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The other day I ate a burger at a fast-food restaurant. That might sound completely mundane and unremarkable – but I haven’t eaten one in 40 years. Allow me to explain.

I stopped eating red meat in my 20’s, for two reasons. First, when I was a child I met cows I liked. I grew up in a farming community, and although my family didn’t raise cattle, many others did. One of my friends raised a calf for a 4-H project, and I got to know that calf. My friend named it Decaf, which came from the corny old joke: “What do you call a mama cow after she gives birth? De-calf-inated.”

Decaf loved to run and jump in the pasture, licked my friend’s hand when she fed it, and bumped up against both of us affectionately when we petted her coarse fur. Decaf had big, expressive brown eyes, which prompted my friend to say “I wish I had eyelashes like hers.” That little calf seemed to have a friendly personality, and when I ate beef after my friend sold Decaf at a cattle auction, I had the terrible feeling that I might be eating that exact animal.

Secondly, I read this passage from the Baha’i teachings, which recounts Abdu’l-Baha’s response to the question “What will be the food of the future?” 

Fruit and grains. The time will come when meat will no longer be eaten. Medical science is only in its infancy, yet it has shown that our natural diet is that which grows out of the ground. The people will gradually develop up to the condition of this natural food. – Abdu’l-Baha, as quoted by Julia M. Grundy in Ten Days in the Light of Akka, pp. 8-9.

This seemed reasonable to me, so remembering my childhood relationship with Decaf the calf, I resolved as a young man to stop eating beef. For four decades, I’ve stayed true to that resolution. But don’t get me wrong – I’m not claiming any moral superiority here. When I made my decision, it had nothing to do with the greater welfare of the world. I had no clue about climate change then, and saw the decision as a completely personal one, predicated only on my feelings and my Faith.

So back to the burger: a fast-food chain in the United States recently started advertising a newly-formulated vegetable-based “faux-meat” burger, and I thought I’d try it. Supposedly, the advertising claimed, it tastes exactly like beef, but has no animal ingredients. You know what? It did taste exactly like the burgers I ate as a kid – delicious. However, no Decafs were harmed in the making of this burger. That made it a win-win, for me and for the cow. I ate that burger with relish. Mustard, too.

All of this might seem pretty silly and inconsequential, but as I read the news coverage of the devastating fires in the Amazon yesterday – and the deliberately-set, forest-destroying blazes raging in many other parts of the world like Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – I remembered something. Those tragic fires, typically meant to burn down thickly-forested jungle to make way for profitable cattle grazing rangeland, not only displace Indigenous peoples and their cultures but also gradually deprive us all of the healthy biome we need to stay alive. The carbon those big fires release into the atmosphere traps solar heat, making for hotter conditions and more fires, creating a massive negative feedback loop. 


Ultimately, we’re trading our fast-food burgers – made from cattle raised on decimated rain forest land, which has become a primary source of meat sold by the developed world’s fast-food chains – for the Earth’s climate, our atmosphere and humanity’s future.

That really does seem like a pretty short-sighted trade-off, when you think about it.

Climate science experts have identified the single best thing we could all potentially do to avert the worst consequences of climate change: changing our diets. If we all eat lower on the food chain, they advise – which means consuming a primarily plant-based diet rather than one that relies on the daily consumption of red meat – we will collectively help diminish the amount of carbon-sequestering, oxygen-making forest and jungle sacrificed to the world’s ravenous fast-food burger appetite. Oh, and we’ll each be much healthier, too, not to mention the health of the creatures like Decaf.

Thinking about this simple equation, and reading and watching more news accounts, caused me to contemplate the rush to condemn others for the world’s problems. When global tragedies like the Amazon fires take place, we typically search for a single target we can blame, point shaming fingers on social and traditional media, and then heap great reproach upon that person, politician, country, or corporation. Perhaps, I thought, if we looked more closely at ourselves first, we might get nearer to the root of the issue:

O son of man! If thine eyes be turned towards mercy, forsake the things that profit thee, and cleave unto that which will profit mankind. And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, pp. 29-30.

So if you’re worried about the fires raging in the world’s forests, and the impact those conflagrations will eventually have on humanity and the planet, take Baha’u’llah’s advice and “cleave unto that which will profit mankind.”


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  • J.Mila McClarren
    Sep 06, 2019
    Thank you David.
  • Paul Hanley
    Sep 05, 2019
    Plant-based burgers, sausages, etc. everywhere you go today in Canada, too. I think it is a nice sign of a growing concern about the welfare of other species and the ecosphere (even though it may not actually be a healthier option according to some commentators.) Is what you describe as a "negative" feedback loop actually a "positive" loop? i.e. it results in more of the same?
  • Rosslyn and Steven Osborne
    Sep 05, 2019
    I am disappointed as many about the fires happening around the world for Palm oil and cattle feed and or ranches. I am just as alarmed to the displacement of the local folk and their native wild life also being slaughtered for trying to find sustenance. I am alarmed for these new highways and housing estates grazing on public lands, and allowing houses to be built on much of the countries prime agricultural lands. This is happening in every country and we allow it to continue daily. I chose to become vegetarian and closer to vegan lifestyle, due to the ...starving children and adults without enough food. I feel it is worth giving up meat for humanity than my own satisfaction. Love the article, thanks.
  • Ivan Corpus
    Sep 05, 2019
    Amazon fires are actually quite routine. The purported CO2 greenhouse effect has been vastly overestimated and actually climate change has failed to produce the catastrophic warming predicted by climate models. Why such a media sensation about the Amazon fires? It feeds climate alarmism, which fuels mass hysteria and delusion. Remember, it's easier to control a population when they're disoriented and confused. If we want to change the world, we need to break free from media-controlled narratives about reality.
    • Kunal Gilani
      Nov 05, 2019
      Some climate change models may have been inaccurate in their predictions of effects, however almost unanimously all climate change models show the increase in world temperatures. Why not build on where we have near universal scientific consensus, rather than get distracted by predictions of one model vs other. This is how science works; we examine the facts, make hypothesis. If the hypothesis fails, we learn from it to build a better model. I'm simply stating the point, to lets build on consensus where we have it.
  • Stephen Kent Gray
    Sep 04, 2019
    2019: The Year of Veganism/Vegetarianism. I watched a video on the topic yesterday. Not only did it mention the environment, but it also mentioned Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods brands of fake meat that tastes like real meat as opposed to other brand of veggie burgers, so they're Beyond/Impossible Burgers/Sliders/Whoppers/Tacos/Bowls/Burritos/Sandwiches/Pizza/Nuggets. The video mentioned some examples, but I went on DuckDuckGo and found and extensive list of "plant based meat conquering fast food". Link KFC's Beyond Fried Chicken was later than the list being made. I only found the article yesterday, despite it being a month old almost.