The Guardian recently published an opinion piece, ostensibly on veganism, titled “If you want to save the world, veganism isn’t the answer.” One may be forgiven for thinking, as I originally did, that this title foreshadowed a reasonable article about how veganism is good — great even — but that it doesn’t go far enough. But the post attempts to make quite the opposite point.
Premising itself on one large fallacy — something the author, a farmer, really ought to know — the article makes the intuitive-yet-actually-absurd claim that a vegan world would require exponentially more soy and corn than we harvest currently.
We’ve addressed this before in multiple different ways, but I’ll repeat myself for those in the back: filtering our nutrients (crops) through the bodies of animals requires scores more energy (calories), water, and suffering, than does eating those crops directly.
In other words, if we consume soy and corn directly, instead of feeding it to animals and then eating their meat, we would require a fraction of the amount of soy and corn that we currently grow. With an equitable global food distribution system, we’d be able to feed the world without cutting down more trees.
But acknowledging this is not in the author’s interest. As stated in the article, she is a farmer, and farmers have had a rough go of it lately. The author is keen on painting farming as a sustainable, environmentally-friendly endeavor; that vegans and others have propagated harmful myths about animal agriculture; and that veganism, instead, is the menace to the climate.
She employs a bit of trickery to get her point across. She illustrates her farm as idyllic, peaceful, and natural. I’m not disputing that her farm is any of those things — it’s impossible to know. But to think that somehow such a form of animal agriculture could scale to feed the world is preposterous. As we’ve written before, the ability to purchase meat raised on such “humane” small farms is necessarily limited to the privileged few who can afford it, and economic realities force farmers to often do the bare minimum to stay afloat.
Unless all farmers suddenly decide to do everything they can to reduce their environmental impact, those that don’t implement the practices the author utilizes will generally win out over those that do.
Vegans aren’t fooled by this sort of deception, but those looking for an excuse to consume animals will not be motivated so see through the obfuscation. And they often don’t bother to consider that the meat they consume does not come from the author’s farms. The fact that someone has argued that meat could be raised sustainably or humanely is enough.
The author also demonstrates an ignorance of vegan nutrition, claiming that omega-3 fatty acid DHA is “extremely difficult” to obtain. In reality, it’s easy to obtain from an algae supplement available on Amazon and elsewhere. But again, those inclined to dismiss veganism aren’t likely to look into it themselves.
This is yet another case of overstated claims evading scrutiny because most people are motivated to discount the ethical imperative of veganism. There is reason to be optimistic, however: many of the comments in response to this article are pointing out the glaring hole in the argument. It’s becoming harder for the world to ignore veganism.
We must ensure that in advocating for a vegan lifestyle we remain scrupulous, as anti-vegans will jump on any slip-up we make. This is why a reasoned veganism is more important than ever.
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