I’m not convinced that Vegans themselves understand the repercussions of their ideology. It seems to me an anaemic sort of world, a world where animals exist in a sort of fenced off zoo, admired from a distance from huanity’s cages of fibre and plastic.
In many more broadly-based ethical farming movements, such as Via Campesina, we see movements aimed at understanding and expressing the real value of products. In many communities (even rural communities in Europe), you can be treated to a meal where the goat, or chicken, or lamb has lived a life roaming the hills, the yard, and is killed with the efficiency that a predator would kill it. Where the eggs are gathered from chooks roaming the garden, adding fertiliser. These are not factory-farmed, not caged, just farmed, in a way that any product, plant or animal, can be farmed.
You also see initiatives such as the Fair Trade pricing mechanisms from Oxfam, of movements to return, even to understand, a proper value and price to primary producers of products such as coffee, all movements away from the large-scale capitalist, industrialised farming practises.
There are many citizen based initiatives here, often small in scale fighting the large organisations that have subsumed the process of the production of food, of clothing, of the use of resources. Initiatives that seek to replace, to repudiate, the economics of hiding costs and discarding value.
Wool is a good example here. Wool is shorn from sheep, sheep that generally graze in cold, hilly, stony, wet environments, free to wander over the countryside. The classic home of sheep: Wales, Scotland and now New Zealand, are environments that no crops aside from grasslands and its accompanying plants and animals exist. Sheep, and goats (from which comes cashmere), can be farmed in environments that are not “useful” for any other human crop, and can be fed and kept over winter with a minimum of extra feed. It all depends how they are farmed, where they are farmed, their numbers per acre, etc…but these can be farmed with minimal environmental impact. They, and their products, are organic and natural and surely a far better alternative than the Vegan advocated oil-based synthetic materials where the production of the raw material is not far more destructive, but the products are themselves non-biodegradable (do not reduce to biologically useful forms). The “formulations”, generally calculated by Vegan “think-tanks”, about the “destructive and exorbitant” cost of animal production, do not here apply, and one sees no formulations from these same bodies about the destructive and exorbitant costs of their recommended synthetic materials.
While it would appear that Vegan ideology supports these processes, of small, communal, sustainable, organic, ethical farming and practises, in many cases it stands against them, and indeed stands on the side of those huge industries against which these organisations fight.
The “treatment” terms of PETA list the use of animals for entertainment, for abuse, as the RSPCA does; that these terms also exclude the use of animals as transport, as farming ‘helpers’, as pets even. There is a distinction here, and the problem for Vegan ideology is that the distinction is not really to be drawn in the use of animals for food (see bees), or clothing, but in the how they are used.
It is telling that PETA, and Vegan ideology in general, excludes a discussion about these uses; these are an ideology borne out of a post-industrial, technological world view that supplants much of the “tooth-and-claw nastiness” of the natural world with synthetically produced and manufactured solutions. It is human beings removed from this organic world, and replaced this a sort of Star-Trek like synthetic, tamed, anaesthetised world, where the barbarians, the Klingons, are that animalistic, barbaric, appallingly brutal culture, the superseded, discarded, un-needed animal of our nature.
As if this is where “our problem” lies. We blame the animalistic, the primitive, reptilian as the source of our “inhumanity”, yet no animal behaves with anything like the barbarity that human beings do.
In industrialised countries, the idea of using bullocks to fertilise rice paddies, to sow and turn their soil, are now performed by the various mechanical and chemical (even manufactured organic alternatives) to these traditional methods. In the developing world, through large parts of tropical Asia and Africa, animals are still used in these activities, just as in others animals (and humans) are used to porter goods, food, materials from one location to another. In the developing world, animals such as donkeys, mules, horses, are still used for transport, hauling carriages whether for tourists or for locals.
In a world of cars, of tractors, at what point are these uses of animals to be condemned? Perhaps to be considered “entertainment”, a sentimental harkening back to cultural times and practises that should be relegated to the past? And meanwhile we replace these with the very technology that drives our climate to a tipping point.
Of course, PETA would could not extend their ban on animal use to these kinds of uses; it would condemn outright billions of people to death in a single stroke. And yet, do we honestly believe animals used in these activities are not exploited, are not abused or mistreated? Of course not, so the terms of treatment are carefully crafted to include “abuse” and “entertainment”, excluding the use for the production of food, for transport, etc, in these communities.
Do we really believe that a farmer using an animal, caring for it, can afford, or should, just let it out into the field to die. Its body to rot in the soil, not even fit, according to Vegan values, for its food to be fed to the “owner’s” dogs. For of course, any Vegan’s pet must also be vegan. The farmer can use the animal for labour, but not for food?
Does this not strike you as contradictory? Vegan ideology prohibits the use of animals for food, for clothing, but does not prohibit them for use in the development of food, even when, as with bees, that use is as exploitive as the direct use of: can we condone a “fair use” of them for these activities? It goes back to the simple quandary about the prohibition of honey in a Vegan diet, we discussed earlier.
And so we come to the rub of this; Vegan ideology takes either one of these two courses, but does so out of an artificial, abstracted view of nature, of the realities of life without all of the technological, industrialised processes; process which we must insist continue to drive our world to a catastrophic change in climate. It seems to promote the eventual replacement of any use, or even relationships, of animals with these technological solutions, exclusives use of synthetic materials, that once again, are increasingly making our world uninhabitable, extinguishing untold natural environments and species.
It is not the use of animals, but rather it is how we use them, the industrial scale of our abuse, that is the problem. And that this is not only unsustainable but morally repugnant and to be condemned. But the response to ban, is to miss the point, misses the ongoing destruction of environments for crops, for oil, etc.. It also condemns our opportunity to apply technology, to apply knowledge, to find sustainable, supportable, ethical solutions, which embrace the natural world, rather than condemning it. Nature has not failed us, we have failed it.
It seems inevitable that confronting these choices will be forced upon us: our inability to act on climate, on human population will force a reckoning. Our response is the expression of our values, of our knowledge and understanding of the world within which we live. To deny the realities that underly our place in the world is to advocate actions that exacerbate the problem.
Return to: Veganism, An Unnatural Ideology