I am not an advocate for industrial farms. Don and I saw first hand a crowded, mucky, huge beef feed lot in Southern California last winter and were appalled at the conditions the cattle lived in. In the region around the Salton Sea a huge portion of the Colorado River is diverted so that many crops (and not just the beef) can grow in the desert – not exactly sustainable as the demand for the dwindling water supply increases.
Not all beef is raised in feedlots. Western, Canada & the US, and County beef farms graze cattle on pasture farms. The animals are outside in the sunshine mowing down the crop of grass with their muzzles and spreading manure behind which returns nutrients to the land. Why is this good? It is because the farmer is using less of that peak oil to harvest a crop by not continuously cultivating soybeans, wheat, oats etc. A vegetarian diet requires continuous cultivation.
Ideally every one of us would grow our own food instead of relying on the 1% of the population to grow it for us (2006 Canadian Census). Instead of relying on fossil fuels to do the work we would provide our own labour in our gardens and store our bounty in root cellars for winter use. To survive the long, cold, Canadian winters the early European settlers grew vegetables, fruit, milled grain & raised animals for food because a vegetarian diet alone would not get them through. As it stands now we are relying more and more on imports from foreign countries and therefore more and more on peak oil. In the Helman’s video Eat Real Eat Local it states that in a 15 year period Canada’s food imports rose 160 percent while our population only increased by 1 percent.
When a vegetarian diet is promoted as a more sustainable diet than one that includes some meat what is the plan for replacing the nutrients in the soil? As Janette Haase states in From Seed to Table: A Practical Guide to Eating and Growing Green “All too often, the comparison between eating a pound of hamburger and a pound of soybeans is greatly oversimplified, and of course, the soybeans win hands down. There is no question that the feedlot cow consumes huge quantities of water and chemically farmed grains – six to seven times more nutrients than it ever provides in protein. It also produces huge amounts of manure that pollute our waterways. Similarly, industrially farmed soybeans are grown with chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides that are made from fossil fuels. These chemicals pollute waterways, kill fish and wildlife, and destroy millions of beneficial insects. Their tractors, combine harvesters, and other equipment necessary to get these soybeans in from the field run on fossil fuels. In growing these soybeans, soil is compacted, biodiversity is lost, and the carbon storage abilities of our grasslands are destroyed. These crops also consume large amounts of water through irrigation. Whether it is beef, soybeans, corn, or chicken, organic or conventional, large scale industrial farming, both conventional and organic is polluting and uses similar amounts of fossil fuels per pound of food.” (p. 189 – 190)
Urbanization and industrial farming go hand in hand. Most of us are so far removed from our food sources we are not even aware of what it takes to grow that food. If you cannot grow it or raise it yourself purchase your food (vegetables, fruit and yes beef, chicken or lamb) from a local small-scale farmer who uses a more ecological approach to farming. That is more sustainable than just becoming a vegetarian and having your food shipped in from California, Chili or China all winter.
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