There’s been plenty of chatter in this space lately over the numbers game that vegan activists like to play trying to convince themselves and their followers that hordes of people are eager to jump onto the no-animal-foods-or-products bandwagon.
As citizens of an affluent, highly developed, post-modern society, we have that luxury. We have the luxury of choosing to go vegan, a choice unavailable to billions of people elsewhere on the planet. We shouldn’t demonize such a benefit; we should instead be cognizant of, and grateful for, the privileged status of being able to forego the consumption of animal food, should we decide to do so.
But I would go further and argue that veganism is far worse than a mere curiosity, a plaything with which privileged people like to experiment. I would argue that the vegan lifestyle is wasteful, selfish and irresponsible.
Harsh? Not at all, not if one honestly dissects not just the dietary dictates but the environmental and socio-economic consequences that would result if billions of people were to go vegan.
› I say wasteful because if livestock were eliminated both as a source of food and fiber, billions of acres of marginal farmland and rangeland could no longer contribute to human nutrition. Assuming we can all agree that with seven billion-plus people now alive on Earth, the hunter-gather lifestyle is no longer viable. Those billions of souls have to be fed through agricultural activity.
Without being able to use land where precipitation is unpredictable, where soils are too unproductive or growing seasons are too short to raise the crops vegan advocates insist we live on, humanity would lose a huge percentage of its overall food productivity, not to mention the loss of billions of tons of animal manure vital to maintaining the fertility of the acreage that is suitable for conventional farming.
› I say selfish because demanding that people everywhere go veggie would deprive millions of people of the foods, the culture and the lifestyle that have sustained them for millennia. The nomadic herding tribes of sub-Saharan Africa, the native people of the Arctic regions, the aboriginal inhabitants across Polynesia as but a few examples — all of them would have to somehow import most of their food from afar (as if that would even be possible), or abandon both their homelands and their lifestyles.
Such a development would be hugely traumatic, but the selfishness of the vegan philosophy is so profound that most of its disciples never even consider such a scenario, much less express any remorse that their extremist ideas might actually cause more harm than good. It’s all about making them feel good about their moral superiority, not about relating to people elsewhere who aren’t in a position to even consider giving up all animal foods.
› I say irresponsible because if the global food systems currently straining on the brink of unsustainability are to be remedied, the challenge cannot be met without the synergies provided by animal agriculture. We’ve temporarily ratcheted up the “efficiency” of modern farming via massive inputs of (relatively) cheap fossil fuels. Whether that can be maintained short-term — much less over generations to come — is very much up for debate.
What isn’t debatable is the reality that all of characteristics of an ideal food production system — efficiency, localization, biodiversity — cannot be implemented without incorporating livestock into the equation.
Nothing converts sunlight into calories more efficiently than livestock, and the capture and utilization of by-products from those animals are central to creating a farming model that optimizes both inputs and outputs.
The basis is biology
In the end, choosing veganism is akin to choosing celibacy, in three important ways.
First, it is a highly personal decision, one that cannot by any stretch of logic be considered prescriptive for society at large.
Second, although there is merit to both choices, neither can be sold to any but a tiny minority of people, no matter how vigorously its advocates proselytize the rest of us.
And third, the basis for both concepts runs directly counter to the most profound biological imperatives affecting every species on this earth. Only people willing to voluntarily eschew reproduction, or those who consciously try to separate themselves from the very ecosystem that sustains us, could embrace either celibacy or veganism.
Neither choice is natural or normal.
Are there aspects of the vegan and/or celibate lifestyle that have merit? Of course, and some would contend that they represent a higher moral stance.
I’d argue that if either concept had gained more than the tiniest sliver of participants way back when, none of us would even be here today to argue about them.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator