It’s no longer good enough that those who have bought into the ideological argument that meat-eating, and thus animal agriculture, is somehow inappropriate for humanity. The arguments that modern livestock production causes environmental devastation, that putting meat on the table wastes precious resources, that including animal proteins in one’s diet causes all manner of medical maladies.
Much of that assault can be neutralized if one posits a more eco-friendlier approach to meat production. If the template for raising cattle, pigs and poultry could be re-fashioned the way it (allegedly) was back in some long-ago era: small-scale farms, outdoor access, on-farm production of feed and forage and of course, hundreds of locally sited, independently run rural packing plants to process those animals.
(It’s never clear exactly when this golden era was supposed to have existed, by the way, but the best guess I can make from the rantings of many an industry critic is sometime prior to World War I. Which means that we need to return to a time when the South was segregated, when most farmsteads had no electricity and when raising either crops or animals was a labor-intensive, subsistence-style existence for millions of families who eventually migrated to cities and towns to escape the grinding poverty that enveloped much of rural America back then).
Now, the pro-veggie apologists are taking a harder line, as exemplified by this excerpt from The Animal Rights Zone blog: “The idea of locally raised dairy, eggs or meat as better for the environment sounds plausible at first glance—food transported across long distances doesn’t appear to be as ecologically friendly than (sic) eating locally. But ultimately, idealizing a diet that includes animal products as environmentally neutral doesn’t hold up to inspection. Free-range, local animal products as an environmentally responsible choice is rife with the same destructive consequences as factory farming.”
Now, even the most counter-culturally correct, small-scale, organically pure, ecologically observant methods of raising heritage livestock are considered to be “environmentally destructive.”
In other words, meat production—no matter how consciously it’s done—is simply unacceptable.
The Spartan approach
The underlying argument against any and all meat production is essentially that factory farming, so-called “industrial agriculture,” violates Nature. That subsisting on only “natural” grains, vegetables and fruits is not only nutritionally superior but environmentally essential if we’re to preserve the well-being of our planetary ecosystems.
Coupled closely with this rationale is the notion that we should all be engaging in a “natural lifestyle.” That not only our food, but our clothing, our households, all of our consumer choices should reflect a simple, spartan approach to living as close the Mother Earth as we can.
To that end, let’s explore for a moment what that would mean in practical terms for our holier-than-thou vegan apologists (and I confess I heard the gist of this argument from a farmer friend who grows produce and raises Highland breed cattle on a farm about 30 minutes north of my humble little urban homestead).
Want to live a vegan lifestyle truly in tune with Nature? Okay, how about living on 10 acres of land, where you could be free to pursue your dreams of a veggie-style existence free of animal flesh and eco-destruction? (We’ll leave aside for the sake of argument the niceties of financing such a purchase and raising the capital to procure even rudimentary farming implements). What would your typical veggie activist do with that land?
Grow vegetables and fruit and grain, of course. Well, here in western Washington it’s awfully tough to grow wheat. Corn does pretty well most summers, but without fertilizer, yields are painfully small.
Rice might grow all right, although summers tend to be too short and too cool for proper germination. In any event, I’m unaware of any commercial rice farms anywhere in the state. Many kinds of vegetables do thrive in the maritime climate here, along with berries galore and even certain fruit trees (although again, cool summers tend to stunt productivity, unless, of course, you’re growing specialized hybrid trees, which doesn’t exactly fit into the “natural-is-better” meme).
You could grow soybeans or other legumes, of course; they’re a staple fop veggie diets. But even on 10 acres, it would be challenging without a lot of specialized equipment to plant, harvest and process soybeans into something palatable.
Truth is, the growing conditions across much of the region aren’t optimal for rice, wheat, soy and other vegetarian staple crops. What the climate and soil are excellent for is pasture, for raising cattle and dairy cows, for growing hay to feed them. That’s been the principal agricultural activity around here for centuries. That, plus raising chickens, catching fish and hunting game sustained generations of homesteaders—and before them, Native tribes—as far back as history records.
None of that would be available to today’s committed vegan, of course, so it would be entertaining, to say the least, to see how they would pursue that natural lifestyle they espouse without resorting to any use or consumption of animals, animal foods or animal fertilizer.
Especially if they were transported back to that “golden era” of farming sans modern equipment, electricity or central heating.
That I’d pay to watch.
Dan Murphy is a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator