If you hate the very idea of raising livestock, then you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do for the thousands of impoverished refugees now living in our nation’s most liberal state.
Once again, in a series of dozens of similar challenges across the last several decades, I defy all those vegan purists out there who insist that animal agriculture in any form is an abomination to respond to the following story.
The setting is Vermont, arguably the most liberal states in the country — complete with its own socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders — in a story reported by National Public Radio, again, hardly a bastion of pro-business, Big Ag-loving reporting.
Just so we’re clear on the source and setting of the story.
Turns out that bucolic Vermont, a state that banned highway billboards to preserve the rustic charm of its Norman Rockwell-esque landscape, is now home to thousands of African, South Asian and Central European immigrants. The state’s largest city of Burlington, population 47,000, by itself has more than 6,000 such refugees.
Now, these aren’t illegals who managed to sneak into the country. These are refugees from war-torn, impoverished countries who’ve been fortunate to have been relocated to the United States. As those who work with refugee populations understand all too well, most people given asylum on that basis arrive here with nothing. Literally. No money, no possessions, no marketable employment skills and just to complicate things even more, most have to navigate a foreign culture with little or no English proficiency.
About the only thing that helps them assimilate is access to some cultural connections from their homeland. And the one connection most easily procured is the traditional foods that used to form the basis of their diet.
In this case, goat meat.
An escape from poverty
Of course, goat meat isn’t easy to come by, especially for a refugee population accustomed to eating that meat on a regular basis. And before vegan crusaders launch into their usual diatribe about the horrors of slaughtering sentient creatures, consider the “lifestyle” of the hundreds of millions of impoverished people in Africa, Asia or elsewhere in the developing world who eat goat meat.
They don’t own big farms, if they own any arable land at all. They don’t have access to farming infrastructure required to cultivate and harvest the range of crops necessary to obtain the “complete plant-based protein sources” veggies are always bleating about. And they certainly can’t obtain professional employment that would pay them even a fraction of what it would cost to live on the vegan’s preferred diet of the fresh, organic foodstuffs the activist community prescribes for the other 99.99 percent of the world’s population.
About the only way most people in those countries can enhance their diets and make some money to lift themselves out of abject poverty is to raise some livestock: A small flock of chickens, a couple goats or maybe a cow.
So now, according to NPR, an effort has begun to provide goat meat for refugees in Vermont and to meet the demand among similar ethnic populations across New England. For example, at the Pine Island Farm in Colchester, the Vermont Goat Collaborative is helping members of the refugee community to raise and sell the meat from male kids born on goat dairy farms.
The project is helping these folks earn a living, connect with at least a piece of the culture they had to leave behind and support a small-business, family farmer-friendly alternative to the modern production model that activists love to loathe.
So my question is this: What’s wrong with that effort? Or more precisely, what would animal ag haters suggest as a replacement for the food, the cultural connections, the business opportunities and the rural economic activity that raising goats provides for destitute refugees in New England’s least industrialized state?
How is it morally wrong to help people who have suffered the loss of what we cherish most in life — family, friends, culture — and at the same time help smaller producers and local co-ops to survive? Don’t those initiatives represent the values that vegetarians claim they support?
I will await a coherent rebuttal from anyone who dismisses or disparages the business of raising livestock and marketing meat products.
But I won’t be holding my breath.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.