If you spend much time on social media or watching television, you might think you can fend off novel coronavirus by avoiding meat. You might think you can save the planet by using something other than dairy products in your Starbucks order. And you might think you can transform agriculture by purchasing a certain brand of beer.
But you’d be wrong on all counts. Details are important.
First up, let’s talk about the new coronavirus. This is the scary respiratory disease spreading through China, infecting people and causing deaths. (Of course, in the U.S., you’re far more likely to contract and die from influenza, but I digress.) At the end of January, news came out that the virus likely started in a “wet market” in China, where animals are butchered in front of customers.
So, from that nugget of information, some people on the internet (namely animal rights activists) tried to spread the misinformation that eliminating meat from a diet will keep people from catching that strain of coronavirus. From what I noticed on Twitter, not a lot of people were falling for the scam. But it wouldn’t seem so hard to believe that someone out there made a fear-based decision to change their diet — which in all likelihood will have no effect on whether they contract a respiratory infection.
Now, let’s move on to a couple marketing campaigns aimed at telling people that their food choices can save the world. Starbucks plans to push customers to choose something other than dairy products to put in their coffees. They claim dairy is a big part of their carbon footprint. I don’t know if that’s true — I would assume that shipping coffee beans from international locations, shipping products around the world and having drive-thrus that keep cars running would have pretty big impacts, too. Telling customers to eliminate dairy seems to me to be more aimed at pleasing animal rights activists than on having a real impact on the environment.
Another marketing campaign that you might have seen if you watched the Super Bowl was Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold, an organic beer, announcing that it would help farmers transition 6 square feet of land to organic production for every six pack purchased. To some consumers, that might sound like a good deal — the organic industry has done a good job of making many people think that organic is better for the environment and for health. But let’s do the math. The U.S. census estimates that there were more than 328 million people in the U.S. as of July 1, 2019. About a quarter are younger than the legal drinking age of 21, and studies have shown that about 42% of Americans drink beer. That means the beer-drinking population of the U.S. is right around 103 million people. If every one of them were to buy a six pack, that would mean Michelob would pay to transition 618 million square feet to organic agriculture. An acre has 43,560 square feet. That means that in the extremely unlikely event that every beer drinker in the U.S. purchases a six-pack of Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold, about 14,187 acres would be converted. I’m no expert on organic malt barley, but I’m thinking that isn’t going to do much.
So, I guess what I’m saying is, there is a lot of misinformation out there, or half information or information put out just to rile people up or scare them into changing their behaviors. Before you jump on a bandwagon thinking that you’re saving your health or saving the environment, take a breath and think it through. We’d all do well to think a little more for ourselves and to be a little more based in reality.
Schlecht lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at email@example.com or 701-595-0425.