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Joanne Donovan


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Are the western vegetarian and vegan movements food fetishes for the rich?

'LET THEM EAT CAKE'. These words, attributed to Marie Antoinette just prior to her execution, enraged the struggling masses during the French Revolution. To people who had few daily food choices, most subsisted on low grade bread and little else, these words seemed so callous, and so bereft of compassion.

Why do we, in today's wealthy western countries, place such a high degree of importance over our individual diet? Is it just selfishness and ego born out of having too many choices each day? Do we claim self esteem and identity this way? Are we detached from the real meaning of food and nutrition, of survival?


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    Apr 22 2012: No. It is meat that is the fetish of the rich. Meat is a small part of the diet among the poor because feeding animals is an inefficient way of getting nutrients to humans. Much of the energy is used up by the animal before it is slaughtered rather than passed on to those who feed upon the animals.

    So, even if you are not a pure vegatarian, every time you replace meat with beans or other high protien plant matter, you are reducing your part of our agricultural foot print on the planet, leaving room and nutrients for other sentient beings (animals and people) and for future generations.
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      Apr 23 2012: Good point. Meat IS a food fetish for the rich, and one that is extremely damaging to the environment. Agreed. Is beging vegetarian the answer? In my opinion, no.

      The solutions lie somewhere else. The answer to me lies in establishing permaculture, holistic principles in farming and limiting the size of all food production, to move away from an industrial scale. There are other important factors to consider to do with the way food is transported globally and how we exploit our fellow man, who does not happen to reside beneath our own flag pole. Its a holistic approach.
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        Apr 23 2012: I guess I am confused. I would think that weaning ourselves from high consumption of meat is a very important step toward establishing a permanently sustainable agriculture if that is what you mean by "permaculture". Working toward establishing a permanently sustainable agriculture, better health, and preventing the cruelty to animals on factory farms seems to be the three main arguments for becoming more vegetarian.

        As to whether small scale will get you permaculture when there are going to be 9 billion people on this planet, I doubt it. Small scale would work with small populations. Are you planning on famine, war, etc. to get us there? I hope we could find a sustainable agriculture solution that does not involve mass death and the end of civilization.
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          Apr 23 2012: @Inthegarden beyond the cave: Weaning ourselves off high consumption of meat does not mean vegetarianism. It might also mean eating less meat. Or even little meat. I do not think one can apply ones dietry values to other people. Do you? If you do, then I take issue with that.

          Are you really trying to be credible here? 'Small scale would work with small populations. Are you planning on famine, war, etc. to get us there? I hope we could find a sustainable agriculture solution that does not involve mass death and the end of civilization.' You seem to be saying that the possible way we can feed 9 billion (we are not currently feeding 7 billion, may I remind you) is through industrial scale farming AND vegetarianism? Is this really your standpoint or would you like to qualify this before I reply?
        • Apr 23 2012: In Australia we farm cattle in semi-arid areas that are unsiutable for crop farming. Cattle convert the dry grass that we can't eat into meat that we can eat. Dry countries like Australia wouldn't be able to feed their population without meat.
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        Apr 24 2012: Peter, I was intrigued by your description of Australian cattle farming so I did a little research. While it is true that Australian cattle farming is unique in that it is the last region to make the change from range fed cattle to breeder operations that sell calfs to feedlots, that transition is now well underway in Australia. Basically, the way it is going to work is that the pasture land will be used to keep cows who will be used as breeders. The weaned calfs will then be sold to feedlot opperations that will feed them with grain or corn until they reach slaughtering weight. The beef you eat on your table will be grain fed steers for the most part. Much of the nutrients present in the grain the steers eat will never make it to your table. The feed lots waste grain producing land that could have been used to feed peple or animals living more fulfilling, natural lives. Vegetarians avoid encouraging that waste of farm land.
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          Apr 25 2012: I think to a large extent the grain fed beef is intended for export. The Australian palate leans toward lower fat levels than you get from grain fed beasts. The process for the local market starts with the breed stock you mention but the weaners are sent to holding properties until they are large enough to fatten up back on the coast. If you grain fed them the whole time the meat would be too expensive for domestic use. The Japanese however are prepared to spend a fortune on well marbled beef. In Australia we are used to cheep meat, anything over $20 per kilogram is a tough sell. Grain fed beef is more like $50 per kilo so will never be a big seller domestically.( $20AUS per kilo is about $10US per pound)
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        Apr 24 2012: Joanne, How are you going to get people to support permaculture if people do not buy in to dietary values that are compatible with the foods produced by the permaculture?

        You do not seem to be thinking about the ways that different elements of food production and consumption systems effect each other.

        You cannot have small scale production unless you have small numbers of people consuming food. If you have large numbers of food consumers, you are going to have to have large scale production .

        If you want us to move toward a permaculture that will feed large numbers of people, you have to accept that you cannot just do anything you want. You have to get rational. You have to do what is necessary to acheive your purpose.

        Those who are vegetarians for ethical reasons understand that their purchasing decisions effect the way food is produced. If you want permaculture, vegetarians are your allies, not your enemy. The current level of consumption of meat is not sustainable.
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          Apr 25 2012: Hi Inthegardentbeyondthecave; permaculture is a set of principles, nothing more. Scale is an issue though, as monocultural agricultural methods are very productive in one area, but extremely destructive. It is possible to design a system using permaculture principles, that is both productive and ecologically sustainable.

          The issue of population growth is a separate one.

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