Following is a verbatim copy of a article put on Facebook by Bart Hall some time ago. Bart is someone who makes a living growing things in a way that gets dirt under ones fingernails. He uses an organic, natural and no-nonsense approach to farming and I found the article refreshing and insightful enough to share here.
Vegetarianism is anti-ecological, and cruel to animals besides. I’m fed up with self-righteous vegetarians claiming both moral superiority and ecological sensitivity for their proclivities. How they eat is their choice, but they become extremely tiresome when they attempt to promote it to others based on clear falsehoods. I’m not talking here about humane treatment issues — I’m appalled by the way many animals are raised, and it generates a very poor product in any case. We need, however, to look at agronomic reality.
Taking cattle as an example (or bison, or sheep, or any other ruminant) it is essential to understand that they are solar-powered grass combines, converting captured solar energy into a very nutritious (and *tasty*) product, rich in high-quality protein. The forages they eat (grass and legumes such as clover) are generally *perennial* crops, protecting the land, building the soil, and storing immense amounts of carbon in their roots.
By comparison, soyabeans and other sources of vegetable protein require annual working of the soil, leaving much of it open to erosion and what we soil scientists call “mineralisation” of soil organic matter (=carbon). A large percentage, perhaps even a plurality, of atmospheric CO2 increases in the last 150 years is the direct result of working the world’s soils to grow maize (corn) and soyabeans instead of leaving it in grass to feed cattle.
Humans will always need cereals and tubers for carbohydrates, but most of our protein should come from animals because (properly raised) they build the soil instead of destroying it.
Vegetarians have no idea how many sentient beings are destroyed in the production of grain and soyabeans, to say nothing of its storage. Based on normal pest-management criteria (and I’ve inspected *thousands* of grain storage facilities in many different countries) it is safe to say that one or two sentient beings (primarily rodents) perish to protect the storage of each kilogram of plant protein. Not only are we talking poison, but “live traps” which when opened will often contain one large mouse and at least a dozen tails.
With grass-fed beef the worst case is that one sentient being (the bovine) dies for every 50 kilograms of protein. Are cattle inherently better and more noble than rats and mice?
Furthermore, in many forage production situations I can increase yields by 50% merely through the addition of a few grams per acre of molybdenum. For geeky purists out there that’s because moly mediates the nitrogenase enzyme pathways responsible for capturing nitrogen from the atmosphere, which nitrogen thereafter increases yields, often substantially. So add some moly to your forage system and beef can beat vegetable protein by up to 100 to 1 in terms of sentient animal deaths per kilo of protein.
Dairy, because the animals are not slaughtered is vastly better yet, but many vegetarians will consume dairy, so I have left it out. By extension, then, veganism is even worse than vegetarianism.
If you wish to protect the planet and minimise the deaths of sentient beings, eat meat and dairy. I’ll be right there with you in terms of struggling to make sure it’s raised properly. How it’s done these days is widely awful, but that’s not the critters’ fault, and vegetarianism is no answer.
Buying local makes sense, and it also does not. I grew up in an “eat local” world, not based on philosophy, it’s just the way it was. Except for grain products nearly everything my family ate in the 1950s came from within 100 miles — milk, eggs, meat, veggies, fruit, and seafood. Mind you, I grew up on the coast, with one side of the family in the shellfish business and the other in produce, but it was not at all unusual for the era. We called it all “native” food, as in native peaches, native turkey, native eggs and so on. We ate with the seasons, and we ate rather well. The first time I ever tasted salmon was at age 24 in the Yukon.
That said, southern New England was a remarkably good place for eating local. The Southeast, not at all, as witnessed by the phenomenal percentage of southern men deemed 4F (unfit for any service) in World War II on account of profound malnutrition.
Local eating can be fun, and for things like produce and dairy actually makes a lot of sense. For starches (rice, wheat, etc) not at all outside of certain favoured areas. Whether it’s environmentally beneficial, I think that’s an open question because water transport uses so much less energy than land options. For example, it takes less energy to move rice to San Francisco in a ship, from *Thailand* than to truck it from the Central Valley. Trains are better than trucks, and big trucks are better than small trucks.
A “local food system” depends upon an awful lot of quite inefficient transportation. And let’s not forget that nearly 40% of the energy consumed in the entire food system is used for *cooking*.
As an agronomist I’d also add that growing food outside its primary area of adaptation tends to require a lot more energy, effort, and chemical usage than when it’s in its “sweet spot”. I can grow a lot of excellent sweet potatoes here with no inputs, but attempting that north of Toronto would not work so well.
Local eating wisely interpreted and applied makes a lot of sense and will probably be rather more delicious. As a religion it tends to lead to clusters of stupid decisions for both production and consumption.
Except for people with specific gluten problems (celiac, non-tropical sprue, etc) the whole anti-gluten, andti-wheat thing is generally silly, especially when framed as “healthier”. There are two very simple low-hanging fruit for healthier eating. #1: Eat more *vegetables*. Here in the States 80% of the population consumes one or fewer “servings” of vegetables and/or fruit, defined as 100 grams, and that includes potatoes! #2: More or less eliminate high-fructose corn syrup from the diet. The average American consumes about 155 lb of sugar annually, over half of which is HFCS. Simple, but for most people, unfortunately not at all *easy*. Just don’t ask ME to pay for the medical consequences of someone else’s terrible eating habits.