An article titled, “Food shortages could force world into vegetarianism, warn scientists” floated across my transom last week. The article itself is bad in the way these articles are normally bad: it recycles the same misunderstood or misrepresented inefficiencies of a diet with animals on the menu. What concerned me was wasn’t the perpetual frustration of the tepid analysis at play, but the vigor with which it has been hyped in environmental circles. I happen to feel that protection and restoration of our natural habitat is ridiculously important, and I’m somewhat active in the environmental realm.
Part of my agreement with the large component of the environmentalist community that happens to be veg*n is that farming animals is a horribly inefficient use of resources. In a sense, I’m simply agreeing and taking that argument to its logical conclusion — the vision I’d like to see realized is zero farming of anything. I see your critique of feedlot beef, pig shaped cages, and robot chicken farms, and I’m raising you with a critique of soy, corn, wheat, rice, et cetera. Farming of animals is an inefficient use of resources precicely because it relies on the farming of vegetarian staples such as corn and soy. Limiting a sustainability critique to the farming of animals is a stillborn failure. So I must ask, assuming it’s not just a disingenuous facade, why do sustainability conscious veg*ns stop at animals?
It disturbs me that vegetarians/vegans didn’t seem to take the briefest of moments to reflect on this report as an indictment of farming‘s inherent unsustainability, but spoke of it enthusiastically as a vindication of their anti-animal ideology. It was broadcast and shared in almost “I told you so” fashion.
Some of the standard tropes espoused in the piece:
Humans derive about 20% of their protein from animal-based products now, but this may need to drop to just 5% to feed the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive by 2050, according to research by some of the world’s leading water scientists.
Adopting a vegetarian diet is one option to increase the amount of water available to grow more food in an increasingly climate-erratic world, the scientists said. Animal protein-rich food consumes five to 10 times more water than a vegetarian diet. One third of the world’s arable land is used to grow crops to feed animals. Other options to feed people include eliminating waste and increasing trade between countries in food surplus and those in deficit.
In the long-term, following this rhetoric would lead to horrific consequences. Malthus wasn’t wrong in principle, his timing was just a little off. As long as the “veg*nism as global savior” narrative is taken seriously, and we double-down on agriculture as a solution to the problem of overpopulation (that it is the very cause of), we simply increase the human suffering that the failure of agriculture is inevitably hurtling toward. It doesn’t matter if it’s a decline in the fossil fuel inputs that act as agriculture’s life support system, water for irrigation, or desertification through topsoil degradation. One way or another agriculture’s current productivity will falter (he says while U.S. agriculture suffers from a massive drought).
Note how environmental arguments against eating animals are weakened when resource scarcity is removed from the calculus. Note that conversely, removing resource scarcity does not resolve the catastrophic ecosystem displacing environmental degradation caused by agriculture. Arguments can be made that excessive grazing in confined area can be problematic, but agriculture must be problematic.
The real, nitty-gritty, fundamental problems at the root of the farmed animal critique are not animals, but 1) the catastrophic and resource sucking characteristics of farming, 2) the zero sum game of farms displacing wild animal habitat that would require zero artificial inputs, and 3) human overpopulation.
The following quote from the same article tends to get glossed over by the veg*n cheerleaders. It clearly highlights the problems even when removing animals from the equation. The implications of this statement should not be ignored, then insidiously deflected by changing the subject to eating animals. This applies to all agriculture:
“With 70% of all available water being in agriculture, growing more food to feed an additional 2 billion people by 2050 will place greater pressure on available water and land.”
Perspective: Every farmed vegetable, tortilla, slice of bread, chunk of tofu, and other plant-based food you’ve ever eaten, required the destruction and displacement of an ecosystem to get to your face. Veg*nism is objectively not an environmentally beneficially strategy. When presented as such, it is little more than ideology buried in a flawed and superficially commonsensical narrative.
Rather than the short-term delusion that a global veg*n diet is any thing more than kicking the can down the road, I submit the following:
- The eradication of all farming — to eliminate the resource parasite of agriculture.
- Restoration of habitat such as the “Fertile Crescent” and North American prairie that have both been obliterated by agriculture — to restore wild animals to the human food chain.
- The absolute control of every woman over her own reproduction — to naturally and gradually resolve the overpopulation problem.
What other solutions should we consider?
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