“I’ve watched enough harvests to know that cutting a wheat field amounts to more decapitated bunnies under the combine than you would believe.”
~ Barbara Kingsolver
“As I was thinking about the vegan conclusion, I remembered my childhood on the farm and where our food comes from and how it is produced. Specifically, I remembered riding on farm equipment and seeing mice, gophers, and pheasants in the field that were injured or killed every time we worked the fields. Therefore, I realized that animals of the field are killed in large numbers annually to produce food for humans.”
~ Stephen L. Davis
“When I inquired about the lives lost on a mechanized farm, I realized what costs we pay at the supermarket. One Oregon farmer told me that half of the cottontail rabbits went into his combine when he cut a wheat field, that virtually all of the small mammals, ground birds, and reptiles were killed when he harvested his crops. Because most of these animals have been seen as expendable, or not seen at all, few scientific studies have been done measuring agriculture’s effects on their populations.”
~ Ted Kerasote
What diet causes the most harm? If veganism means the avoidance of death, suffering and exploitation of animals, then carnivore is the most vegan diet around. Pastoralism as a food system and way of life kills the fewest animals, fewer than agriculture by far. For every life taken by a carnivore (e.g., a single pasture-raised chicken or cow), a vegan might kill hundreds or thousands (coyotes, deer, rodents, insects, etc). In both cases, the death count is known and so intentional. There is no avoidance of moral culpability. This isn’t about being clever but about what is genuinely least harmful and hence most environmentally sustainable. Rather than a pose of moral righteousness, our concern should be with what brings the greater overall good.
I did do a carnivore diet for a couple of months as an experiment, although I wasn’t strict about it. For a while now, I’ve been back on a diet that is ketogenic, paleo, and traditional foods. My food sourcing is important to me with an emphasis on locally produced, seasonally available, organic, and pasture-raised. This means I regularly shop at the nearby farmers market. So, despite not being carnivore at present, I am heavily biased toward animal foods with plenty of meat and eggs, along with some dairy. The plant foods I eat are also almost entirely from the farmers market, in particular the fermented veggies I enjoy. That translates as eating a greater proportion of plant foods when available in the warm time of the year and more animal foods in winter. Not only is this diet extremely healthy but also highly ethical and environmentally sustainable.
Raising animals on pasture avoids all of the problems associated with industrial agriculture and factory farming. It is actually a net gain for local ecosystems, the biosphere, and the human species. The health of the soil actually improves with pasture and atmospheric carbon is captured. Run-off, erosion, and pollution are eliminated. On top of that, pasture provides habitat for wildlife, as opposed to mass farming and monoculture that destroys habitat and displaces wildlife, not to mention poisons, starves and slaughters immense numbers of wildlife. If you’re pro-life in the broadest sense, the last thing in the world you’d want to be is vegan, as it is dependent on industrial agriculture and mass transportation.
Vegan arguments against harm to animals don’t apply to a pasture-raised or wild-hunted carnivore diet or any local meat-based diet combined with locally and seasonally available plant foods. (By the way, today was the beginning of wild mulberry season — delicious! I was knocked right out of ketosis and was glad for it. That is the reason plants evolved the highly addictive drug called sugar, so that we would eat their fruit and spread their seeds, not so that one day agriculture would make possible industrially-produced and health-destroying high fructose corn syrup.)
Veganism creates a similar disconnect as seen with right-wing “pro-lifers” who oppose abortion. As I’ve pointed out, countries that ban abortions don’t decrease the rate of abortions and sometimes increase them. The main change is whether abortions are legal and safe or illegal and unsafe. But anti-abortionists refuse to accept responsibility for the consequences of the policies they support. Similarly, vegans also refuse to accept responsibility for the deaths that their diet incurs. Whether one intentionally or unintentionally cause harm, the harm is equally real. This is how symbolic ideology that makes people feel good trumps practical concerns about what actually makes the world a better place.
“What do plants eat? They eat dead animals; that’s the problem. For me that was a horrifying realization. You want to be an organic gardener, of course, so you keep reading ‘Feed the soil, feed the soil, feed the soil…’
“All right. Well, what does the soil want to eat? Well, it wants manure, and it wants urine, and it wants blood meal and bone meal. And I…could not face that. I wanted my garden to be pure and death-free. It didn’t matter what I wanted: plants wanted those things; they needed those things to grow.”
~ Lierre Keith
“There is no place left for the buffalo to roam. There’s only corn, wheat, and soy. About the only animals that escaped the biotic cleansing of the agriculturalists are small animals like mice and rabbits, and billions of them are killed by the harvesting equipment every year. Unless you’re out there with a scythe, don’t forget to add them to the death toll of your vegetarian meal. They count, and they died for your dinner, along with all the animals that have dwindled past the point of genetic feasibility.”
~ Lierre Keith
There is no reason the world’s population couldn’t live according to the meat-based diet I and many others follow. Very little of the land available can be used for farming. But most of it can be used for grazing. Also, grazing animals for food can be done alongside keeping grazing land open for wild animals as well. Keep in mind that, in North America, there once were more buffalo roaming the continent than there are now cows and the vast herds of buffalo were what kept the prairies healthy. Even in countries that don’t have good farmland, animals can always be raised locally. There is no country in the world that lacks land for grazing. If not cows, then pigs, goats, camels, or whatever else.
Let me put this in perspective, 90% of land in North America can only be used for wildlife and livestock, not farming. In other places (Africa, India, Australia, etc), it’s even higher at 95% of land. So, are we going to try to feed the global population with just 5-10% of the arable land and ignore the rest? In ever more intensively farming, we are destroying what is left of the arable land. That is insanity! Industrial agriculture and factory farming makes no sense, except from a capitalist model of private profit and externalized/socialized costs. A local animal-based diet is the only way to feed the world’s population, maintain optimal health, avoid the greatest harm to animals, and ensure environmental sustainability.
Veganism didn’t exist prior to modern agriculture. Grazing animals, on the other hand, has been the mainstay of the human diet for hundreds of thousands of years. There is no traditional diet that wasn’t centered on animal foods, the source of the most energy-dense and nutrient-dense foods. And when done low-carb as was typical of traditional societies, ketosis allows people to eat less food and go for longer periods of time without eating. Many people on animal-based diets do regular fasting, intermittent and/or extended. In ketosis, I easily skip meals or go several days without food and it doesn’t bother me. Since ketosis allows for smaller intake of food, that is an additional decreased impact on the environment.
The standard American diet (SAD) that is plant-based is neither healthy for the individual nor healthy for the environment. Keep in mind that almost all junk foods are vegan: potato chips, crackers, cookies, candy, pop, etc. This vegan junk food is mass farmed, mass produced, and mass shipped, not to mention mass subsidized. Even most healthier plant-based foods, including whole foods, that vegans rely upon are shipped from distant regions and countries with very little regulation for the health of environment and workers. Veganism contributes to pollution and the need for heavily-subsidized infrastructure.
What is ethical about this? Good intentions are not good enough. We can’t separate ourselves from the world we live in. It’s a fantasy that we can live apart from the natural cycle of life and death. Trying to force that fantasy upon the world, some might call that a nightmare. A diet is part of an ecosystem, all contained within a living biosphere. In pretending to be separate, we cause even more death and suffering. Mass extinction was always inherent to agriculture. “The end,” as Lierre Keith said, “was written into the beginning.” There is no avoiding this, as long as we continue down this path of exploitative civilization. We can embrace that ending, though, and seek a new beginning.
“Agriculture is the biggest mistake in human history,” as put by George Armelagos. And on the same note, Jared Diamond wrote that, “Archaeologists studying the rise of farming have reconstructed a crucial stage at which we made the worst mistake in human history. Forced to choose between limiting population or trying to increase food production, we chose the latter and ended up with starvation, warfare, and tyranny.” So, are we doomed? Only if we choose to be. Agriculture as we know it can’t continue. Can it be done differently? Others have offered more optimistic answers.
If we hope to find another way before it’s too late, we must look for inspiration in the traditional food systems that still survive. And there most definitely is hope. We already know of ways to reverse the damage and rehabilitate the land. No doubt further understandings will be gained over time that will allow even greater results. But the key is that more animals, wild and domestic, will be needed to make possible this course of action. That is to say, in place of ecological deserts of monocultural farming, we need to return to the environmental norm of biodiversity.
“The persistence of human life on this planet depends on soil ecosystems. Ultimately, I don’t care what diet you eat as long as it leads to the enrichment of organic matter in the earth and mycorrhizal networks. Show me the plant-based diet that does this. Without ruminants ecosystems will collapse. Tilling of the soil for mono-crop agriculture is the enemy (and releases massive amounts of carbon) not cows, Bison and other animals.”
~Dr. Paul Saladino
“If we took 75% of the world’s trashed rangeland, we could restore it from agriculture back to functioning prairies — with their animal cohorts — in under fifteen years. We could further sequester all of the carbon that has been released since the beginning of the industrial age. So I find that a hopeful thing because, frankly, we just have to get out of the way. Nature will do the work for us. This planet wants to be grassland and forest. It does not want to be an agricultural mono-crop.”
~ Lierre Keith
“Viewing this global scene, as I have been doing for many years, I will stake my life on it that humanity’s best hope lies in one simple idea that no scientist can sensibly argue against – that management in this 21st century should be holistic and no longer reductionist. And Holistic Management of course includes recognizing that only livestock with Holistic Planned Grazing (or better process when developed) can address global desertification, annual burning of billions of hectares of grasslands and savannas, and regenerate the world’s dying soils and soil life essential to addressing climate change. […]
“Reductionist management, without using livestock managed on the land in a way that addresses global desertification and climate change, will inevitably lead to the doomsday predictions of Wallace-Wells. Billions of people dead and hundreds of cities destroyed and worse in the relatively near future no matter how many hopeful measures we might take.”
~ Allan Savory
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Here is another argument comes up, but usually only shows up in brief comments. The following is a good response in explaining why the argument makes no sense: “No, the majority of this agriculture is for human consumption, not to feed livestock” (from the comments section of Karen Lindquist’s The Least-Harm Fallacy of Veganism). I’ll first share the comment to which the second comment is a response.
September 27, 2019 at 1:40 am
“Yeah, I agree. Agriculture is very destructive, and we should localize. However:
“Is not the majority of this agriculture to feed livestock? And how could we feed pigs and chickens without it? They aren’t ruminants.
“Think about what would happen if we kept our meat consumption the same, but released the 70.4% of cows, 98.3% of pigs, and 99.9% of chickens in the US that live on factory farms to open grasslands? How could we possibly do this without bulldozing every last tree?”
October 8, 2019 at 2:15 pm
“No, the majority of this agriculture is for human consumption, not to feed livestock. Livestock get the left-overs, the crop failures, and the stuff that didn’t grade to top-quality grade for use in every part of the term “human consumption” from being made into biofuel to vegetable oil to clothing. Animals also get the by-products that come from the conversion of these crops to various products for humans because the landfills would be overflowing if animals couldn’t take them, making that an environmental disaster in and of itself (as if landfills aren’t already an environmental disaster already), and because those animals turn those waste products into nutritional edible food. More here: https://www.ethicalomnivore.org/are-farm-animals-starving-the-planet-of-food-humans-cant-even-eat/
“Why would anyone be dumb enough to release a large number of animals that aren’t even adapted to live in such an environment? They’d die out very quickly, either from starvation because they don’t know how to forage on their own for food or they just can’t live in such an environment, or by predation. (It seems that you’ve never been on open grasslands before; trees on open grasslands are very rare. You only find trees in forests or savannahs.) The better solution to that problem you propose is via gradual phasing out of such systems and moving towards regenerative, well-managed pastured-based systems that produce and maintain the breeds and types of animals that are adapted to such a system. No “bulldozing every last tree” required. If you want a good example of what that kind of system looks like, look at operations like Polyface Farms and Brown Ranch in North Dakota. Great examples of stacked enterprises with a pasture-based system that is most certainly replicable, and FAR more efficient than any degenerative, monoculture CAFO operation.
“Think outside the box!!!! All isn’t as it appears.”
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Carnivore Is Vegan:
Bad Vegan Logic: Accidental Deaths vs Intentional Deaths – Carnivore is Vegan
A Carnivore Diet is More Vegan than a Vegan Diet – Carnivore is Vegan
Vegans Use Slave Cows to Make Fertilizer
Dairy is 2000 X’s More Ethical Than Almond Milk
Stir-Fry Genocide: Mushrooms Are Not Vegan
Field Deaths in Plant Agriculture
by Bob Fischer and Andy Lamey
There’s no such thing as vegan food
by Claire Taylor
by Joanna Blythman
But are you truly vegan?
by Matthew Evans
The Least-Harm Fallacy of Veganism
by Karin Lindquist
Are Farm Animals Starving the Planet of Food… Humans Can’t Even Eat?
by Karin Lindquist
The Hidden Cost of Veganism – Lierre Keith #143
from ReWild Yourself
Lierre Keith & The Agripocalypse
by Lawrence Rosenberg
Eating Local Meat is Actually More Sustainable than Veganism
from Heartland Fresh Family Farm
Why vegetarianism will not save the world
by Ian MacKenzie
If you care about the planet, eat more beef
by Danielle Smith
Report: Cut red-meat eating by 80 percent to save the planet?
by Anne Mullens and Bret Scher
EAT-Lancet report’s recommendations are at odds with sustainable food production
by Sustainable Food Trust
War on burgers continues with false environmental impact claims
by Amanda Radke
Sorry, But Giving Up on Meat Is Not Going to Save The Planet
by Frank M. Mitloehner
Don’t Blame Cows For Climate Change
by Sylvia Wright
Cattle and methane: More complicated than first meets the (rib) eye
by Stephan Lewandowsky and Asa Wahlquist
Beef’s ‘Sustainability’ Involves More Than Greenhouse Gases
by Jesse Bussard
Environmental Hoofprint Matters — Frank Mitloehner, UC Davis
from Farm To Table Talk
UN admits flaw in report on meat and climate change
by Alastair Jamieson
Can Dietary Changes Limit Greenhouse Gas Emissions?
by Wyatt Bechtel
Scientist: Don’t blame cows for climate change
by Paul Armstrong
Effective Livestock Grazing And A Regenerative Future
by Allan Savory
Climate Change – Cause and Remedy
by Allan Savory
Fate Of City-Based Civilization In The Hands Of Farmers
by Allan Savory
Hope For The Future – First Real Hope In Centuries.
by Allan Savory
Response To “Goodbye – And Good Riddance – To Livestock Farming”
by Daniela Ibarra-Howell
Why Homo Sapiens Are A Keystone Predator In Rewilding Projects
by Caroline Grindrod
Red meat bounds down the carbon neutral path
by Shan GoodwinShan Goodwin
Can cows cause more climate change than cars?
by Frédéric Leroy
Climate, Food, Facts
from Animal Agriculture Alliance
The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race
by Jared Diamond
Was agriculture the greatest blunder in human history?
by Darren Curnoe
Could Veganism Cause Extinctions?
by Patrice Ayme