There are plenty of great things about being a vegetarian or a vegan. According to vegansociety.com and PETA, vegans/vegetarians are healthier, live longer, are more compassionate toward animals, have less impact on the environment, and are even better looking. Much of this is true, if the comparison is to conventional factory farming and the folks who patronize it.
But the vegan/vegetarian creed is a stiff reaction to industrial agriculture – a system of food production that’s harming ecological diversity, mining soil, abusing animals, and tricking people into eating things that can barely be considered food. So how does the veg(etari)an creed stack up against the “third way” of food: natural farming and being a locavore? Here are several good reasons why, if you want to be healthy/compassionate/eco-friendly, you may want to consider going locavore instead of veg(etari)an:
1. You will still consume lots and lots of plants
It’s fairly common knowledge that the overwhelming majority of human kibble should be plants. To be sure, there are specific cultures and populations that have subsisted healthily on a meat-only diet for centuries or longer, but most of these are hunting cultures where the ultra-protein diet is accompanied by an interminable exercise program wherein one chases down said protein source, under human power, all day long, in the world’s most extreme environments.
For those of us who don’t live in the arctic circle or the scorchingest part of the Australian outback, rest assured that a locavore diet consists overwhelmingly of plants and imparts all the attendant health benefits. And part of the benefit comes from something veg(etari)ans don’t necessarily hold sacred…
2. Eating locally-sourced, in-season plants is best for the environment
Veg(etari)ans pride themselves on their relatively small environmental footprint, and those who eat locally and in-season should. But it’s not uncommon to see other veg(etari)ans eating oranges in Maine, asparagus in December, and tomatoes in March. Most folks forget that it takes an outrageous amount of fossil fuel to store and transport fruits and vegetables. When you’re eating lettuce in Canada in the middle of the summer, you’d might as well be drowning baby ducks in crude oil. And this brings us to the harsh inverse of #2: eating plants out of season wrecks the environment and kills absolutely all of the things.
It also incentivizes morally dubious agro-giants like Monsanto to develop genetically modified crops that can survive shipping. This practice encourages monoculture and reduction in plants’ genetic diversity; diversity described by plant geneticist Jack Harlan as the single resource that “… stand[s] between us and catastrophic starvation on a scale we cannot imagine… the line between abundance and disaster is becoming thinner and thinner.”
I known many vegetarians in my life, and there are a few things common to all them: 1.) they are always eating all sorts of different plants all year long, and 2.) none of them bother canning in-season plants or buying canned plants from others. This boils down to non-seasonally-eating veg(etari)ans gut-punching the environment just as hard as the factory farm boys, except they’re replacing nitrogen runoff and toxic lagoons with the gory environmental effects of fossil fuel exploration and extraction.
Being a locavore means, of course, eating locally sourced plants, preferably getting it directly from the producer at the farm, or via buyers club, farmers market, or CSA. Sourcing locally defaults the locavore to eating in-season all year long, increasing the nutritional content, taste, and diversity of the food while providing a net benefit to the environment. And before you think to yourself that being a locavore-veg(etari)an is the best of both worlds…
3. Meat is critical to environmental restoration
The rallying cry of vegans around the world is “Meat is Murder,” and when they’re referring to factory raised, CAFO-finished animals, they’re right. No cow, pig, chicken, or any other animal has any business in a confinement house or a feedlot.
But they often extend the argument to natural farming operations, because there’s still a slaughterhouse at the end of the line. In response to this, I invite the veg(etari)an to consider a world in which everyone has decided that meat, even naturally raised, is murder. In this world there is no longer a practical need for domesticated livestock of any kind. Their populations then decline to almost nothing, except for a few kept as pets or in zoos. Thus, in this ham-fisted solution to Buddhism’s admonition that life is suffering, we make sure the animals don’t suffer by making sure the animals aren’t alive.
And all that might be fine were it not for the fact that the landscape impact of LARGE NUMBERS OF DOMESTICATED LIVESTOCK IS ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL TO THE ACHIEVEMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY.
At one time, extensive land management by Native Americans that provided vast pristine habitat for large numbers of wild animals (especially bison and their predators) and secured an ecological stasis that could simultaneously support both large numbers of people and a healthy environment.
Europeans thought this was so great that they drove both the bison and the Indians to near extinction, founded America, brought the plow, and proceeded to absolutely, positively destroy the country’s millennia-old natural resource base.
Since this happened, domesticated livestock – again, herbivores in particular – are the only animals that exist in numbers large enough to recreate the conditions that made un-Pilgrimized America into one of the only places in history where you could have your cake (ecological productivity, e.g. bison burgers for all) and eat it too (ecological sustainability, e.g. bison burgers for all, forever.)
And speaking of bison burgers…
4. Meat is healthy, if you eat it right
When people say the veg(etari)an diet is “healthier,” the implied comparison is with the outrageously meat-heavy diet of the typical American. Most of us expect to eat meat at every single meal, and we usually realize that expectation, so it’s little wonder that the no-animal diet would be healthier than this insanity.
But ask any doctor – natural/holistic or conventional – and they will tell you that a little meat is good for you because it’s high in protein and a few key nutrients that you simply can’t find in plants. The key is to eat the right kind of meat at the right time and in the right amounts, and again we have Native Americans to thank for providing a model for doing this.
Let’s take as an example my ancestors, the Choptico Kanawha from present-day D.C. and southern Maryland. As far as meat went, we didn’t eat terribly much of it until summer when the fish runs started. Throughout summer nearly all the meat we ate was fish or shellfish, while during the autumn we took wild deer, birds, other small mammals, and at one time even bison. During winter we ate meat from the summer and fall that was preserved either through smoking or natural refrigeration/freezing. Spring was light on meat because of the overwhelming abundance of sweet, green wild plants.
In short, Native people ate 1.) relatively little meat to begin with, but we ate it from 2.) a wide array of animals that were 3.) taken in accordance with the seasons and 4.) were highly nutritious owing to their natural diets. This is precisely the diet advocated by locavores and provided by natural farmers. It is also the diet that does a better job than veg(etari)anism of meeting the goals of veg(etari)anism.