The Breakdown | Explaining Southern California's economy

California dining: The economics of veganism

“I’ll have the alfalfa sprouts and plate of mashed yeast.” In 1977, that was a punchline grudgingly delivered by Woody Allen in Annie Hall. It was aimed squarely at the exasperatingly health-trendy world of Southern California cuisine. But maybe back in those pre-Reagan, economically challenged times, SoCal was on to something. 

A vegan diet -- like the one adopted by former burger-junkie Bill Clinton -- renounces all animal products. There are health arguments for eating this way, but there’s also an economic argument. Which the Princeton ethicist Peter Singer, author of the seminal text of animal rights, Animal Liberation in 1975, provided on Marketplace in 2008:

[M]ost corn isn't eaten by humans; it's eaten by animals and that's the biggest part of the problem. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 756 million tons of grain plus most of the world's soybean crop are fed to animals and that amount has increased sharply in recent years as Asian nations have become more prosperous and their populations have started eating more meat.

When we use animals to convert grain and soy into food we can eat, they use most of the feed to keep warm and develop bones and other parts we can't eat. So we're wasting most of the food value of the crops we feed them. In the case of cattle, at least nine-tenths of the grain they eat is squandered.

Economic change in hard times at the level of eating? It could come, if more people eat like Californians did -- and Woody Allen didn't -- in 1977.

Photo: Flickr/Rusvaplauke