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Berkeley’s vegan food edict: It’s time they lay off their grass habit
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

The Cookie Monster is about to become Berkeley’s Public Enemy No. 1.

Berkeley, the city the late Dr. Don Rose of KFRC morning drive fame dubbed “Berserkly” long before it became synonymous with movements aimed at trying to reprogram how people live through City Council edicts, is now taking on dairy cows.

And in doing so the consumption of cookies made with butter and eggs as well as dairy milk — not to mention ice cream unless it is soy based — is officially frowned upon.

This week Berkeley elected leaders approved a resolution requiring the city to half it’s spending on animal-based products by 2024. The council, for now, resisted weaning 100 percent off animal-based food products.

That means Berkeley will start serving vegan food at senior centers, jails, public events, and other city buildings.

Given eggs and butter are key ingredients to making cookies, that means chocolate chip cookies that taste like you grandmother baked — or even those from Grandma’s Cookies — are well on their way of being banned wherever a Berkeley City Council edict must be followed.

Yes, there are vegan cookies. It is safe to say they’re an acquired taste.

In reality, none of this should disturb you. The odds are the Manteca City Council won’t be banning bacon at monthly breakfasts at the senior center anytime soon. They’re having a hard enough worrying about deteriorating streets, keeping water flowing, toilets flushing, and garbage collected to be social engineers.

But what Berkeley is buying into comes with a very slippery slope.

At some point groups like Direct Action Everywhere that succeeded in convincing Berkeley’s elected leaders to fall in line will establish a large enough beachhead of other cities signing on to similar policies will embolden them to push for more.

It is not a big leap for a city that takes the path Berkeley is on to one day try to regulate how much animal-based food products restaurants and stores can sell.

That’s because the resolution targeting animal-based food of products has been justified as a necessary step to address climate change.

More specifically they referenced the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce water consumption.

Dairy cattle have become the equivalent of gasoline powered SUVs in the eyes of those out to save the planet.

There are too many dairy cows passing too much flatulence. That methane gas is contributing to climate change just like practically everything else we do. It also requires a lot of food to feed a cow. And it takes a lot of water to grow that food.

This is where selective science comes into play.

On the surface it may indeed make sense to cull dairy cattle herds given methane gas issues.

But everything is interconnected. When it comes to healthy children animal milk is considered a crucial component to nutritional health by nutritionists. At the same time there are serious questions raised by research about calcium deficiency in older adults that would likely be exacerbated if they had to rely on a senior center for the bulk of their meals where dairy products are banned.

This is also the problem with dairy milk substitutes. They not only take water as well to produce but almonds, soy beans, and such require more energy to convert into milk as opposed to the stuff that comes straight from a cow.

That brings us to the real misnomer of the intent of Berkeley’s action basing food bans on water required to grow items.

How many acres of soy beans and/or almonds would it take to replace all of the milk we consume that is produced by cows? Given it is likely to require much more land tailored for raising substitutes such as almonds and soy beans, where are we going to find it?

Almonds can only be grown successfully in eight geographic regions in the world. There is no place in the United States they can be grown is in California based on the state’s Mediterranean climate.

Alfalfa, on the other hand, that cows devour by the truckload can grow in areas where farming is sustained by rain and not primarily irrigation.

Berkeley’s assumption that all vegan food is more water efficient isn’t the result of a careful analysis of specific nutritional values per ounce of food consumed as it pertains to protein, carbohydrates, and such.

It might interest Berkeley’s leaders to know nuts — specifically almonds — are the favorite whipping boy of a large segment of the water environmentalist movement. They contend it takes an inordinate amount of water to grow almonds. Much of that has to do with a large percentage of almond acres are flood irrigated.

But even that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it helps refill aquifers that are being over pumped.

You can reference the number of gallons of water used per ounce of almonds grown to other food but it is often like comparing apples to oranges given the different caloric and nutritional values an ounce of almonds offer as opposed to an ounce of lettuce.

And here’s the zinger. An acre of almonds needs about 1.3 million gallons of water a year. That’s roughly the same as an acre of rice as well as other nuts such as pistachios and almonds.

That said rice and almonds take more water to grow than an acre of lettuce or broccoli.

Is the Berkeley resolution remiss by not banning nuts and rice as well?

It is clear we need to rethink how we do a lot of things.

That said it is not necessarily wise to put solutions in motion that can very well end up making matters worse.

And when it comes to issues such as water use it is necessary to be realistic and effective.

It is why when it comes to addressing climate change issues involving water use the Nevada State legislature and the Las Vegas City Council are both more clear-headed and effective than those in the California legislature and on the Berkeley City Council that enthusiastically march behind the progressive banner.

Those two entities in the Silver State are taking clear aim at the biggest crop that is the undisputed leader when comes to the wanton waste of water in the western United States — ornamental grass.

The mandated move to landscaping that is more drought tolerant and much more water miserly will is not simply moving the proverbial deck chairs around on the Titanic given replacing actual nutritional volume by pumping up vegan friendly crops is likely not to result in any significant — if any at all — water savings.

It is clear that weaning off ornamental grass will see a drastic reduction in water consumption as opposed to switching to chocolate chip cookies made with eggs and butter.