If you’re influenced by the left to save the planet, a plant-based diet strategy has been suggested as a factor in saving us from ecological ruin. From the right, the blind faith in technological advances that may or may not come but as long as we make as much cash in the mean-time who cares. From an environmental standpoint the concept of a plant-based diet has many factors that on paper appear useful but under scrutiny don’t add up. One of the reasons, in my opinion is that methane, is not as significant factor in global emissions compared to the effects of pollution and health and switching to a plant-based diet will not improve health or ecological interaction by any significant means.
If you take a look at the combined total of other sources of methane such as rice farming (10%) landfills (11%) and other agricultural sources (7%) , that makes a total combined total of 28%, if cow farts decrease because we all go vegan, you can rest assured that a) landfill will continue to increase and b) vegetables, rice, beans and other sources of agricultural methane levels will keep increasing as replacement meat and dairy food sources are needed. Land fill from both food and other consumer waste is bound to increase as us humans are still not adjusted for life beyond consumerism and waste. A factor hammered home with each new phone, beauty or unnecessary hygiene product.
It’s not a trivial point suggesting that the requirements of meeting nutritional needs by increasing plant-based nutrition, will increase both CO2 and methane levels. But hey less cows fart must mean less methane. I’ve rarely seen anyone who recommends the decreasing meat/increased plant-based approach discuss the devastating ecological effects that is a side effect of growing vast amounts of crops in monoculture. Palm Oil is a useful description of what happens globally when crops are grown in monoculture, designed for industrial profits. This philosophy decimates indigenous wildlife, often increases pesticide use (and accumulation in human tissue) reshapes land and does nothing to address the over farming phenomena that depletes soil of essential nutrients.
The transfer and haulage of a predominantly plant-based diet still requires the standard means of transport of all food stuffs. Clearly industrial pollution, combustion engines and fuels are the real elephant in the room? Contributing to an increase in disease globally through airborne pollution, which runs into many millions each year. Poly cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other fine particulate matter are contributing to increased emissions and pollutants that are doing more to the environment and health, yet the focus is still predominantly on cow’s farts.
The Prolongation of Life.
Elie. Metchnikoff whose work on digestion earned hime the Noble science prize showed that exclusive diets such as purely plant based or meat had increased intestinal putrefaction and disease compared to species that ate a varied diet. Most animals that rely on plants and grasses fail to achieve longevity of other species (However outliers are elephants - 60 years or so and giant tortoises 150 years or so but known to eat fruit.
If these decisions were philosophical, I can understand the vegan’s plight to a degree. Industrialised farming is a problem, animal welfare in prison like cow sheds are problematic. Animals that aren’t raised in normal habitats is an issue. Raising stressed animals creates less nutritious meats. So shouldn’t we be considering devolving industrialised farming practices that are designed to line large corporations’ pockets with no disregard to animal welfare or quality of the nutrition that is provided. There are many factors that influence meat quality and health (3). Surely if we integrated farming practices in line with aspects of permaculture, waste is decreased, local community needs are met and the need for transporting large distances reduces environmental impact is also reduced.
“The illusion of unlimited powers, nourished by astonishing scientific and technological achievements, has produced the concurrent illusion of having solved the problem of production. The latter illusion is based on the failure to distinguish between income and capital where this distinction matters most. Every economist and businessman is familiar with the distinction and applies it conscientiously and with considerable subtlety to all economic affairs – except where it really matters: namely, the irreplaceable capital which man has not made, but simply found, and without which he can do nothing.”
Is eating other organisms really an unhealthy practice? I see on a daily basis birds plucking dragonflies out the air, crows eating other birds remains, cat’s eating birds, geckos eating ants and a whole manner of carnivore behaviour. From an evolutionary perspective this practice in part played a role in our development as conscious beings. One theory of evolutionary enhancements might be the increased consumption of thyroid rich tissues.
Thyroid hormone and increased central nervous system capacity?
For me the philosophical points of veganism have some merit, but the practice ignores millennia of evolution and nature as a whole, it’s just another reductionism that’s poorly thought through with limited outcomes. We should strive for better animal welfare and that means taking a more rounded view of what’s broken. This blog isn’t dealing with all of the exhaustive factors involved with what’s problematic (and even the larger concepts and theories at work such as the Vernadsky view of biosphere and self regulating processes), such as over-production and wastefulness but from a nutrition perspective, I’ve worked with and met too many people, who over years have decided that meat eating was advantageous, compared to the knee jerk reactions of short term nutritional interventions.
Rhythms of Life: Thyroid Hormone & The Origin of Species. By Susan J Crockford. Victoria (Canada): Trafford Publishing. 2006.
Metchnikoff, E. (1907) The prolongation of life: Optimistic studies. G. P. Putnam & Sons, London.
Schumacher, E. F. (Ernst Friedrich), 1911-1977. Small Is Beautiful; Economics as If People Mattered.