Lessons From the Passenger Pigeon

This past week marked the passing of 100 years since the last known passenger pigeon died at the Cincinnati Zoo. The passing of the passenger pigeon, that is the elimination of an entire species of animal, is remarkable because at one time, there were five billion (that's billion with a b) passenger pigeons in North America. In fact, the passenger pigeon was estimated to be between 25% and 40% of the entire bird population for the North American continent.

They were so numerous that their flocks would stretch for miles at a time, and the sky would actually darken when they flew over. A flying flock of passenger pigeons would actually cool the temperature down underneath it when it flew over. The birds would block that much of the sunlight.

So, what happened and why should we care? What does it have to do with eating a whole foods, plant-based diet? All good questions.

I'll start with what happened. Basically, the passenger pigeon was hunted and sent to markets in places like New York where human settlers ate them. And they weren't hunted just with rifles. Big nets were strung up to catch hundreds of them at a time. And nobody worried about it because everybody thought the passenger pigeon would always be around. You'd be looked at as crazy if you suggested that netting and shooting the birds would eventually lead to their extinction.

Does this sound familiar? Fast forward a hundred years and compare what happened then to today's fishing industry. There's the use of big fish nets that catch everything they can in their nets, from intended catches to anything else that might happen to run into the net. There are people telling us that we will run out of fish in the ocean, while others tell us that the more fish we eat, the more fish there will be in the ocean.

There's a big parallel between what happened with the passenger pigeon and what is happening in our oceans today. And that's another good reason for avoiding fish, or at least minimizing fish consumption in our diets. Plant-based foods really are the way to go. Plant-based foods are sustainable. I don't believe that eating animal-based foods in a world where the population is growing can be sustainable in the long run.

And the demise of the passenger pigeon one hundred years ago is perhaps the best evidence of that.