Veganism might make you feel better, but it won't save our asses

Eating plant based diets decreases your environmental impact just by eating lower on the food chain. That’s true whether the food comes from organic sustainable source or from agro industry nightmare farm. You can grow enough veggies for a family of 4 on two acres, or you can grow enough grass for one cow.

She ignores this simple fact and talks about farming methods. We’d all be better off meat eater and vegetarian alike to get our food from more local farms that use sustainable practices.

The big guys have all the money and have bought up all the representation. Things might change after the inevitable catastrophes. ( Extreme mono culture crops are more likely to get wiped out by disease, our entire agricultural system is heavily oil dependant, Willy nilly use of antibiotics with livestock is a great training ground for some kind of superbug )

On the brightside , the planet will undoubtedly breath easier when some chunk of us starve to death or die off from some superbug.


I think @Mindysan33 answered this, but yeah. Throughout history most people have been too poor^ to regularly consume significant quantities of meat, and it was often the case where the few animals a family/group tended to were worth more alive than dead.

^ in this case poor has too many meanings to parse out in the space of this thread…


In a way, this is not surprising.

“We’ll save the world through mass consumer choice” never seemed like a sentence that was going to ring true, especially if it hinges on something so emotive and personal as the food we choose to eat.

For pretty much the whole of humanity, being able to choose what you want to eat, rather than having to treat food as scarce fuel and nutrition to keep you alive, is the first signifier that you have escaped pervasive and grinding poverty. And that aspiration to have a little bit of control over their own diet, to enjoy eating rather than to always do the right thing is why people react strongly at being told to change their diet. As Orwell put it in The Road to Wigan Pier:

Now compare this list with the unemployed miner’s budget that I gave
earlier. The miner’s family spend only tenpence a week on green vegetables
and tenpence half-penny on milk (remember that one of them is a child less
than three years old), and nothing on fruit; but they spend one and nine on
sugar (about eight pounds of sugar, that is) and a shilling on tea. The
half-crown spent on meat might represent a small joint and the materials
for a stew; probably as often as not it would represent four or five tins
of bully beef. The basis of their diet, therefore, is white bread and
margarine, corned beef, sugared tea, and potatoes–an appalling diet.
Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like
oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter
to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it
would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do
such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on
brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less
money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A
millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an
unemployed man doesn’t. Here the tendency of which I spoke at the end of
the last chapter comes into play. When you are unemployed, which is to say
when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to
eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit ‘tasty’. There is
always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let’s have three pennorth
of chips! Run out and buy us a twopenny ice-cream! Put the kettle on and
we’ll all have a nice cup of tea! That is how your mind works when you are
at the P.A.C. level. White bread-and-marg and sugared tea don’t nourish you
to any extent, but they are nicer (at least most people think so) than
brown bread-and-dripping and cold water. Unemployment is an endless misery
that has got to be constantly palliated, and especially with tea, the
English-man’s opium. A cup of tea or even an aspirin is much better as a
temporary stimulant than a crust of brown bread.

However, there is a hopeful, bright side to the article. The throwaway line about fumaric acid cutting the methane output of sheep by 70% points us towards the wins that are available while accepting that human food culture is not going to change fundamentally overnight. Because that is how real change happens.


In the vegan equation, by contrast, the carbon cost of ploughing is rarely considered.

In the meat-eating equation, is the carbon cost of plowing considered? I would assume that 99% of animals raised for meat are fed with the same corn and soya from plowed lands…so they contribute every bit as much as vegans, plus whatever animal farts add to the equation. So at this moment, veganism is ahead by a country mile.

Sounds like a stupid argument to have anyway. Committing suicide is the only way you can reduce your carbon output to zero, so why aren’t we running editorials against those who try to reduce their carbon output and shame them into killing themselves?


I don’t think that’s true. The original article is an argument for meat eating and against vegetable production without meat eating. Not just rewinding. It doesn’t argue that this kind of meat production allied to a special kind of vegetable production is the way forward. Monbiot’s response was I felt appropriate.

I haven’t reread this since it was first published though. Oh, I eat meat currently. I’m not sure its right to do so and I wonder will we look back in the future on meat eaters and wonder how they justified it to themselves?

I’m sure the meat from her farm is lovely. I eat grass fed beef from sources I can trust (local butcher and a butcher with a farm near the in laws) . So I usually eat it once a week. It costs more than my normal food. And it’s damn good. But am I bad?


So their reasoning is: ‘growing crops hurts the soil more than grazing cattle, so eating plants is not much better than eating meat’.

Which is hogwash of course for 2 reasons. You need a lot more land area to produce meat than to produce plants, land which isn’t available. And second, to produce meat in an economically feasible manner you need to feed your cattle in the wintertime, which means you need to farm plants after all, and it would be more efficient to just eat the plants.

In some ideal world, where there is not shortage of freshwater and arable land and people are willing to pay the actual price of meat it might be possible to make meat nearly as sustainable as plants. In the real world not so much and going vegan is one of the easiest ways to shrink your (carbon/ecological) footprint. Not that i’m ready to go full vegan myself, I like meat too much, but I do try to eat meat only once a week and only from local organic farmers who try their best to work sustainably.


What is the likelihood, though of most people having two acres of land to grow their own veggies, as well as the time to tend that food, as well as the ability to do so?

She’s a farmer, who sells products to a larger market? Her point is to talk about one aspect of sustainability in agribusiness, not provide a silver bullet solution here. I suspect that @Purplecat has it correct that there is not a singular, easy answer to the problem of feeding all of us. I’d also add that treating food like a commodity instead of a human right is also a major part of the problem here. Food (along with health care and clean air and water, and maybe clean energy) should not be subject to the whims of corporations in the service of turning a profit for a few individuals. They should be shared collective projects that we all (and I mean every last single person on this sometimes stupid hunk of rock in space) benefit from.


I think it’s against a particular kind of vegetable production, which often ends up in meat substitutes marketed to vegans.

Me too. I’m not a vegan.

There is that, I suppose, that she has a business here and part of this article (and her book) is promoting her own products. But I think she’s right that monocultures (of whatever variety) are not good for the environment.

Well I don’t think that, and am not arguing that. I think the author is trying to get at the larger point of our current mode of producing all of our food, and that we should be seeking out more sustainable alternatives.


You’re right. I am kinda allergic to ‘us at our best/them at their worst’ comparisons, and I got in a snit. Her wider point about the shape of food production is spot on.


I just wanted to see if I was missing some meaning on the author’s part, honestly. I thought maybe you saw something in it that I missed.

I was just kind of confused, because I think she was very much seeking to stake out a middle ground in the debate over food production… I didn’t think she was attacking anyone really, especially not vegans or the production of vegetables in general (just a particular kind of production).

This thread seems weirdly hostile for a reason I can’t understand? Maybe it’s just the whole issue of food production under capitalism makes people instantly angry?


Yep. This is a function of emergy [sic]: it takes about an order of magnitude more of the next level down the trophic to make one unit up the trophic chain (e.g., about 10 kilos of plant to make 1 kilo of herbivore, about 10 kilos of herbivore, to make 1 kilo of carnivore).


The thing is, meat/dairy production uses a lot of resources - water, energy, land, and a large percentage of the plant-based food produced (I’m seeing estimates of 60-70% for the US and 40+% worldwide). It is an inefficient source of calories. The problem with meat isn’t just the methane (though that is a problem), it’s that with a growing world population, the resources used to raise livestock are better used elsewhere (like to feed people). Even if you don’t care about the living conditions of the animals, the working conditions of the people who work in meat processing are pretty awful. Ms. Tree’s ideas overall are going in the right direction, but as pointed out, grazing livestock are not likely to replace industrial meat production and not a compelling argument against veganism.

Of course not everyone is going to go vegan - but it’s hard to argue a lifestyle that reduces meat/dairy consumption isn’t better for the planet (and the animals, and the people that live on the planet).


What is the likelihood though of most people having two acres of land to grow their own veggies, as well as the time to tend that food, as well as the ability to do so?

I have a large vegetable garden (about 24’ x 30’) that is as much recreation as food production for me. As much as I would like to grow most of the household’s food, it would take way more time and effort than I have to give. Maintaining a garden can take a significant amount of work, not even including processing and preserving the food.


Good on you! I wish I had the time, skill, and energy for that.

Indeed. Until we all live on larger plots of land and are all working 20 hour weeks (or less), this seems an unlikely solution to the problem of feeding ourselves.

I do like the idea of community gardens in cities, though. There are a few around the Atlanta area and I know some groups in Detroit have been turning empty lots into community gardens. Seems like it could be part of the solution to hunger and food sustainability, as well as taking land that would just sit there and doing some useful with it. Plus, no one family is putting in the effort, an entire neighborhood is doing so.


I thought we had this discussion a few weeks ago. “growing animal feed” certainly conjures a vision of beautiful green fields of waving wheat or whatever, to be converted to brown pellets to feed cows.
Instead, it would be more realistic to picture large tracts of open land, very little of which could be used to grow vegetables. I mentioned before that my family has a bunch of grassland, which we harvest hay on every fall. We just finished for the year on Thursday. Certainly that land is in the category described. But it is not irrigated land. The native grass species we promote don’t need irrigation. And we do not need to keep the Elk, deer, bear, or native birds away.
Holistic grazing and growing practices are absolutely an emerging trend. I think it is great that we can both produce a valuable crop and preserve habitat for wild species on land that is essentially pristine wilderness.

Not really. It would not be cost effective to do so.

I am not advocating high density industrial meat production. It is pretty horrible. I would not eat that crap unless I could not afford to do otherwise.

But this subject does remind me that often the people who have the least in-depth knowledge of a subject have the strongest opinions of how it should be done. I am not specifically criticizing any individual commenters here with that observation. The source article is written by a person who seems to be sincerely trying to do her best for the land and humanity. Good for her.


How common is this practice, I’d like to know… like, is this something only a few smaller farmers do or are larger farming operations (large agribusinesses, in other words) doing similar things?


Straw argument:

So there’s a huge responsibility here: unless you’re sourcing your vegan products specifically from organic, “no-dig” systems

You mean like vertical farming? Seems like an opportunity for fresher food, closer to the consumer:

  • Less water
  • Less land
  • Always in season

I wasn’t suggesting anyone start homesteading, the point was simply you can get more nutrition from the same amount of land by eating lower on the food chain.


Sure, that’s entirely true. But again, there are lots of problems, from lack of time for small scale gardening/farming (it’s time consuming, even with a small garden) and lack of access to local agriculture (either costs or having it nearby, and time to shop, etc), etc, which tends to mean that only those with means can access that.

Again, I’d argue that treating food like a commodity instead of a human right is a key part of the problem.

As Grrrl says to Girl, our ideals are a luxury - and it’s a luxury the poor of the world can’t afford, and can’t solve themselves:


Sorry, a bit of reality shift there. Veganism as an attempt to prevent Climate Change? That was never the issue! It was always for the animal welfare. Maybe in the U.S. there are people arguing for it on account of climate change factors, but that was never my motivation. True, poor people can’t afford it. Since when was that a real argument? Every successful revolution happened because the bourgoisie changed sides.