Thoughts on long-term environmental effects of veganism enabled by modern industry?

Submitted by kore in Vegan (edited )


These thoughts came from talking with a friend who lives in a very rural area and hunts (for subsistence) regularly.

My question, very concisely, is: Does the environmental impact of eating plant-based foods ever outweigh the principle of non-harm to animals? A corollary is: does indirect harm outweigh direct harm?

I'm thinking of, for example, the prevalence of monoculture (often non-organic) corn and soy in U.S. foods and the energy and resources required to manufacture and transport those foods. I'm also thinking of transporting food in general.

If a factory (e.g. for milling flour) disrupts an entire ecosystem, why would taking one animal be any worse? If the pollution from transportation degrades the environment, or pesticides kill animals, or monoculture farms destroy habitats, how is killing a single animal to eat worse?

I'd really love to hear some perspectives on this. I understand that not everyone can kill game in their backyard.


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Potemkin wrote

Some interesting thoughts! I think I can understand some of what the OP is getting at. I'd like to address a couple of the points.

Firstly, we need to draw out some unspoken ambiguities. Corporate, monocultural crop production has many problems, some of which were already named--chemicals, destruction of land for monocultures, genetic engineering, etc. However, when comparing the ecological affects of corporate agriculture when compared to the corporate meat industry, agriculture is always MUCH less polluting and resource intensive.

The next thought is the difference in ecological impact and ethical consideration of the individual versus these large industries. One of the issues we should have with moderate liberalism generally is a lack of class consciousness. Liberal environmentalists will fault individual working-people for environmental degradation without holding corporations to account. Yet, even the most polluting individual has less environmental impact than one CEO that can choose to dump industrial waste into freshwater systems, for example.

I choose to not eat meat, and I don't think that will ever change for me, as a personal choice. However, I would not advocate this to people that have worked out their own, sustainable, relationship with the natural environment. I would never preach veganism to Native Americans, for instance, as they already have a working relationship with nature. So therefore, I don't see a problem with someone choosing to hunt for subsistence--it certainly is less impacting on the environment than any big corporate polluter. I personally would never do this, however.

When discussing issues like these, I think it's very important to keep these distinctions in mind and not get lost in ambiguity. We can't say, for example, that "humans" are polluters. Of course we are, but we must be more specific. The fact is, there are certain people in our society that have more power, and more ability to impact the environment than most working-people will ever have. It's not humans per se that are the issue, it's primarily CEOs making decisions for shareholders and profit. Not the wage worker that tosses their candy wrapper on the ground (though out of personal responsibility, I would argue we should still try to throw away and recycle and all that).

Corporate agriculture will always be better than the corporate meat industry. Individual horticulture will always be better than individual animal slaughter. However, an individual that chooses to hunt for subsistence will always have a lower environmental footprint than buying corporate meat. It's all a matter of degrees.

My argument is that, until the corporate agriculture and meat industries are done away with (in favor of alternative, sustainable methods), we should not point our fingers at the subsistence hunter, especially at the expense of holding these hugely polluting corporations to account.


ziq wrote (edited )

If you can hunt you can forage. I forage a lot of my food and grow a lot of it too. The whole 'hunting is more sustainable' argument is ridiculous. Monks have been growing and eating nothing but olives, wild greens, fruit and bread here for millennia without needing to kill anything.


kore wrote

I agree that hunting is not more sustainable in every case. If you live in a city it is much more sustainable to have a plant-based diet.

If you lived North of the Arctic circle (or a similarly cold place) it would be impossible to survive on local vegetables. If you lived in the desert it would also probably be impossible. In this case, which is more favorable? Importing food across hundreds (sometimes thousands) of miles or hunting?

Who specifically are the monks that you speak of? Is there any environmental history I can read concerning their dietary and agricultural practices?


ziq wrote (edited )











Who specifically are the monks that you speak of? Is there any environmental history I can read concerning their dietary and agricultural practices?

Just ask me. I've lived off the land as a vegan for more than a decade.

If everyone hunted to survive, there would be no wildlife to hunt. The only reason the swarms of hunters here have anything left to shoot is because the gov breeds and releases dopey tame game for them every hunting season. Fed on cultivated grain that would be better served feeding people.