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Back in the U.K and it seems everyone has gone vegan. But not only have they given up any kind of animal produce they claim to be saving the planet from environmental disaster. More strident still, some claim that this is the most important eco action of all. If you are not a vegetarian they say, you are not an environmentalist.

Ah it takes me back to the 80’s. The joy of watching the green movement tear it’s self apart fighting for the high moral ground!

Vegetarianism has a lot of environmental benefits but in the complex web that is the ecosystem it is becoming increasingly obvious that there is no one perfect fix. So these extreme and sweeping claims need carefully investigating.

I am starting with Meat – A Benign Extravagance written by another ex-veggie Simon Fairle

I say another ex veggie as I too used to be a committed vegetarian and was so  because I believe in animal rights.

I said I was vegetarian but I ate milk products and diary.Diary farming and egg production also results in the slaughter of numerous animals. Very simply to get the milk you need to keep the cow in calf. The calfs once born are taken from the mother and often go on to be slaughtered for meat – especially the male ones. Same with chickens. If you want eggs you don’t need roosters. Those boys go straight into the pot.

So I reasoned should either go vegan or stop pretending and use meat and animal products ethically. I went for the latter for the following reasons:

I live in Yorkshire. I like to buy my food locally for a number of reasons; to support the neighboring rural industry, to reduce air-miles and to maintain food security. Come the zombie apocalypse I want to know we can still source some of our own food. Being vegan would mean importing a lot of food I would need for protein from abroad or growing them in hot houses in the U.K.. I don’t see either of those as being a viable environmental option.

There there are the supplements. Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in foods from animal sources and as the Vegan Society says….

Very low B12 intakes can cause anemia and nervous system damage. The only reliable vegan sources of B12 are foods fortified with B12 (including some plant milks, some soy products and some breakfast cereals) and B12 supplements. Vitamin B12, whether in supplements, fortified foods, or animal products, comes from micro-organisms. Most vegans consume enough B12 to avoid anemia and nervous system damage, but many do not get enough to minimize potential risk of heart disease or pregnancy complications.

To get the full benefit of a vegan diet, vegans should do one of the following: 

  1. Eat fortified foods two or three times a day to get at least three micrograms (mcg or µg) of B12 a day
  2. OR  Take one B12 supplement daily providing at least 10 micrograms
  3. OR  Take a weekly B12 supplement providing at least 2000 micrograms.

I don’t want to eat processed food or rely on supplements. I want to be in control of my own vitamin intake. I want to buy my protein from the farm down the road. Plus processed food and supplements almost always come plastic packed. I don’t do non biodegradable packaging. Another reason to eat and buy seasonally and locally is that I get my food unpackaged. I have to take my own bags of course and yes in the course of my plastic free project I have sourced loose lentils but I have to drive to another city to buy them. Even then they have been imported from half way round the world. Bacon I can get round the corner from pig Yorkshire born and raised.

I don’t use plastic packaging because I like to be in control of my bins. I don’t want to make any rubbish that can’t be composted or burnt on my wood burner. And it’s not just packaging – that includes boots and suits. Synthetic leathers and fibres may often be touted as animal friendly but they are highly polluting to make and do not biodegrade. That acrylic jumper made from imported oil, is going to be polluting the planet for centuries., mine of Yorkshire wool is not. And don’t get me started on vegetarian leather!

And then there are the practicalities. I come from Yorkshire. I work outdoors. Of course I wear a synthetic raincoat when I need too.  I also wear leather and wool, animal products when I need to. Not just because they will biodegrade when done but because they are more comfortable and practical. Farming animals  also provides me with wool and leather.

As part of my local food strategy I do grow some of my own. vegetables which has had two consequences: I have discovered that the power of poo is prodigious. I try to avoid synthetic imported oil derived fertilizers and use manure, crap, instead. I get my supply from the local farm. That is from the cows he farms. No cows no crap.

I have become a killer. Gardening is a ruthless business. Sorry but slugs have to die! And I kill them. I drown them in beer which is no bad way to go but it’s still murder. Now of course eating meat might mean twice the cull rate if you feed them on specially grown imported food, grass fed meat is another matter. But basically any kind of farming, or even alotmenteering results in animal deaths.

Stopping certain types of farming would also result in the death of numerous wild animals and insects. It is important to remember that not all farmed land can be used to grow food. Some can only be used as grazing land. Obviously one benefit is protein from grassland in the form of meat. It also means different ecosystems. Much of The U.K landscape depends on grazing animals. You would not have hay meadows or short turf with out them. For sure there are many issues with over grazing but long or short grasslands mean lot’s of native flowers. Supporting the insects (especially bees) that depend on flowers and grasslands. Grasslands are not just good for biodiversity but insects means pollination. Without pollination all types of farming are screwed.  Without grazing animals much land would return to climax vegetation – in the case of the U.K. that is forest. Woods are great but they are only one of many ecosystems. There are others, even those that are a result of farming, that are just as valid.

Factory farming of animals is an abomination and should not be encouraged. That is without doubt. Overgrazing is also a  big issue. And meat should not be consumed in massive quantities. But is the large scale farming of vegetables always ethical?  Or the importing of nuts from an impoverished country halfway round the world a greener option? Or increased plastic packaging for specialist foods and supplements? Synthetic leather?

Surely going vegan because the meat industry can be unscrupulous is a bit like refusing to wear clothes because they are mostly made in sweat shops. Rather then take to the streets naked, (shudders at the thought), you can consume ethically,  source  fair trade outfits and help create a sustainable business models. Same with farming.

Going vegan because you don’t like killing animals is a personal choice but I advise you not to get an allotment.

I stopped being a vegetarian because it didn’t feel greener. Eating seasonally and locally with out plastic packaging seemed a better option to me. But I left it at that. As veganism is once again part of the debate so I feel I need to read up on the subject.

I am starting with Meat – A Benign Extravagance written by another ex-veggie Simon Fairlie and reviewed George Monbiot here  and again here . Blimey even George can’t make his mind up, and that is not usualy an issue with him, so I have suggested we discuss in the Sustainable Book Club. Why not join us?

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