What a decade, those Sixties! Hippies and flower-power everywhere! But some of them actually got stuff done.
By the late 1960s, Denis Hayes had graduated from Stanford, served an internship at Portland's KGW TV (where I was employed at the time) and was working on environmental issues with Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson. His assignment was to launch an ambitious nationwide concept called Earth Day, which he did, 45 years ago, on April 22nd, 1970. Hayes went on to expand Earth Day to 180 countries, and was eventually hired to run the Bullitt Foundation in Seattle, which he has turned into one of the country's leading environmental organizations.
His latest book, written with his wife, attorney and educator Gail Boyer Hayes, bewails the increasing reliance on bovines to provide the planet with protein. Almost 100 million cows in the US alone, one for every three humans.
Feeding all those cows (so they will eventually feed us) requires vast resources. Some 100 million acres of corn alone. Unfathomable volumes of water, vast amounts of antibiotics. Much wringing of hands, along with predictable calls to eat less beef.
But, surprise! We could break the "bovine industrial complex" by shifting away from cows to bison, for example. They range free, don't need a lot of human attention, drink less water, plow through snow on their own, don't need costly supplements, and don't trample their grazing grounds. Almost wiped out by hunters who shot them for sport and took only their pelts, bison are making a comeback; a few commercial herds are supplying meat (healthier than beef, by the way) to upscale markets. It's a tough sell, since bison runs into the established bulwark of the politically powerful cattle industry, an industry that has passed so-called "ag-gag" legislation in 13 states that prohibits criticism of feed lots or cattle pens.
You might as well criticize something as innocuous as milk, right? Hah! Milk (which comes from cows, last time I checked) isn't really all that healthy. Just as we've been told that beef is "what's for dinner," we've been led to believe that "every body needs milk." Hooey.
UPDATE: Protestors add satire to Earth Day celebration..
Cowed: The Hidden Impact of 93 million Cows on America's Health, Economy, Politics, Culture & Environment. WW Norton, $27.95