Winning the Fork, but Losing the Farm
There have been several recent articles reporting that:
1). the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as vegan has recently increased to well above its historic level;
2). Americans on average have an increasingly favorable impression of vegans.
Factors including wider public awareness of the barbarity of animal agriculture, as well as health and environmental concerns-- along with the variety of vegan foods and menu choices now available-- are creating a tipping point for veganism. Vegans are poised to become a very significant proportion of the American population in a few short years. Obviously, from the perspective of animals this is very good news.
What are the pitfalls?
One that has been covered in many articles and blogs, is that "veganism" could become largely identified as a dietary choice, not as an ethical commitment. Here I will defer to the thoughts of others who have covered this topic extensively with great insight and passion.
A second pitfall has been much less discussed. It is today's reality that virtually all plant-based foods are grown using toxic agrochemicals and/or animal-based substances: animal manures, fish emulsion, blood meal and other animal-derived soil "amendments". In addition, mined materials are used extensively in both conventional and organic agriculture, and sewer sludge is used in the production of conventional crops. Other than what we may personally grow for ourselves in our gardens, almost 100% of our purchased food is grown using inputs that are contradictory to our core beliefs.
Most organic or "sustainable" agriculture proponents and practitioners believe that animal manures and other animal-derived soil "amendments" are essential for proper soil fertility. Moreover, there is a strong belief among many in this community that a critical synergy exists between livestock and plant crop production. This paradigm of "sustainable agriculture" and "humane meat" include the following arguments:
- it is erroneously claimed that farm animals are treated humanely (...the reality of animal slaughter remains an obvious "inconvenient truth")
- organic, integrated pest management and non-CAFO approaches lessen the negative environmental impacts of animal agriculture
- higher profit margins can be obtained if animals are raised as grass fed, free range, antibiotic-free, etc
- smaller, locally grown and/or organic food production has an appeal from a variety of economic, social and environmental perspectives
Conventionally produced plant crops are obviously NOT an acceptable option to today's "sustainable agriculture" model. So the harsh reality is that as more and more people become vegan and choose to buy "sustainably produced" food, vegans consume a greater proportion of this food-- and become "inadvertent" supporters of many inhumane farming operations and practices.
One positive action is for vegans to get more directly involved in reforming our agricultural system. A very direct way to do this is by producing food grown without animal inputs. In accordance with stock-free or "veganic" growing principles, this includes providing a beneficial habitat for the wild animals that the farms intrude upon.
Here are some guiding principles:
- follow the best practices established at "stock-free" operations in the US and Great Britain, and documented in Growing Green (by Jenny Hall and Iain Tollhurst)
- cultivate the abundant and affordable land in--or in close proximity to-- northeast Ohio's many concentrated population centers
- link up with the existing urban growing initiatives many cities are already embracing (and help STOP the urban farm animal movement!)
- take advantage of Ohio's moderate rainfall and water resources, as well as our "relatively" temperate climate and decent soil
- take advantage of emerging insights into the science of soil ecology ("soil web of life")- OSU and other regional institutions have extensive expertise in this field
There is an increasingly urgent need to create a local or regional stock-free or "veganic" growing presence. Otherwise we risk ceding substantial control of our food supply to the proponents of "humane" meat , fish and dairy. In addition to asserting that animal agriculture is not acceptable, as vegans we can create a more positive vision of our future by growing our food in a truly compassionate way!