On troublesome conventional agriculture – an article titled “Why vegetarianism will not save the world”

“The truth is that agriculture is the most destructive thing humans have done to the planet, and more of the same won’t save us. The truth is that agriculture requires the wholesale destruction of entire ecosystems. The truth is also that life isn’t possible without death, that no matter what you eat, someone has to die to feed you.”

The above is an excerpt from this article on Metador Network, “Why vegetarianism will not save the world”. Below I will share a comment of mine on this article shared via Facebook and quote the parts of the interview which stood out to me.

…a comment to all about this article I shared: The point is not to denounce vegetarianism but rather to reveal the nature of conventional agriculture. The author interviewed doesn’t offer particular solutions, though he hints towards some, but there are solutions out there. It takes practice, change, and as the author says, death is necessary in one form or another (which can be the death of habits and lifestyles, without skipping a breath).

Regarding vegetarianism:
Personally I don’t think any diet should be strictly limiting. Flexibility is key. But with the current way meat products are offered, at least in the conventional markets of the United States, I would actually recommend people practice vegetarianism. If not strictly, just try to add more vegetables to one’s diet or even periods of vegetarianism (days, weeks, even seasons of the year as a seasonal diet can be very in tune with nature and also encourages local eating which is a solution to conventional agriculture).

BNT: You write “It’s not killing that’s domination: it’s agriculture.” (p246) and “agriculture is more like a war than anything else…” (p36) Can you explain how agriculture is the true “villain” in our goals toward a more just and sustainable world?

You take a piece of land and you clear every living thing off it–and I mean down to the bacteria. That’s what agriculture is. Richard Manning has this great line, “A wheat field is a clear-cut of the grass forest.” He’s right.

Besides the mass extinction, it’s inherently unsustainable. When you remove the perennial polyculture–the grassland or the forest–the soil is exposed and it dies. It turns to desert ultimately.

Northern Africa once fed the Roman Empire. Iraq was forests so thick that sunlight never touched the ground–no one in their right mind would call it the “Fertile Crescent” now. The dust storms in China are so bad that the soil is literally blowing across the Pacific Ocean and over the continent until it hits the Rocky Mountains, where it’s causing asthma in children in Denver.

The planet has been skinned alive. And the only reason we have not hit complete collapse is because we’ve been eating fossil fuel since 1950. This is not a plan with a future as peak oil is probably behind us and we are on the downside of Hubbert’s curve.

BNT: You write “no one told me that life is only possible through death, that our bodies are a gift from the world, and that our final gift is to feed each other.” (p236) Can you elaborate on this truth, and how we can apply this ethos to our lives and the food we eat?

There is no death-free option. The only options we have are the death that’s a part of the cycle of life and the death that’s destroying the cycle of life. Agriculture is the latter.

If our planet has any hope, it will be because we repair the perennial polycultures–the grasslands, the forests, the wetlands–and take our place once again as participants in those biotic communities, instead of as destroyers of them. That’s what we did for our first four million years–we were participants in living communities. It’s only in the last 10,000 that we’ve become monsters.

BNT: “In order to save the world we must know it.” (p247) You write that much of the destruction we inflict on the world is a result of our disconnection. How can each of us truly come to know the world?

We have to build relationships with the creatures that make our lives possible and with whom we share this planet. And that’s all of them–the bacteria, the plants, the insects, the birds. Not just the mammals. Everybody else. Animals are only 15% of life.

In a biological sense, this is a planet of bacteria. They are the people doing the basic work of life. They keep the basic cycles going–the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, without which no animals would be here. We need to get profoundly humble before the incredible activities they do that make our lives possible. That humility needs to be the basis of our culture, our religion, our reality.


One reply

  1. Miroslav says:

    I try as much as I can to eat organic expect for those with a thick peal that I will discard such as melons, oranges, bananas, and even cucumbers but I know I have to peal those. I buy organic apples, tomatoes definitely my greens if I am going to eat them or juice them parsley, spinach, celery, cucumbers (if I can find them), kale, dandelion greens, etc.And it is true that the organic does not mean it is free from everything it’s just that it the farmers use fertilizers and pesticides that are considered organic. I often find at my farmers market some produce that they label naturally grown which means that they added nothing expect the seeds, water and sunshine but there isn’t too much of that. I like to buy organic and local to support my community though I think it is a good thing for people to once again have a relationship with the grower of your food and support those small businesses that will give jobs to your neighbors. Plus you get what is in season it doesn’t always work out though, but small steps can make a difference.However, I will say this I like what Dan the Man said about not having organics because of a) they are not available or b) your budget does not allow it just bless your food and don’t worry about it. About 9 years ago, I cured a terrible bout of hay fever juicing all non-organic produce because I didn’t know any better and it worked for me.

What do you think?