Tag Archives: farming

AR!: Some Thoughts On Animal Rights

I’m a vegan. An animal rights vegan. I have been for over three years. Before that I was a vegetarian for environmental reasons. Anyway, recently I’ve become more aware of some hostility toward my chosen lifestyle, particularly from a group called the Weston A. Price Foundation¬†(WAPF), and associated literature The Vegetarian Myth, by Lierre Keith, and Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig.

My first experience with this line of thought came a few years ago from a vegan friend who had just encountered the book Nourishing Traditions. She was ecstatic to share the “good news” with me, that meat is not unhealthy and that most of the health problems associated with the Standard American Diet come from processed fats and sugars. I think she was surprised when I whole-heartedly agreed with her, but my commitment to veganism wasn’t shaken in the least. I explained to her that I was not, nor had I ever been, vegan for health reasons.

Let me explain. I don’t necessarily think that eating meat and dairy is unhealthy, or that eating a vegan diet is necessarily healthy. I think that a person can be healthy or unhealthy either way, provided that they are getting a good balance of different nutrients.

The reason I became vegan was that I felt uneasy about the idea of animals being thought of as commodities, in the Marxist sense, or as objects that can be owned and sold, and function primarily to fulfill the needs and desires of human beings. I strongly disagree with this view, and think that animals have rights in and of themselves, just as people do. Now, here I suppose I should give the WAPF, and those with similar ideologies, some credit. They do afford some rights to animals, just less than the traditional vegan position does. They do advocate raising farm animals “humanely”, which means allowing them to be free-range. But that doesn’t stop these animals from being slaughtered whenever their “owner” decides it is time to do so. Nor does it stop dairy cows and goats from being impregnated once a year so that they can produce milk for human consumption at the expense of their young.

My real problem with this ideological attack on veganism is that it assumes a lot of things that are not necessarily true. It assumes that the vegan diet is largely based on processed corn and soy, which I know from my own experience is simply not true. The Price Foundation is critical of the overconsumption of soy. Contrary to the popular stereotype, so are a lot of the vegans I know, and many avoid it altogether. Honestly, I think that most committed vegans consume far less soy than people who eat the Standard American Diet.¬†Many vegans are just as critical of processed and genetically-modified foods, monocropping and unsustainable farming systems as is the WAPF. An attack on the current food system is not an attack on veganism. Vegan thought, mostly, is also a critique of the current food system, which is more focused (I think too much) on the issue of factory farming. So why the conflict? Shouldn’t these distinct movements be working together to end factory farming and change the current food system? ¬†Personally, I would love to see Weston A. Price advocates win out over today’s multinational agribusiness corporations.

Hunting & Gathering

I was recently talking with a friend about whether or not the hunter-gatherer lifestyle has the least environmental impact and is overall the best way for humans to live. I’ve heard a lot of people make that argument, but ultimately I don’t think that it is.

The reason that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle seems to have such a low environmental impact is because it necessitates a low population. Since it is immediately apparent that resources are limited, hunter-gatherers understand that they must keep their populations low. The practice of infanticide is common among hunter-gather tribes. Any large population living this way would deplete an area of its resources.

The view that hunter-gatherers are not responsible for environmental degradation is mistaken. It is widely believed that they were responsible for the extinction of the woolly mammoth, large land tortoises, and possibly even neanderthals (see “Overkill Hypothesis”). It is not necessarily a peaceful way of life, it encourages tribalism and competition over resources with other humans and predatory animals.

It has been argued that hunter-gatherers did not seek to control their environment as the later agriculturalists did. I really don’t see any good reason to believe that. It is a small step from a nomadic lifestyle following wild herds to simple pastoralism. Animal agriculture encourages the restriction of populations of predatory animals that threaten livestock. Hunter-gatherers have also hunted predatory animals, such as wolves, when their numbers became too large and threatened their access to wild herds. This is ultimately a deficiency with both animal agriculture and hunting-based lifestyles.

A more realistic alternative, I think, is plant-based subsistence farming. It is especially true for our current situation, taking into account the present world population. The only way to impose a significant shift to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle would be either through mass murder, forced or voluntary sterilization, voluntary celibacy or the increased use of contraceptives. Whereas the use of contraceptives is steadily increasing worldwide, it is a choice that I think should be left up to individuals, along with celibacy and sterilization. I am not even remotely prepared to advocate any coercive form of population control.