Category Archives: Defaunation

The many faces of food waste in the time of coronavirus: Discards, biofuels, meat, and opportunities for change

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Introduction and effective waste in the food system

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the patterns of American life in unprecedented
ways and with stunning rapidity, resulting in many unintended, but not unwelcome, environmental benefits, as skies clear and animals venture into newly empty spaces [1]. On the other hand, the pandemic has also resulted in what appears to be (and is) a shocking crisis of food waste: Acute demand shocks from the almost overnight shift away from food consumption in suddenly closed restaurants and large institutional settings (including schools, universities, and many places of business) towards in-home consumption have resulted in the well-publicized farm-level wastage of whole fields of fresh produce, and the dumping of millions of gallons of fresh dairy [2].

Without commercial customers or the means to quickly reorient to retail supply chains,
and with limited on-farm storage capacity, some farmers have been forced to plow crops under,
bury already harvested produce, or dump milk into manure lagoons. With slaughterhouses now
reeling from COVID-19 as well, slaughter numbers are down and the dire prospect of millions
of livestock meeting their end on-farm without ever reaching a plate is raised, and the USDA now projects Americans will actually decrease their meat consumption in the coming year [3].
And yet, shocking images of rotting crops and animal culls belie a US food system that has long
ultimately wasted, in one form or another, the vast majority (perhaps as much as 80-90%) of all
food calories produced at the farm level, with dramatic consequences for the environment and
both animal and human health and well-being, while the pandemic could paradoxically spur beneficial changes that mitigate such waste.

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Oblivion by any other name: “Biological annihilation” and “defaunation” in the “Anthropocene”

Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.

André Gide

I too am reduced to repeating what must be said, and given this nascent blog’s readership, it seems rather likely that it will need saying again.  To wit, George Monbiot recently discussed, in a melancholy but extremely important article (see also the version in The Guardian), the vanishing of so much nature and wild life before his own eyes, in his own lifetime.  It is not mere false nostalgia, and he cites much published work that documents the astonishingly rapid and ongoing global loss of animal life, a process that has been variously (and by respectable scientists, no less!) termed “defaunation” in the “Anthropocene” and, more recently, a “biological annihilation.”

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Amasa Delano, ecologic destruction, and the face of Empire

I should like to highlight here (see also version) a remarkable essay by Greg Grandin, one that contrasts two of Melville’s characters as faces of Empire: Captain Ahab and the historical sealing captain Amasa Delano, who partook in the massive late eighteenth century extirpation of seal populations in the South Pacific for fur, which was used a luxury item for the wealthy, and who put down a slave rebellion aboard a Spanish slave ship.  Delano viewed himself as a moral man, one “who has a knowledge of his duty, and is disposed faithfully to obey its dictates.”

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