July 1 1992 by Joe Queenan
A couple of weeks ago, I took my son Gordon to see the cows that safely graze on the grounds of the Rockefeller Estate in Pocantico Hills, the next town over from mine. I have always liked cows-so has Gordon-and that afternoon was one filled with pleasant memories of bonding with our bovine friends.
But by the time I went to bed that evening, my feelings toward cows had changed forever. In the mail that day I received a copy of Jeremy Rifkin’s shocking new hook “Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture.” In this devastating expose of the seemingly idyllic world of cows, eco-dude Rifkin warns that cattle pose a grave threat to the future of mankind, not only because they are munching the Amazon Rain Forest and the vast savannas of the African plains right into oblivion and are gobbling up 70 percent of the grain that is produced each year in the U.S., but because their emissions of methane gas are causing the atmosphere to heat up, thus contributing to the “greenhouse effect” and the depletion of the ozone layer.
Shattered that an animal species I had loved and even trusted since childhood should turn out to be such a brutal despoiler of the ecosystem, I staggered upstairs to my study, hoping to take consolation from listening to a new compact disk I had purchased. Alas, no sooner had I yanked the CD out of its cardboard packaging than I read the words: “THIS IS GARBAGE. (This box, that is.) The American record business insists on it, though. If you agree that it’s wasteful, let your store management know how you feel.”
Dismayed to learn that the very packaging of the music I had just bought to soothe my savage breast was actually contributing to the ruthless destruction of the ecosystem, I tossed the CD into a corner and decided to go for a walk. I thought a nice book might cheer me up, but when I got to my local bookstore the windows were filled with dreary volumes deploring the ravaging of the environment. One book dealt with the impending melting of the polar ice cap. Another deplored soil erosion in
At this point, I decided that a trip to my local fast-food outlet might pick me up. But to get there, I had to walk right past the village recycling center, where signs were posted indicating that unless residents were more meticulous about separating green glass from white and brown glass, the planet might perish within the next lunar cycle. I finally made it to the hamburger joint, but my heart sank at the sight of all those styrofoam containers that were contributing so much to the devastation of the ecosystem. I was also ticked off by the guy polluting the environment and contributing to the greenhouse effect with his 25-cent stogie. And the very idea of eating beef was now repellent to me: How could I, in good conscience, continue to eat cow products after having read Jeremy Rifkin’s warning that beef-eating people were causing the destruction of the rain forest and the vast plains of the African heartland?
I meekly started to trudge back home, very narrowly escaping serious injury when a diaper service truck whipped past me. The service-enormously important-helps save the environment by providing ecologically sensitive parents with all-natural cloth diapers, so they can avoid using plastic products that cram urban landfills to overflowing and ultimately contribute to the destruction of the ecosystem, the landfills, and, for all I know, the ravaging of the Amazon Rain Forest and the vast grazing plains of central Africa.
I thought for a minute there that some ice cream might cheer me up, but when I took a gander at the packaging on the hack of the exotic flavor I had chosen, the ice cream maker reminded me that each passing minute another portion of the rain forest was being destroyed. It killed my appetite right there. I decided to have a soda instead, but I became so furious when I read that the glass bottle was a non-recyclable, non-biodegradable throwaway-and was thus contributing to the overuse of our precious landfills and the systematic destruction of the rain forest-that I shoved it back into the refrigerator and stormed out. I stopped briefly at the newsstand and checked the cover of The New York Times, but decided not to buy it because most of the space occupied by landfills is taken up by newspapers, which are among the least biodegradable products known to man, and I didn’t want to be a part of that. But I also refrained from buying it because the front page of The Times had an article about the greenhouse effect.
I trudged back home, desperately seeking some respite from my environmental angst. Why, everything that I ate, thought, read, did seemed in some way to contribute to the systematic destruction of the ecosystem and the
“Daddy, read me a book,” he commanded, thrusting a thin volume into my hand. The book dealt with a family of cuddly but somewhat stupid bears, and it taught small children the importance of practicing ecologically correct procedures; otherwise, the rain forest would be destroyed. I said I was too tired to read, but I would take him to a movie. So we nipped on over to the local tenplex and saw Ferngully, a brand new animated film that deals with a bunch of kids who live in the rain forest and who struggle valiantly to prevent developers from…well, you get the picture.