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Will We Still Eat Meat, Drink Milk, and Fry Eggs in 2109?

The world will be a much better place in 100 years if we rethink the way we eat.

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[Groans of disgust from the room.] One student exclaims, "Humans consumed the milk and eggs of cows and chickens? Seriously?"

Teacher: Yes, seriously. But back to the environment please: It was inconceivable to people that the food they ate was what was warming the planet. Even former President Al Gore, who at that time had not yet been elected president or started his crusade against eating animals, didn't embrace the idea. He did finally see the connection of course, and he became one of President Obama's main advisers, urging him to see the full picture of what animal agriculture was doing to our planet.

At the same time, a number of scientists got together and challenged the world to recognize the insanity of funneling crops through animals to eat them. In addition to causing almost one-fifth of all global warming -- and for something both cruel and unhealthy -- funneling crops through animals also wasted hundreds of millions of tons of grain, corn and soy. These crops were funneled through animals, wasting all of their fiber and carbohydrates and the vast majority of their calories.

And remember, this was 100 years ago, when almost a billion people were starving and more than a billion lived in dire poverty. It's shocking to think that in such a rich world, people starved, but they did -- from those almost 1 billion who were not eating enough to be healthy, about 40 million people every year actually died from starvation-related causes. So that makes the waste of crops even harder to understand.

There is a spirited debate in college and university political science departments about whether it was the scientific argument about animals or the environmental and human starvation arguments that finally caused eating animals to be seen as so totally unethical, but everyone agrees that Richard Dawkins, other scientists and animal-protection groups focused attention on the scientific argument -- now obvious to us -- that other animals are more like us than they're unlike us (they feel pain, they are familial, they seek enjoyment, etc.), and that eating them is ... well it's beneath our humanity and certainly bad for our health and the health of the planet.

Professor Dawkins, who was the foremost evolutionary scientist of his day, denounced what he called "speciesist arrogance" -- this idea that human beings are the pinnacle of creation -- and he called other species our "cousins," although these ideas were hardly the scientific consensus, despite the efforts of Dawkins, Jane Goodall and other such pioneers. Of course, it's obvious to us that other species have the same basic capacities and senses as human beings, but again, this was a big, big deal when Dawkins and Goodall were saying it 100 years ago.

At that same time, animal-protection groups started to focus more and more on the way these animals were treated. Groups documented the unbelievable cruelty of systems for egg production, where so-called farmers crammed seven animals into tiny cages, as many as 100,000 in a shed, unable to do anything natural to being a chicken. They documented slaughterhouses -- it remains amazing to me that society didn't come up with another name for these places -- chopping animals' limbs off while they were still conscious.

Farmers kept animals by the thousands in windowless buildings hidden away from view, and inside they had people lined up to kill them, dismember them and chop them up to be shipped out for food. There was a lot of blood, and there were horrible sounds coming from those places. But it was the biggest industry in the whole world, and people didn't seem to question the rightness of it. You can sometimes see these videos late at night on the American History channel, but they justifiably contain a parental warning, since they are not for the fainthearted .