Eco Vegetarianism

The kicker about become Eco Aware is that you lose ignorance. Things as simple as eating and driving are now moral choices, and the choices are never nice and tidy. My current issue is food… my vegetarianism in particular.

Mia and I have been virtual veggies for years, getting more and more hardcore until the past 2 years Mia has been all but 100%-only very rarely breaking ranks to avoid being rude when we are eating at friends or family, with myself about 98%. While we both eat very similarly, we do so for different reasons. I started eating less meat for ecological reasons-I want to eat lower on the food chain to reduce the amount of acreage it takes to feed me fat arse. Mia is all about the ecological side as well, but is also an Ethical Vegetarian-she believes that killing an animal for her own food is wrong. Not to mention she has an at times irrational repugnance to turkey necks and chicken feet. I credit her greatly for stopping well short of condemning others for not doing so-its a personal choice for her.

So I sat safely ensconced in my ideals for several years, but my recent rash of agricultural reading is shaking my convictions. The acreage argument is still wicked strong. Drive I-80 across Iowa and you will see farms for 400 miles, and nary a single plant that humans can eat. Corn on Beans for mile after mile. The ecological impact of that much genetically modified monoculture is unprecedented. Erosion alone is averaging over 5 tons per acre per year to the extent that the silt field in the Gulf of Mexico is visible from space. But as I research large scale organic agriculture the more I am convinced that industrial anything is unsustainable. So we have switched to mostly local foods grown on small Wisconsin farms using the European slogan of Eat Your View as a motto and cutting about 1250 miles off the transport of much of our food in the process.

This is much better, but my resolve is weakening. The more I read about small scale agriculture, the more farms I tour, and the more books on Permaculture I research-the more I think that a vegetarianism based on pure ecological grounds is misplaced. So as is my wont, I’d like to explore these thoughts in more detail.

If you are an Ethical Vegetarian, or Gaia help me… a Vegan, you will find little to agree with here, and possibly even become spitting mad, because we are starting from different ethical worldviews. Personally, though I do not find killing animals for my food pleasant, I also know that humans are omnivores and I have no moral objection to eating meat. So for the curious among all groups, please read on.

In our quest to reduce our ecological footprint, and eat healthier to boot, we have spent much energy attempting to eat as local as possible. This trend has gotten us out to talk to several more farmers and tour their farms. All of this keeps pointing me to one conclusion: that farms work best, maximizing yield and minimizing inputs, when an integrated relationship is fostered between plants and animals. Our grandparents knew this to be self evident, Permaculture espouses it, and nature wouldn’t function any other way. The best way to cycle nutrients on a farm is to use our microbial friends (soil and compost) and animals to make nutrients available in a form that plants can use to create surplus calories from the sun which can then feed us humans and the other animals. It’s a nice, tidy system. Without animals on the farm, you invariably need to import fertilizer or organic matter to make the needed tons of compost, incurring transportation costs and burning more fuel. And even then, raw manure, especially urine, is still the best fertilizer. By splitting the system we are wasting energy to poorly mimic what nature will give us for free.

Permaculture gardening stacks vegetables in tightly to grow as many calories in as little acreage as possible to maximize yields and minimize inputs. One can grow corn, melons, and beans in the same area you could grow any one of the three and drastically increase your yield. Taking some of the learning’s I am getting from Permaculture, Joel Salatin, and Gene Logsdon I am beginning to think there is an even better way. Taking this out another step you can run geese thru the field while it is in production to eat slugs and weeds, and then post harvest run cattle or goats through to eat the roughage we can’t-increasing the yield of edible calories. But we aren’t done yet, while the cattle are in send in chickens and they will graze on weeds, eat insects, and keep the cows healthier by eating parasites out of their manure. Before you’re done send the swine thru to churn up the whole works for next year while they eat grubs and other pests. All four will add healthy quantities of manure (cows as much as 50lbs/day each) to replenish the soil with zero petrochemicals spent in processing or transport. Animals make sense on a farm, or even in the garden, as they increase on site resource use, food production, and cut back on imported resources: keeping it local and closing the resource loop.  Then there is the economic argument.

The cold truth is that farms don’t make a lot of money-they never have and they never will. That means, unless you are living off grants or subsidies, every single item on a farm needs to make money-and the more ways the better. This also means that you can’t afford to keep geese just to eat slugs-you also need to eat/sell the meat to make up for the added expense of their housing and care. Dairy cows (interchange goats as needed) once seemed like a great vegetarian alternative to me as you could make money off of them without the whole blood and gore piece. But this just proves that I am an ignorant city slicker-and a male one to boot. Why do cows give milk? Same reason all mammals do-to rear their young. That means that once a year you need to “freshen” the cow through having her “throw” a calf and then keep her in lactation for the rest of the year after you wean off the calf. If that calf is a heifer-great! You just expanded your herd. If it’s a steer or if you don’t need any more dairy cows, well, it gets raised for meat. Some farmers, like Gene Logsdon, will raise those calves all year on pasture and sell them in the fall as grass fed Baby Beef-very different than a veal calf raised in a 16 sq ft pen all its very short life. This fact has pushed Mia even closer to giving up dairy completely. There really is no way around this-no one really keeps cows for pets-too darn expensive.

Egg laying chickens are better, they are much more feasible for the gardener as a small flock is inexpensive, relatively low maintenance, and apparently their egg production goes on regardless of breeding. I have read of numerous families treating these chickens as pets, and burying them out behind the Oak tree by Mildy the Cat when their days are done. But for a money making enterprise you need a lot of chickens. Organic Valley won’t even pick up your eggs unless you have over 2000 birds (though this is manageable on as little as 4 prime acres), and that is a lot of chicken graves to dig. More likely you will sell them for low quality meat after they have lived out their egg laying lives because now you need to extra revenue to pay for all that extra fencing, feed, medication, and housing. The long and short of it is that unless you are raising animals for show, the only way to have most animals on a farm is to raise them, at least in a final gasp of revenue, for meat.

This is not to say that I think of all things on a cost benefit analysis, but with arable land prices in much of the country escalating past $3000/acre, and here in WI at more than $5000/acre if we want small family farms to succeed they simply must be profitable-and nothing on a farm will make as much money with as little effort (read family-not corporate- farm) as integrated, diversified livestock management alongside a vegetable and grain/pasture operation.

In all of the above I am utilizing Natural Capitalism, and accounting for the real costs of things like effluent flows from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’S) at right, transportation from buying your cattle feed from Argentina because its “cheaper”, or in dumping petrochemical fertilizer onto your field to increase yields while destroying the soil. You can make money off land that way, even at $3-5000/acre, but you are forcing future generations to foot the environmental bill-which should be criminal. Plus that is not the kind of farming I want to save anyhow. From one point of view farmers are artisans, combine operators are drivers, and CAFO operators just might be Evil.

If I became a vegetarian to reduce my ecological footprint it is becoming more clear that what I am protesting was not meat-but the eff’d up way that we are raising meat-growing the food thousands of miles from the cattle, and then forcing the cattle into CAFO’s to create massive effluent issues and intolerable living conditions. The degradation of energy argument losses some momentum if the energy being degraded was never in a form humans can consume-like fouled melons or corn stalks.

As I said in the beginning, raising meat humanely and offering the animal a clean death is not morally wrong to me. What we do to animals in CAFO’s makes me fighting mad and want to join PETA. This bears thought.

So I have poked some significant holes in my once solid convictions that eating vegetarian with whole foods was the most ecological choice. But since no man lives on an island, I would like to continue to delve into the economic and ecologic possibilities of this new (old?) small scale farming. I speak to the economics because an ideal that is not a fiscal reality is just arm chair fodder. I prefer to espouse workable solutions that will help move our country toward a less energy dependent future.

It is possible to make money on a purely vegetable farm, but the farming is amazingly intense making it virtually impossible to be long term sustainable due to the amount of resources removed from the land in produce versus what is given back from imported fertilizers. Much of the land is cultivated every 4-6 weeks for 8 months of the year leaving it exposed to erosion more often than it is covered. Furthermore, small vegetable operations often focus on higher value niche markets like micro greens, herbs, edible flowers, etc to be able to make ends meet and less on rows of spinach, radishes, beans or tomatoes that most vegetarians eat everyday. Even in Organic production the economies of scale favor industrial production of these ‘commodity’ items. And then you get into all the ecological messes inherent in large scale agriculture-massive soil erosion, processed fertilizers (like pelletized chicken manure), and long range transportation. Look at it this way: it takes a lot of radishes at $1.50 bunch to make the rent on a 40 acre farm ($650,000) farm. The fields of radishes at left is no ecologically better than a field of corn. The largest local vegetable operation I have visited was 30 acres, but it took a team of 5-10 workers 6 days a week to harvest the 200 CSA subscriptions and it was not profitable. Mixed vegetable operations for farmers markets are typically from much smaller farms, say 1-10 acres.

Earlier I wrote about integrated farms-the kind of operation that virtually all farms were before 1950 and the rise of Industrial Agriculture. The bucolic scenes I painted of waves of different animals going over the vegetable field begged the question of where the heck the cattle, chickens, and hogs were prior to their dance thru the corn and melons. The answer is that the vegetable ‘fields’ are just one or two paddocks in a rotational grazing system as espoused by Allan Nation at the Stockman Grass Farmer, Jo Robinson at, Gene Logsdon in All Flesh is Grass, and others. These are just a few of hundreds of farmers that are fine tuning the art of grazing to out compete the CAFO’s. I will spare you all the details-which are legion and beyond my expertise and present just a high level overview to give you an idea, if you want to learn more, as I feel any omnivore should, the Eatwild site is fairly user friendly.

Grass Farming

In my unhumble opinion Grass Farming is the future of farming. (I love that turn of phrase-the philosophical importance in the shift from calling oneself a Cattle Rancher to a Grass Farmer is immense.) By rotating grazing animals (yes, poultry and hogs graze!) through paddocks you greatly increase the holding capacity of the land. This is done by pulsing the pasture, much as the bison of old did. The farmer ‘mobs’ the field forcing the animals to eat everything, including the weeds, and then moves them to the next paddock before they can do any permanent damage from over grazing, while also keeping them there long enough to not just eat the tasty plants which encourages weed growth. The farmer keeps enough paddocks to rotate the animals while letting paddocks recoup, and this diversity also allows him to keep some paddocks sown with summer tolerant grass, and others with cold hardy varieties. There is even enough surplus in spring that the farmer can cut hay enough to tide them over thru the month or so of deep winter where the pasture may not be available. Other than moving the light electric fencing (easily run on solar) and animals daily the farmer can spend their energy on other areas like the vegetable patch or wood lot while the animals do the weeding, harvesting, and fertilizing for him. This is the animal husbandry equivalent of Masanobu Fukuoka’s “Do Nothing” rice farming: let nature do the work for you.

The reason that Grass Farming seems to me to be the holy grail of ecological eating is this: once the pasture is established, the land is never cultivated, never fertilized, never herbicided, and you can grass farm a small 20-40 acre farm without a tractor because the animals are doing most of the work. The farmer isn’t importing feed, or exporting waste-it is essentially a closed system. It works for beef and dairy operations, for goats, sheep or cattle, as well either broiler chickens or laying hens and with some tweaking I think hogs might work as well.

My main concerns with large scale agriculture are erosion from regular cultivation which also uses massive farm equipment, and the need to import resources- GMO seed, fertilizer, and herbicide supporting a grossly polluting chemical industry. A grass fed animal system can literally grow calories 100% on solar power in a 1) closed system that 2) heals the soil (permanent pasture can make 750-1000lbs of topsoil a year) and actually 3) removes carbon from the atmosphere (some studies have shown that established prairie can capture as much carbon as the same acreage of hardwood forest). These 3 factors are something that growing annual vegetable crops cannot accomplish-even on small scale 2-5 acre farms. The only approximation I have read about would be a Permaculture Garden, which I have never seen presented in a workable commercial system. And frankly, if it isn’t profitable, at least enough to support a modest family income, it will never work in society as a whole.

21st Century Animal Farm

So here is my version of the Utopian Organic Farm-and it is not, nor could it be vegetarian. A 20-100 Acre plot divided into 15-30 paddocks containing everything from traditional pastures of alfalfa, clover and fescue, to fruit orchards, vineyards, brambles and 1-2 paddocks of vegetables grown on a rotating basis in paddocks that need replenishing. The pastures that are being put out of rotation next season would house the hogs which would tear them up sufficiently thru their rooting, while the orchards would be mown by sheep and geese, and the vineyards weeded by chickens. Dual purpose goats or cattle would graze thru the remaining pastures providing a surplus of both milk and meat to help make the mortgage along with the seasonal income of fruits from the perennial orchards and small fruit diversifying the farm’s income enough that a blight in the beans won’t bankrupt them. Costs would be kept down by having no, or a very small, tractor-and possibly just using some oxen (I am not kidding-most tractor use would only be for moving hay and harvest wagons) and no imported fertilizer. Efforts would be made to establish a local market that could meet many needs in one place-meat, dairy, fruit, veggies, eggs, and possibly even fiber from the goats or sheep. Niche markets could be established in artisan cheeses, goat milk soaps or heirloom vegetables for restaurants depending on the inclination of the farmer. A profitable agriculture enterprise is thus created (I realize how idealistic this is…) that is 100% solar driven on a closed system that builds community and cuts food transportation miles from 1500 to about 15. Joel Salatin is already doing this on his farm and producing more surplus than I had ever thought imaginable off of 100 acres-so maybe I am not too crazy after all.

I am becoming convinced that Organic 100% Grass Fed meat and eggs, along with perennial fruits are the ecological ideal. And that blows massive logical holes thru my stance on vegetarianism for ecological reasons.

So by now you will be aware that I am struggling with my former belief that eating local organic vegetables was the most ecological way to receive sustenance. I no longer think that is true. Perennial pastures build soil fertility, lock carbon in the soil, and grass fed meat can be raised with virtually no petroleum inputs. But I also think that the difference between eating whole, local produce exclusively and getting a percentage of your calories from grass fed meat is very small. If I had to make an unscientific spectrum from least ecological to most, I would have CAFO meat (and if it doesn’t say 100% Grass Fed-it’s almost certainly spent at least some time in a CAFO) and processed foods (if you have to open it- it counts [processing adds another factor of 10 to the embodied energy]), then imported fruits (typically flown in), to processed organic foods, then a huge jump up in eco-friendliness to regional Organic Produce in season, then local conventional produce, then up to local organic foods and finishing with local Grass Fed Meats. Further more, raising animals on an integrated farm actually makes local organic produce more ecological by producing the fertilizer on site. Plus animals add enough profitability to actually make a livable farm-only income feasible for a thrifty family. Sustaining a populated rural countryside is very important for biodiversity and our ability to produce our own food as a nation. Supporting these enterprises is a patriotic as well as ecological act.

But here is the kicker. I am still a vegetarian. The largest reason is that, for cattle and hogs at least, there simply are no humane slaughterhouses. Because the USDA and FDA mandate that their must be an inspector in each facility, and those inspectors are expensive, only the big One Size Fits All slaughterhouses can run. Guess who sets the ethical standards for these facilities? McDonald’s. No, I am not kidding. In an effort to forestall PEDA, they have set some ‘minimum’ standards:
Potentially graphic content warning-but if you want to eat meat you need to know this: Readers of Michael Pollan will find this familiar. When the cows are led into the slaughterhouse, they are sent through a chute that has them enter single file. Each cow is then killed by a piston shot into their forehead. When it works, it really isn’t too bad a way to go in my book: brain dead within seconds. But the piston misses. A lot. Because of McDonald’s there are now inspectors watching as the now dead cows are strung up for processing. It is typical that they shake around as their dead nerves fire, but these are not still alive. However, some of the cows will be visibly trying to get upright again. Those cows aren’t even stunned and they head in to the processing, which starts with skinning, very much alive. McDonald’s standards are maximum 5% still alive. That is about 1 out every 20 cows, and I refuse to support that industry. Though I do not find eating meat immoral, I find immense ethical problems with torturing animals in our care. Therefore I do not eat beef.

Chickens are not as regulated and it is feasible and, here in Wisconsin rather easy to find local grass fed chicken. I can think of three farms off the top of my head within 10 miles where I could drive up to their door and buy a humanely slaughtered chicken. So why am I not doing it? Frankly, I am not sure if even I know why. Perhaps after all these years I find animal carcasses distasteful. Perhaps I am lying to myself and I do have an ethical issue with eating meat. Maybe it is just culinary inertia.  I guess it is best summed up that I can think of no reason to start eating meat in our current lives. I also know that if we move out onto a farmette, we will need to keep animals to build soil fertility. At that point I will eat meat-animals will be necessary in our lives and I will personally be able to oversee their ends ensuring a quick, clean death solving most of my concerns. This is still untidy in my mind, which bothers me, but that is where I am right now.

Hopefully this has helped some in their quest for more ecological eating, or at the least spread some knowledge on sustainable agriculture. Those interested in further reading on that topic can check out:
Gene Logdson’s The Contrary Farmer and All Flesh is Grass. Gene is a cool guy.
Joel Salatin’s books are designed for those wanting to farm, but he is a blast to read.
Periodicals to check out include Acre’s USA, and the Stockman Grass Farmer

And those interested in ethical eating should check out Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. The book is great, but he gives Whole Foods a raw deal.

Remember-eating is a political, ethical, and ecological act.
Be the Change.

21 Responses

  1. Well, I gotta agree with you on your basic premise that a balanced, self-fertile, closed-loop edible ecosystem has to include animals.

    A couple of additional thoughts:
    * The new farm bill allows interstate sale of meat processed at state-inspected plants so long as the standards at those plants meet or exceed those of the USDA (which the already do). Even if this doesn’t come to pass, folks might be able to find small farm, pastured meat processed at state facilities, which are almost always much smaller than USDA facilities and have fewer “bad deaths” and other horrors.

    * Horses. Horses produce manure and farm power, and you never eat them. Well, after 15 years, you might have one die of old age, at which point you might have some excellent food for the dogs working on your farm…

    * Given the reality we’re currently in – attempting permaculture in a tiny back yard – I see no problem considering the horse farm down the road from me to be part of my “on-farm inputs.” They have more manure than they can use, so a lot of my soil fertility comes from a load of semi-composted manure I get dropped off each year.

    * Another argument for omnivory: calories. How many calories are expended to grow a year’s worth of vegetarian calories? How many calories are expended to raise a year’s worth of animal-based calories? I’ve not done the math, but it doesn’t seem far-fetched that a vegetarian diet would be very close to breaking even, whereas an omnivorous diet would give enough calories to grow a decent human, too.

  2. Horses, or more likely mules, would be a very realistic addition to my 10-20 acre farm. I am looking forward to working with the Percherons at the Market Garden this year. Chickens and ducks with their ability to function stack will be great additions as well. As my experience has moved out of the arm chair since the writing of this a year ago I see many more options for an integrated farm including llamas for draft and fiber as well as the above. I use horse manure from local hobby farms in my veggie gardens right now to great result. Obviously this is turning waste into resources and I see no reason to refuse it when available.

    While obviously pound for pound there is more energy in meat, it is a very complex discussion. To stick with the veg side: once my beds were established I am only spending less than an hour a day on tending them-figure 10 hours a week to include the harvest/planting intensities. With a good mix of carb intensive root crops like rutabagas, turnips, potatoes, etc that should be a part of any rotation, not to mention the very un-needy orchard plants and calorie dense filbert and sunflower plantings, I believe it is definitely more than net positive on calories; i.e. I am getting more than 1200 calories/wk out of the gardens. Pushing some of the weeding and other work to animals such as ducks would reduce my inputs and, as you mention, increase the output as well.

    You thoughts on State facilities have got me thinking, I’ll have to look into it some more. Thanks!

  3. I am still catching up with your posts (I wish I had found you earlier-I love both your and Mia’s writing), but this one really hits close to home. I know you read my recent post asking for vegetarian’s help in combating issues pertaining to raising animals small-scale and I loved your response. What keeps me up at night is the thought that agribusiness is trying their hardest to take over every aspect of farming by watering down regulations and making it impossible for the small farmer to survive (NAIS, certification fees/paperwork, etc.) Personally, I think they are afraid of our growing numbers; they know that the ethics are being questioned beyond the “radical vegetarians” [I was once one of these] now. It must be really scary to these CAFO ceos knowing that even the Omnivores are starting to question the practices.

    I have toured my local meat processor’s business and have even sent two lambs and one pig to their death floor. I met the executioner and I realized he takes his job very seriously. He does not want the animals he kills to suffer. Of course, he works on a very small scale (no Mcdonalds asembly lines here) and he did say a few negatives about grass raised beef (not how they were raised persay, but that they are “too wild” for the equipment), but I could tell that his main objective is to deliver the blow without any mistake (and I absolutely know they would not start cutting up a concious animal). However, I did not witness my livestocks’ deaths and can only hope my first impressions of the “killer” are right.

    I like what you said over at my blog about wanting to own the entire life cycle before you can eat meat. That is my next step (chickens) because even though I only use these small scale butchers, I really want to know my animals were blissfully ignorant and didn’t suffer at the end.

  4. A 20-100 Acre plot divided into 15-30 paddocks….. thats an awful lot of (expensive) fencing….

  5. Fencing he entirety of each paddock would be prohibitively expensive for sure! In most rotational grazing systems I’ve visited the farmer has a solid traditional perimeter fence, and then divides their paddocks up with lightweight portable electric fencing which is very reasonable. The livestock learn not to push the fence-the best grazing is typically in their paddock, and they have learned that when the grazing gets bad the farmer will move them to Greener Pastures.

  6. You mention chickens being relatively inexpensive. But I dont find that the case.
    I have only 16 and they can go thru 100 lbs of feed a month. Each 50 lb bag cost me anywhere from 11 – 14 dollars and the price is going up just like food and gas prices. You used to only pay 7 dollars for the 50 lb bag.
    Birds eat alot even when free ranged like mine are. I also feed them any scraps from the garden that I can. They still eat alot. The biggest cost for my chickens is store bought feed. I wish I didnt have to but if I want free ranged eggs and free poop to compost I have to pay somewhere for it.

  7. Hello!

    I totally dig your concerns about large-scale agriculture and the vegetarian diet. These fields and fields of monocropped plants you mentioned are contributing ecological damage, for sure. Soybeans shipped from China to make our tofu, how can we justify that? (Solution: grow yer own!🙂 )

    And I understand your concern that, without having animals on a farm to provide local manure, one is forced to use the by-products of agribusiness to fertilize one’s fields. This too is not a great practice, and I’m not sure how organic it is, considering the hormone and medicine by-products that might be in it …
    So I’m totally stoked on the whole Permaculture approach, but I also take hope from an approach I’ve heard of lately which I’m sure dovetails with permacultural principles: it’s called Stockfree Organic, or Vegan Organic. No animal products in use, only cover-crops, compost, mulch and other techniques from nutrient-rich plants like clover, comfrey …
    The reason I think you might be interested is that, from the experiences of the farmers I have read about, their plots have produced MORE with stockfree-organic than with comparable use of manure. Also, the whole risk of pathogen contamination from animal manure is avoided. I also find it a really inspiring, peaceable ethic for farming that I hope is as workable when I start my own farm as it sounds! see

    Just a thought – cheers, and happy writing!

  8. […] The Progressive Economics Forum » Whatâs New at the PEF wrote an interesting post today on Comment on Eco Vegetarianism by Michael RutherfordHere’s a quick excerptEach 50 lb bag cost me anywhere from 11 – 14 dollars and the price is going up just like food and gas prices. You used to only pay 7 dollars… […]

  9. I followed your link from your comment on Peak Oil Hausfrau’s blog. I thought I’d point out one aspect of veganism that few people looking at the eco and ethical arguments consider: health. I talk a bit about Dr. John McDougall who advocates a starch-centered plant-based diet for disease prevention. (See links to his site, as well as that of a number of other highly respected doctors suggesting the same thing here.)

    My thinking of how this relates to a more sustainable low-energy world is this: Health care for preventable diseases is energy and resource-intensive. If I stay healthier as a result of eating a proper vegan diet (and it’s not some fancy food-combining thing), then I lower my resource use over my entire lifespan from that of someone eating foods (animal products, fats) that have been shown to create favorable conditions for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and many others.

    Food for thought. You can check out the works of McDougall, T. Colin Campbell, Esselstyn, PCRM, and others for more information on food and health. Organically raised, free-range, local animal products do the same things to the body as CAFO animal products, but of course, CAFO is much worse for the planet.

    • Great article, i have read the book “growing green” about stockfree farming and am still thinking about the long term effects on the land- does it work? I guess we won’t know for another 10 years. Short term effects are easy..

      In terms of being vegan and being healthier.. As far as i know there are no indigenous tribes who have been vegetarian and had a decent level of health.

      Most studies in favour of veganism are pretty skewed, and yes of course it will probably improve your health to switch to raw food and away from sugar, but what are the effects of veganism through generations?

      People like the masai have lived on basically meat and milk for generations.
      I’d check out for another look at eating meat

  10. Good idea, but like all good ideas, what works in one area won’t work in another. There is no specific utopian farm, there are only many individual farms that can be utopic for that area and person.

    That said, I agree with you on the basic principle. I too had issues with meat for the same reasons. But in the end, it was the industry that I didn’t like, not my spot in the food chain.

    Clean kill or individual kill is the way to go. No big industrial system is going to work that way and that means people getting their own hands dirty. Chickens to lay eggs is fine, but what happens when you have an older chicken hanging around for 5 years with no eggs? Pet…maybe. But if a person is going to kill it and eat it, it should be done with respect by not forcing it into an area that smells of blood or with their relatives lying about in dead disarray. That should go for all animals. Good life while they have it and clean death when the time comes.

    Your writings are quite good and well thought out. I’ve put you on my favorites list on my blog and look forward to more.

  11. I agree with most of this essay. I’ve previously discussed these issues in eating plants and animals, and how to end factory farming.

    A first note is that we don’t often talk about fish in the West. People are less concerned about their welfare (suffocation can’t be a good way to go) and often unaware of how depleted the world’s fish stocks are. We’re turning the world’s waters into a wasteland. In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, animals are the bigger issue, but in terms of other environmental impacts, fish are a bigger issue. That’s something to bear in mind.

    To my mind, the key issue is the amount of meat/fish and animal products consumed. A typical amount across the West is 100kg of meat and fish and 200kg of animal products annually. To get that amount, you simply have to have factory farms, monocultures, huge inputs of fossil fuels, and slaughterhouses with 1 in 20 animals being skinned and gutted while still alive, chickens debeaked and so on. You just can’t get that volume of products without doing that sort of thing.

    It’s just like how you can’t get $5 t-shirts unless you have Indian cotton farmers earning $1,000 a year and Chinese sewing machine workers earning $150 a month. Our choice of having large amounts of cheap stuff means suffering of animals and people and degradation of the environment – it’s the only way to get large amounts of cheap stuff. Our choices about how cheaply and how much of something we want to consume determine how it must be produced. So if we want heaps of meat, then those animals are going to have live and die like that, and we’ll have to put up with heavy environmental impacts. If we don’t want the animals to live and die like that, and have these environmental troubles, then we shouldn’t eat meat.

    On the other hand, farms with animals are simply more sustainable than farms without them. The areas of the world where people didn’t use animals and crop rotation and mixed crops, these areas are now deserts, eg Iraq. The areas where they had a wide variety of crops, rotated, and used animals, these areas are still fertile after 4,000 years, eg southern China. So if you want agricultural practices which feed us today and can feed us in 4,000 years, you simply have to have animals and mixed crops and so on.

    And if you have animals, then waiting for them to die of old age or disease is a recipe for wiping them out, as illnesses spread. And some will have more babies than you expected. For example, cows mated naturally will have half male and half female calves. If you let the male calves live then two years from now you’ll have more calves, and so on. And pretty soon they’ll destroy the land. So you have to kill some of them, and if you kill them you may as well eat them.

    And then of course for countries like Australia and the US, they’re quite large with lots of national parks and so on, and so there are wild animals and vermin whose numbers have to be kept down (kangaroos, and introduced feral camels, rabbits and foxes in Australia), and again if you kill them you may as well eat them.

    But all this leads to consuming something like 1-20kg of meat and fish a year, rather than 100kg or so. In 2005 my spouse and I each consumed about 48kg of meat, in 2006 some 31kg, in 2007 20kg, and this year is a bit higher at 30kg – but we had a third person with us for half the year. Add in a few meals out and we’re looking at 1kg of meat each monthly, or 250g each weekly.

    By comparison, a small steak or serve of fish is 220g, a large one 350g. We usually have it spread out in several meals, though. I might make chilli with 450g of mince, but that’s eight serves; or beef and vegie stirfry with 300g, but that’s six serves.

    We feel that this amount of meat and fish, when combined with all our fresh fruit and vegetables, is an amount consistent with decent animal welfare, sustainable agriculture, and our own health and importantly tasty food.

  12. As an obese woman, I have tried being a vegetarian. There is a problem for some of us. I found out I cannot consume WHEAT, or more precisely gluten due to an enzyme problem. There is a amino acid tryptophan that needs to be consumed in meat if you do not consume gluten. The lack of this trypotophan caused me a great depression on a vegan diet, a long term depression relieved by one meat burger! I believe that many many people in my family have this gluten problem, despite consuming wheat. They do not seem to get happy without meat. All of them need to eat meat to stay undepressed. Meat contains Zinc, B vitamins and Trptophan.
    Of course, garbage meat does not help anyone’s health and meat is fattening. But there are some families that do not do as well as vegans. I have seen families break up with arguing, and you know, I think if she would have fed him a steak or two…. Guys especially seem to need some of the nutrients of meat for emotional stability.
    I have tried to raise rabbits. This is a skill that is not simple as it seems. I must admit that my health has jumped in improvement when I have consumed the clean food of organically raised very fresh meat. My soul has also been challenged as I love my little animals. I am sure that there are cows, and ducks, and pigs out there just as loveable. I do believe that all meat eaters need to grapple with the spiritual part of their consumption. I end up needing to pray rather a lot. Raising rabbits for my health is a very big difference than sliding through the fast food for an “extra meal” burger. To me it is a deliberate act of prayer and an answer to asking God for my “daily bread” in the absence of wheat. The weird thing is a lot of people I know would find me somehow immoral for eating rabbits that I have tenderly cared for, but eat cow at the drive thru, with no idea of what happened to that cow, and without any moral qualms at all. Well I know my rabbits are cared for- very well. And the “all beef” burger is laced with transfat soybean oil and you will never know what kind of health that cow that gave you your dollar patty. And if you are trying to feed your out of control emotions with that fake meat, you will get obese, because it will not satisfy at all.
    There is meat that satisfies, and bread that fills your hunger, and vegetables and fruit that help your health. You need to find them.

  13. Be the urine you want to see in the world.

    I think the idea of raising useful amounts of meat on your own land is great. In addition we should remmember that we are animals and produce fertilizer also. There are ways for doing this safely. Our waste management practices in the west are energy intensive and industrial also. There is a recent book by the rhizome collective that addresses this topic. Thanks for you work, I recently ran into this and have been enjoying.

  14. I found a farm near me (SE Michigan) that does on-farm slaughter of hogs and cattle. I think being shot in the field is more humane than being herded onto a truck, stuck in a feed lot (or dry lot, with no feed) for 1-7 days and then “going through the chute”. The sides of meat are then taken to the butcher for processing.

  15. Thank you for articulating this so well! I’ve been studying and learning about this for the last couple of years. I have grown to feel the same way, and this ‘utopian’ idea has got to happen! If you do it, and I do it, and everyone else who reads this it, well, we’ll have a nice little start!

  16. Thanks for the post. I am currently looking for a farm to buy and have been over the question of what role animals will play on my farm relentlessly for the past 6 months. I’m a meat-eater and I have been buying CSA grass-fed beef and chicken for over a year. I totally get the bio-diversity, land/animal closed loop and want to have that on my land. And yet, when I think about my dairy cow giving birth to a beautiful male calf (yes, I really want a dairy cow!) I find it impossible to imagine myself capable to sending it to slaughter. I’ve looked into ‘no kill’ dairies and there is a system called “cow protection”, based on Hindu principles. Apparently they can milk a cow for 4 years without needing to get her pregnant again and then they use the males for draft animals. I ordered a book on the system called “Cows and the Earth”. If you think horses might not be a bad idea, imagine to full-grown oxen used for draft and providing heaps of “black gold”. It does take ‘the herd’ quite a few years to ramp up with this method but still, eventually you need a lot of land or friends who want to start their own homestead. Needless to say, if I’d go that far to avoid killing my own calf I’d have to give up buying meat elsewhere. I do agree that farms should be self–sufficient and run in the black. However, I don’t think every small farm needs to be a commerical enterprise out to make a lot of profit. For me, it’s about getting independent of the grid, restoring the earth and showing loving kindness and stewardship to the land and the creatures on it. God knows, we humans have a powerful amount of negative karma to make up for. Maybe compassion and our “conscience” shouldn’t be pushed aside in the name of logic. Just some random thoughts I’ve been grappling with. Here’s a link to some info on a farm doing the cow protection program:

  17. Rob, just reading back through your essays. Just wanted to chime in and say that here in PA I know farmers who have their hogs killed on-farm and then taken to a small butcher shop for processing. True, these farmers are processing only a tiny number of hogs at a time, sometimes as few as 2, and usually no more than 12. I know these people, and I know they never send their animals to huge slaughterhouses. I don’t know how to square that with your claim that there are no humane slaughterhouses. Perhaps there aren’t, but there are farmers selling “humane” pork nonetheless, and doing it legally. I thought at first that they were using a “loophole” available only when customers purchase a whole or half animal, so that the meat doesn’t need to be inspected. But these farmers also sell cuts, so that can’t be right.

    Anyway, the upshot is that if there are small producers in your area, you could likely find meat that meets your ethical considerations. You probably already know that I’m sold on the rotational grazing, perennial, and annual crops model of homesteading. So we’re essentially in agreement. I’m not trying to be a meat pusher, but I agree with you that supporting small, ethical, local farms is critical for a viable future.

    • Kate – thanks for the update. This article is getting a bit dated, it seems. Yes, since writing this I have found some local slaughterhouses and there are also mobile units getting permitted in the past year or so that I am learning about. Much progress, both in my understanding and in the industry. There are religious sects in both Islam and Judaism that are helping in some areas to create humane markets too.

      The long and short is that, as I state in the article, my wife finds the killing of animals for food morally wrong if there are other means to source the nutrients so regardless of the improvements we will not be eating meat anytime soon.

      Thanks for reading and commenting Kate!

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