The next ‘overview’ point that I want to discuss: “Conventional agriculture is carnivorous,” stated Lierre Keith in her book “The Vegetarian Myth,” regardless of what specifically each farm is producing. I wholeheartedly agree.
Vegetarians and vegans would have you believe that a meat-free diet is a sustainable venture; one without fault or death. This simply is not the case. Agriculture, when performed on the conventional, industrial scale, is carnivorous. It quite absolutely requires death and destruction. It has the power to consume any and all portions of an ecosystem. CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) are not the only inhumane portion of industrial agriculture; monocropping can be argued to be just as detrimental to an existing ecosystem.
In order to grow the vast amounts of corn, wheat, and soy that make up around 75-90% of a vegetarian’s diet, the land must first be made suitable for agriculture. If you recall in my first post, there are only a very few locations across the globe that can truly, sustainably support large scale agriculture; most areas where conventional ag is performed are not within these specific locations. Farmers who produce such large amounts of cash crops often have no regard for the potential sustainability of their operation, clearing out trees and piping in water to support their crops. They also pour on the fertilizer, often provided by CAFOs, which eventually runs off into surface water systems such as lakes, creeks, and rivers. Instead of working to build and sustain healthy topsoil with beneficial microorganisms, the topsoil is degraded, even further by pesticides, herbicides, and erosion.
Once the land is cleared, planted, and fertilized, and the crops begin to grow, the cycle of death is not yet complete. The act of harvesting these crops kills many animals, insects, and native plants. Small animals and insects who have been able to tough out a life among the crops while they grew are now displaced, crushed, or eviscerated by the harvesting equipment. Even larger animals such as hogs, deer, and coyotes have been known to be casualties of crop harvesting. Most vegetarians do not consider the inadvertent death which is a part of their “sustainable” lifestyle.
CAFOs are the other form of carnivorous conventional agriculture. This one is a bit more obvious, animals are raised and slaughtered for their flesh. Most CAFOs display a complete disregard for their quarry’s natural lifestyle, and instead opt for the most economical and least time consuming options. Animals, whether poultry, pigs, or cattle, are crammed into tight quarters, far exceeding what their housing can comfortably accommodate. They are fed, surprise, conventionally farmed feeds typically made up of corn, wheat, and soy, coupled with “waste parts” from other CAFOs (chicken parts, pig parts, cow parts, etc.). Cows were designed to consume grass, not feed, leading to ulcers and other digestive issues. Pigs were made for rooting, foraging, and scavenging. Because they are not afforded a typical lifestyle with natural behaviors, cannibalism between pigs often occurs under CAFO conditions. Chickens are packed so tightly and grow so fast, they often are unable to stand and succumb to their own weight. Disease runs rampant under these conditions, as well as injury and death prior to slaughter.
In order to create a sustainable agricultural system, we need to go beyond conventional industrial ag. We need to begin respecting the land and the animals. We need to begin creating ecosystems, partnering animals with crops in a rotational system that benefits those involved. Joel Salatin’s system on his Polyface Farms in Virginia is one of the best and most sustainable systems for agriculture in today’s day in age. He achieves high production rates while respecting and even improving the land that he farms. He makes use of cattle and chickens to fertilize his pastures. He raises rabbits on pasture and pigs in a fashion that allows them to root and also aerate the soil. He also does not succumb to conventional practices and does not monocrop or raise today’s corn, wheat, and soy crops. In doing so, he has created a healthy and sustainable system of agriculture on his farm that is improving his soil and producing food to feed others. It is easy to say that Joel’s form of ag is far more sustainable, and far less carnivorous than other types of industrial ag: he is working with his ecosystems to build and sustain them.
If we are to end this carniverious cycle, or at least decrease the destruction, one of the biggest steps we can take is to avoid monoculture crops and CAFO meats. If we turned in our corn, wheat, and soy products in favor of farmers market veggies and atypical grasses and grains (barley, sorghum, buckwheat), we are taking a step in the right direction. I am not saying that vegetarianism is wrong, however their ideas are seriously misconstrued. They believe that a no-meat system is the only system of dieting that prevents death. This is incorrect. Besides the plants that are killed, the natural ecosystems of the areas that are farmed also suffer. I would whole heartedly support a vegetarian who only buys their produce from a local farmer or through farmers markets, however I fear this is not what most vegetarians are willing to do. Unless one is gung-ho about canning, dehydrating, and other forms of food preservation, the winters often under-produce the necessary nutrients required for survival. This is why meat, which offers required protein amongst other vitamins and minerals, is beneficial in winter and less productive times.
Regardless of your diet, please continue to deeply consider what you are eating. I realize it is irrational to believe that everyone can consume a diet of local, non-industrial ag; even I myself do not currently eat that way. It is possible, however, for everyone to take an interest in what I’m saying: teach yourself, ask questions, and truly consider what you’re putting into your body and where it came from. If I can motivate even just one person to switch from store bought to farm fresh, local eggs or meat or produce, then I can say I have been successful in my endeavors.
Thanks for reading, I’m looking forward to putting together part 3!