Comfortably Unaware, by Richard Oppenlander, is destined to become a landmark book discussed for years to come. The message of this book is loud and clear: the production of meat and other animal products is wrecking the environment. It’s time for environmentalists and the public at large to wake up, face the facts, come out of denial and do something about it. No more excuses can be accepted, as almost every excuse, technological dodge, or halfway measure (such as grass fed beef), is shown to be either impractical, useless or wholly inadequate.
The author begins making his case with a wealth of specific and well-referenced statistics, and then challenges us to draw the obvious conclusions, which he spells out in forthright fashion. The data reveals the massive detrimental impact that raising meat and harvesting fish has on the environment. From global warming, to the burning down of the rainforests, to air and water pollution, Oppenlander prosecutes the case against meat that exceeds even the “shadow of doubt” level of certainty required in most criminal cases. One would think, with all the evidence presented, that a conviction would be all but inevitable.
Yet the jury, made up of environmentalists and their leaders along with the general public, still won’t face the facts, with a few notable exceptions, and act upon them. Oppenlander is not letting anyone off the hook. From Al Gore to Michael Pollan, he takes them all to task by saying what needs to be said, and what so sorely needs to be done, to build a more sustainable society. So far, the majority of environmentalists haven’t been willing to face the evidence and explain the imperative of switching to a meat-based diet, and the reader may wonder whether they have chosen to be popular by down-playing the meat issue, rather than choosing to truly protect the environment. The same goes for university and hospital food service officials who make big statements about running green establishments, but then refuse to make organic veggie burgers available for students, patients and staff.
To bolster his case, Oppenlander includes short chapters on health, global hunger and animal welfare. Again, evidence of damage is presented along with a demand for redress of grievance. Again and again leaders and their organizations are found wanting and in denial, and the jury too timid, choosing to remain comfortably unaware, rather than to make tough decisions and take bold yet rational actions, requiring just a bit of courage.
This book is a good choice for those looking for a wake up call, served up at high volume. It may, however, be a less effective tool for those looking for incremental approaches and a take-you-by-the-hand style. The author would have done well to consider the sensitivities of human psychology, and the emotional flavor of food and all it represents, a little more than he does. Mary Poppins did have a point when she said that “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”
Yet the book is so well researched that everyone can profit from it on some level regardless of operating style and personality. For too long the veg world has underplayed the environmental case for a plant-based diet, and we welcome this book for doing so much to make up for that shortcoming. With endorsements ranging from the famous anthropologist, Jane Goodall, to the President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Neal Barnard M.D., we take this opportunity to add our recommendation for this important book.