How does one balance the importance of a strong, personal belief with the overarching needs of an entire society? The answer to this question — if there is an answer — could very well decide whether the human race is able to pull back from the environmental brink we’ve landed ourselves upon. Specifically, I’m talking about the unwillingness I’ve seen in — what I hope is a few — certain sects of veganism. These folks believe that the way to salvation for both human health and the earth’s environment is to completely eliminate any dependent relationship humans have with animals. No dairy. No leather. Certainly no meat. The idea is that by doing so we will reduce the number of greenhouse gases (methane), increase the amount of usable land (less acreage used for corn), and improve human health. I don’t doubt that they’re right, but the cost of their proposed changes is too great.
From the very first fencepost humankind put down, we started ourselves on a path that is impossible to veer from or go back down. We are the only species in the animal kingdom who practices husbandry: the raising and caring for other species as a survival mechanism. To that end, we have altered or created new strains of domesticated animals through selective breeding practices and — less endearingly — kill-offs of entire species (Aurochs among others). While this has been largely successful, there are severe drawbacks that need to be corrected. Industrial farming has impersonalized the husbandry process and turned the slaughter of other species into nothing more than a step on an assembly line. It has produced more methane than we can contain. It has taken up large chunks of land for growing genetically altered corn to feed to these species. It has also placed the control of the world’s food supplies into the hands of the powerful and wealthy. Not to mention the small cages, deplorable living conditions for the animals, etc. So yes, there’s a serious problem here that needs a serious solution. Unfortunately, veganism isn’t it.
For one thing, we’ve got billions of animals to care for. If the vegans had their way we would no longer have a use for them, but then what? Release them into the wild where they endanger or destroy indigenous species or worse? Will the methane production cease because we no longer care for these creatures, or is it more likely to get worse as it will go completely unchecked. I’ve heard it suggested by a self-described vegan that the best solution would be to slaughter all of them. Because after all, killing millions of animals all at once in a bath of blood for no reason other than they’ve outlived their usefulness is far better than sitting by while they’re slaughtered for food. This is a problem that has to be solved.
My greatest concern is on the environmental side. For any environmental solution to be effective, it has to be adopted by a vast majority of humankind. Humans are pretty particular about “adopting” things. We want to be less wasteful, but not at the cost of our families, income, personal property, or freedoms. Militant veganism with its confrontational nature, its “do this or you’re wrong” attitude, and its lack of real solutions is not attractive to vast majority of us and can never succeed on the scale required.
It’s a totalitarian perspective on an issue too complex for black and white reasoning. Totalitarianism just doesn’t work. It’s unethical, inefficient, and it chafes. The same group of people who would tell us to stop listening to the “meat and dairy lobby” will in the same breath tell us to listen to only them. There’s a middle ground; however, and while it doesn’t keep us all from eating dairy and meat, it does seem to have a positive effect on our health, the environment, and the overall well-being of the species we’ve domesticated.
The practices of permaculture and localvore by themselves are effective ways of managing resources and health, respectively. If taken together I believe that the bulk of our environmental and health issues related to animal husbandry can be solved. Firstly, permaculture removes the concept of factory farming from our society. No longer would we see mile-long, stainless steel pens and slaughterhouses funded by the government and managed by the powerful, and centralized out of reach. Each family or community would be in charge of their own food production, no matter their location. It’s pure self-sufficiency. Some would choose a vegetarian lifestyle, others would not. Some might raise timber and barter for food or wool. Either way, we end up with closer communities, cleaner air and water, decentralized food production, and a serious reduction in the number of food-borne illnesses and health issues.
Localvore is the economic model and community promise that provides the motivation for permaculture practices. It is the practice of buying and eating a certain percentage of locally-grown foods. Some communities try to be 100% localvore, others shoot for a smaller percentage with an eye on increasing it over time. Whatever the current level of consumption, by choosing to purchase our food locally we reduce the necessity for government-subsidized farming, gain a vested interest in the husbandry methods our communities use, and support the self-sufficiency or oursleves, our neighbors, and our communities. All of the issues — other than the actual eating of meat and dairy — often raised by militant vegans are solved with these two philosophies practiced in tandem.
The species husbanded in this way have healthier, happier lives and are never killed without need. The humans in these environments feel closer to the natural law and order of things. The food — vegetable or animal — is cleaner and safer. The use of pesticides and genetically modified seeds is eliminated. This is a middle ground that works. There are communities doing this today and more are coming on board every year.
The environment and the caring thereof is one of the greatest weapons vegans have in their arsenal. By showing how industrial farming practices, government subsidies, and wasteful eating are affecting not only human health but the health of the planet, vegans have started a positive dialog. The healthier ones among them have shown how — with enough money in the right location — one can live free of meat and dairy. However, in order for that positive dialog to turn into positive action. In order for the people who can make a difference to stand up and change things, the totalitarian, all-or-none diatribes must stop. The cries of “flesh eater” and “food for pleasure” must stop. The hyperbole needs to be put away. It’s blocking the real issues that have real solutions. The problems of our society and our planet are larger than anyone’s personal belief system.