Barber, owner of the self-sustaining farm and restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., says both omnivores and vegetarians damage the environment with their eating choices, and non-meat eaters actually don’t produce smaller carbon footprints than their carnivorous counterparts.
“Butchering and eating animals may not be called kindness, but eating soy burgers that rely on pesticides and fertilizers precipitates destruction too,” Barber, 43, wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial. “You don’t have to eat meat, but you should have the good judgment to relinquish the high horse. There is no such thing as guilt-free eating.
“From a soil perspective, [vegetables are] actually more costly than a cow grazing on grass. Vegetables deplete soil. They’re extractive. If soil has a bank account, vegetables make the largest withdrawals. So without animal manure, where are you going to get your soil fertility for all those vegetables in an organic system? You are, by some measures, forcing crops into a kind of imbalance.”
Barber, a James Beard Award winning chef who serves on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, isn’t disparaging vegetarianism, but is tired of what he calls “self-righteous” vegetarians who think their lifestyle is better for the environment than meat-eaters.
“There is no healthy ecological system that I’ve ever seen that doesn’t include animals — there just doesn’t,” he said in 2010. “Because the manure from the animals is a free ecological resource that amends the soil that gives you better-tasting and healthful vegetables. That’s been around since the beginning of time.
“So to say that vegetarians live on this higher plane of ethics (and I’m not here to argue that slaughtering animals doesn’t carry with it some weight), but you have blood on your hands when you eat vegetarian as well.”