Vegetarian Week, Day 3

by stephenpalmersf

This week I’m posting blogs about something close to my heart – vegetarianism.

I became a vegetarian by accident over 30 years ago. Having left university, but wanting to stay in the area where I had many friends, I ended up in 1985 sharing a house with some vegetarians. It was easy enough to fit in, so I did, but I soon became interested in the reasons people go vegetarian, and then I was converted to the cause.

This week’s posts will cover the various aspects which, for me, are the focus of the issue, under the general heading of: Why Am I A Vegetarian?

 

  1. The Economic Argument

The economic argument in my opinion is a merger of the land use/population and ethical arguments. Economically it makes more sense to feed the world efficiently via a vegetarian diet than inefficiently using meat also. It’s also more equitable; poor and rich alike benefit, though of course the majority of the rich don’t care about such niceties.

The main aspect of the economic argument that I want to mention here is one too little mentioned in these discussions: scale. We live in nation states within an environment of global corporations, a situation made worse (some would argue) by the internet and globalism. Agriculture is in the main done on vast scales, resulting in the problem of monoculture – unnatural agriculture of one crop across vast areas. The problems brought by the adoption of monoculture are infertility – amended by fertilisers, to the detriment of the environment and of life generally – and pests, amended with life-destroying chemicals. If we did not have this emphasis on large scale agriculture then such attendant problems would be much reduced. And on the small, i.e. human scale, the pest problem is amended by such tactics as companion planting, which has been known about for centuries.

Why do we farm in monocultures? It is largely a matter of perceived economic benefit. Small scale faming, for instance for the local community, does not benefit vast corporations or large nations. It benefits people. The argument that small scale is “uneconomic” only exists if you assume in advance that life must be lived on these vast, inhuman scales: nation, state, world. The constant cry of the green economist is “small is beautiful” – and it is.

This therefore is another thing that the aspiring ethical person can do apart from become vegetarian. If you shop and live locally you greatly benefit both your local community and the planet as whole – the former directly, the latter indirectly. The man who made my last-but-one pair of shoes was a local shoemaker. I buy food – honey for example – at local farm shops to support local small businesses. I buy free range eggs locally when they’re available. None of these small adjustments is either difficult or too costly.

Which brings me to another point. It’s often observed that ‘ethical food’ is more expensive. That isn’t the case. What is true is that mass-made and mass-marketed food is cheaper. But it is cheap because the value gap is made up by unsustainable use of the planet’s resources. We live in an era of deliberately cheap food, where cheapness is masked by not factoring in the immense environmental consequences of its manufacture. When you see cheap food you shouldn’t think of your wallet – you should think, what corners have been cut to make this so inexpensive, and who suffers as a consequence?

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