This article isn’t meant to convert vegetarians or vegans into paleo fanatics, but merely to help people take off their blinders and take a little more responsibility for the food they eat. And for the record, I bought an avocado AND an artichoke today that were both grown in California so I am by no means eating a perfect diet. I would guestimate that about 75% of my calories are local, but I am human, aka not perfect, after all.
A few weeks ago I attended a two-day soil workshop hosted by a pretty brilliant farmer down the road from me. In those two days I was transported back in time to Chemistry class, not my favorite. But this time, I was spellbound. Soil! What a complex and miraculous substance! We talked about physical structure, cation exchange, nutrient cycle, and plant health. As we were talking about nutrients and how to get them into the soil, my mind really began to turn.
Boron, for example. We learned about two ways to get Boron into the soil. One is through animal matter; manure, fish meal, feathers, etc. The other is through importing Boron from a mine in China where people haul Boron out of the mine with buckets slung over their weary shoulders. Which one of these is more ethical? Using a locally sourced product from animals that were raised in an ethical manner, or importing from thousands of miles away a product that is extracted by exploiting human beings? Truth is an interesting concept. What is truth to one person is fiction to another. Multiple people can see the same thing happen and all have different perspectives. All those different perspectives are truth to each of those people. Certain truths are part of the truth but if you dig deeper, you find a different truth.
Over the past few years of my journey into farming I have been a sponge for knowledge. I have admitted that the vegan diet I was eating led me to lose my hair, develop an eating disorder, and become deficient in many vitamins and minerals. In fact when I mentioned to an Ayurvedic healer recently that I had problems being vegan, she said, “Just by looking at your body type, I can tell you would have serious issues on a vegan diet.” I have learned that raising beef using intensive grazing practices sequesters more carbon from the environment than it emits, and it also builds topsoil. I have learned that when managed properly, animals heal land instead of destroying it; something that vegetables alone can not do.
There are a few reasons that I became a Vegan. I learned how meat is raised industrially and I didn’t want to be a part of it. I loved animals and I thought eating a Vegan diet would mean that none of them had to die. I thought I would be healthier on a Vegan diet. I thought that eating a Vegan diet would be better for the environment. What I have learned since then, is that almost none of these things are an absolute truth. Sure, if you spin the details and take a very simplistic approach to facts, they can be constructed as true.
In eating a vegetable, nothing is dying in that moment, so in eating a vegetarian diet, nothing dies in the process of producing that food. Industrial raised meat is grown in a way that is unhealthy for the animal, resulting in an unhealthy product. So eating a vegetarian diet must be healthier for everyone. Confinement Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFO’s, feed animals grains that have been mono cropped and grown hundreds or thousands of miles away. Too many animals are raised in very small spaces and require the trucking in of massive amounts of water. The earth cannot absorb the concentrated nutrients the animals are putting out and so huge manure lagoons have to be built. The combination of these things is destruction for the environment. This must mean that eating meat is bad for the environment. These facts combined with the cute videos of pigs having their backs scratched, and the abuses that industrial farm animals live through, is enough to make anyone want to become a vegan. But these facts are only half of the truth. Life is not that black and white and to eat a diet that is truly ethical and environmentally conscious, it required a lot more than buying vegan food products at Trader Joe’s or Wholefoods and calling it a day.
There is another truth. A truth that requires a deeper relationship with the food that you’re eating. A truth that requires you to know your farmer and know where your food is coming from. A truth that requires you to take part in the cycle of life rather than being a mere consumer of products from the grocery store. Eating industrially grown food in any capacity is destroying the environment. We as a society have taken the Great Plains from the Buffalo, from the wild horses, and from the countless other species to grow grains, vegetables, and meat. Countless areas in the world have been destroyed to pave the way for industrial food production. There are so many more variables to food production than just meat or plant.
A tomato from Trader Joe’s grown thousands of miles away that was grown on mono-cropped land using water from hundreds of miles away and being picked by someone who is probably not treated very well by their employer does not equal a tomato grown on a small diversified vegetable farm fertilized by manure from the dairy farm down the road and picked by a small team of valued members. And a pound of ground beef raised in a CAFO does not equal a pound of ground beef grown on a diversified livestock farm using intensive grazing methods that fertilized the fields as it went and ate and drank only what was available on that farm.
There is a huge and growing population of passionate farmers committed to growing ethically and environmentally responsible food. Year round CSA’s are popping up making it possible for people in Rhode Island and Maine to have access to vegetables year round. I’m not saying they have access to bell peppers or avocados year round, but what comes in season. It allows people to live more in sync with the cycles of the earth.
The truth isn’t always black and white. Sometimes the beef grown down the road is better for the environment than the garlic grown in China or the tomatoes grown in Mexico. Sometimes the vegan food you eat was picked by migrant workers who have horrible living conditions and no workers rights. People become vegan for all the right reasons. I should know because I was one. Unfortunately (or fortunately) eating in a way that truly supports the health of our Mother Earth and all of her living beings, including humans, involves taking a little more responsibility for the food you eat. It involves knowing where your food actually came from, how it was raised, and who raised it. Next time you go grocery shopping, ask yourself these questions.
Where did this come from?
How was it grown?
Who grew it and what quality of life did they have?
Does this grow near where I live?
What percentage of the selling price did the farmer receive for this?
If you can’t answer these questions, I’m sure there are some farmers within reach of where you live who would love to have you as a customer.