City of Berkeley directly supports troops, including offering full pay and benefits for city staff called up for military duty. I’m amazed that not a single journalist covered this.
  • Councilman Anderson, the only former Marine on the council, was electrifying as he spoke on the issue, reiterating the fundamental illegality of preemptive, unprovoked, war, citing the example of the Nuremberg Trials. “Marine vet stands up to Marine recruiters” would make for great press; nobody touched this.

I’m proud of the city of Berkeley. The City Council did a very good job of dealing with a difficult situation with grace, ensuring that all sides (including sometimes-violent pro-war demonstrators from outside the community) would have a chance to make their opinions heard, both inside and outside the council meeting. I’d be delighted if an anti-war contingent got similar consideration in a strongly pro-war community.

Like the members of my city council, I support peaceful and nonviolent action directed at decreasing the impact of military recruiters in Berkeley. I’ve got complicated feelings on the issue, and my position keeps changing the more I talk to people, but here’s where I’m at right now:

  • Nations need militaries for defensive purposes. We could probably cut our military budget substantially, were we to choose to end wars of aggression, cede our status as the world’s military superpower, and develop much improved systems of shared security.
  • While I’m not a fan of the military, the Pentagon didn’t lie us into war in Iraq—the civilian commanders were responsible, and need to take ultimate blame for the mess we’re in.
  • I’m appalled at how shitty a job the military can be. Soldiers are workers too, ones who have no right to organize, and little to no control over their lives. Recruiters lie regularly, conning some potential employees into joining an organization they can’t quit, and leaving them at a high risk of disability, homophobic attacks, sexual assault, suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder, death, and being made to engage in illegal and immoral acts. Employees of the military have next to no ability to get redress from their employers, managers, or recruiters. It’s clear that soldiers deserve better pay and benefits for all that they sacrifice.
  • I respect the sacrifices of soldiers, just as I respect that of teachers, nurses, sanitation workers, librarians, etc. Pro-war demonstrators like to chant that freedom isn’t free; well, neither is health care, education, clean communities, literacy, etc.
  • I’m incredibly frustrated with military recruiters, some of whom lie and con young people, funneling children off to Iraq so they can become murderers, or be murdered. Youth deserve a wider array of options. I would be happy if military recruiters slowed down the pace of their activities, and if the the civilian leadership helped create a state of peace where such heavy troop demands didn’t exist.
  • In order to wage a war, one needs political direction, money, and soldiers. The Bush administration is providing political direction. The Democrats seem to have given up any attempt at regulating the money. Yet there’s still power in the decision of individual potential recruits to not to join the military at a time when soldiers are operating under such poor conditions, and are the most likely to be forced to serve in an illegal and immoral war. As the old saying goes, “what if they threw a war and nobody came?”

I'm in Kolkata, India, for my cousin's wedding. I've been enjoying being part of a Big Fat Bengali Wedding, but I was hoping to spend the weekend at the Kolkata Book Fair, the third largest book fair in the world. This year's theme was American literature, featuring guests like Paul Theroux, Bharati Mukherjee, and a delegation of American poets; I was particularly interested in seeing what kind of reception they'd get.

Unfortunately, the event’s been cancelled at the last minute, due to a decision by the Kolkata High Court to bar the organizers from holding the event at the planned venue, due to a high likelihood of environmental damage. (The organizers had been kicked out of their previous venue the year before for the same reason, and hadn't done adequate planning to find a space capable of handling the popular event's high-intensity noise and environmental impacts.) The cancellation's been devastating to writers, bibliophiles, and book-related businesses getting ready for the biggest book fair in Asia.

So what of the American delegation? The local book community's helped the Americans reschedule many events at universities and bookstores around town, and the US Embassy assures us that all isn't lost.

Most Kolkata residents are disappointed at the turn of events; so am I, but unlike local bibliophiles, I may not get another chance to make it back to Kolkata in late January for the fair. In the meantime, I'm making do hitting up local bookstores, making my suitcase heavier, book by book.

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Anirvan Chatterjee is a San Francisco Bay Area tech geek and bibliophile.

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This page is a archive of recent entries written by Anirvan Chatterjee in February 2008.

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