Why I am Not Vegetarian: A Homesteader’s Perspective.
Lets start with this. If I couldn’t raise my own meat or source it locally and sustainably I would be vegetarian.
I have been attacked many a time by readers who say I can’t claim to be “green” when I eat meat. Hold it right there. Since when does the definition of being green have anything to do with eating meat? I found a good definition of green:
What is the definition of green living? Green living is a lifestyle which seeks to bring into balance the conservation and preservation of the Earth’s natural resources, habitats, and biodiversity with human culture and communities.
Does it say anywhere in there that green means not eating meat? It does not. That said, I don’t actually like the term “green” anymore… it doesn’t seem deep enough, or meaningful enough. Anyone can recycle their garbage and use safer cleaning products and be considered “green”. And really, is that actually very green? Or is that just our everyday responsibility in today’s world? Lets go deeper, and get far beyond green-washed consumerism. I prefer the term “sustainable living”. And I also like Wikipedia’s definition of it.
Sustainable living is a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual‘s or society‘s use of the Earth‘s natural resources and personal resources. Practitioners of sustainable living often attempt to reduce their carbon footprint by altering methods of transportation, energy consumption, and diet. Proponents of sustainable living aim to conduct their lives in ways that are consistent with sustainability, in natural balance and respectful of humanity’s symbiotic relationship with the Earth’s natural ecology and cycles.
That’s a loaded definition and one worth working towards. It also, incidentally, does not say anything about being vegetarian.
As many of you already know, and the rest of you now know, my aim is to grow food to supply my family with most of the food we need for a year. ON MY PROPERTY here in Canada. Not from California or Mexico or Peru. Right here, were I can see what is going into it, how it is handled, and how it is prepared or preserved. I fall short of that year after year, but come closer every year. The last year we have had more than enough meat to eat, produced right here on my property. We raised meat birds and pigs, which filled our freezer. This year as well as raising meat, my canning cupboard has been filled with local, unsprayed produce and my own food. My two freezers and extra fridge are stuffed full of meat, fruit and vegetables produced on my property. Full to the point of considering buying another freezer.
If sustainable living is partly defined as reducing your carbon footprint by altering your diet to include mostly food produced on your own property, then I think we are pretty well covered. Most grocery stores in my area are filled with fruit and vegetables brought in from California or further. The carbon footprint to bring that food to Canada is huge. My carbon footprint is tiny in comparison.
Actually, my big discovery as to WHY I could never be a strict vegetarian (ie. vegan) occurred this fall. I discovered that I can’t reasonably grow enough protein on my own property to supply my family of 5 without raising meat. I grew kidney beans from my own seeds from last year. I expected to grow enough to have a year’s supply. I planted them in a section of my garden that was about 6 feet by 8 feet. The plants grew and produced. I allowed them to dry out on the bushes and I collected them to dry further in the house. Then I shelled them and put them in a jar. My total of beans for the year, from that size of space, was a 1 L jar full of kidney beans (as seen pictured above). Now, I am not sure how many meals that would provide for my family but it isn’t very many. Of course, I could have grown a larger field of beans. In fact I could have grown an acre of beans and finally had enough to supply my family with enough protein to feed them. If they didn’t understandably kill me first after feeding them only beans for the year. I don’t actually own enough land to grow an acre of beans, but you get my point.
Now I see nothing wrong with living on beans. Or lentils, or quinoa, or nuts, or any of a variety of these protein-high products, especially if they were grown in your garden or locally. But in comparison, the amount of land I would need to grow enough protein to supply my family, when compared to raising meat is incomparable. In fact I don’t truly believe I would be able to grow and harvest enough vegetables and grains on my 1.9 acres of land, most of which is forested, to provide my family with a balanced diet. In Canada we have a smaller growing season, a cooler climate, and we are limited to how much protein we can grow. I don’t even know where I could supply myself locally with enough non-animal protein for the year, from other farmers. Lentils and quinoa, dried beans and nuts are just not grown here very much, because they require space, commercial harvesting techniques and equipment, and longer, hotter growing seasons to be even remotely efficient.
I can, however, provide meat for my family which in turn provides protein. Lots of it. So a zero mile diet, complete with lots of fruit and vegetables, and some meat, is doable. And we are doing it. Our chickens are free ranged and fed GMO-free feed. Our pigs are fed exclusively on scavenged and organic bread, whey and vegetables. Our goats provide us milk. Our bees provide us honey. Our garden provides us with lots of vegetables and fruit. We source Canadian organic wheat berries to grind for bread. We eat well, our animals are happy, and we know where our food comes from. Right here in our back yard.
I live in Ontario, Canada and during the winter the only local vegan foods left to eat are frozen berries, carrots, potatoes, squash, parsnips, turnips, yams and other root vegetables. Sustaining on those foods all winter would be impossible. So you start importing coconut oil, gojis, cacao, maca, avocados, green salads, etc. I realized that driving half a mile down the road to buy some eggs is a better option ecologically than buying all these expensive imported “superfoods.” And when you do the research, the pastured, local egg has more nutrition than any of the superfoods I was paying 10 or 20X more for. So after awhile I felt pretty counterproductive and hypocritical in my vegan stance. -from Interview With an Ex-Vegan: Kaleigh Mason, an 8 year vegan.
There are lots of different arguments on both sides of the coin. And there are lots of different reasons for eating the way we do. And I respect (almost) everyone’s decision. I have found studies that show the world can live entirely on a vegan diet. I have found studies that show that we can’t. I have found articles calling vegetarians hypocrites for eating plants because they are alive too. I have found articles condemning meat eaters because they are taking a life. I certainly can’t solve the world’s hunger issues, neither can I solve climate change or any other environmental issue. But I can make a difference by sourcing my food sustainably, and teaching others how to do so themselves. And before you tear a strip off me for not being green, I challenge you to take a good long look at your own food sources.
It’s not that vegans are right and vegetarians are wrong, or vegetarians are right and omnivores are wrong, or omnivores are right and carnivores are wrong – it’s about where we each choose to draw our line. Better still, to return to the arrogant view that ‘man’ thinks he is at the top of a food chain, Keith concluded “I’m not going to draw a line. I’m going to draw a circle.” We are part of the circle of life, just as any other animal is. They and we need to live and die to give back to the land, so that birth and death can continue. – The Vegetarian Myth
If you are not eating meat because you don’t think animals should be killed, that is your choice. If you don’t eat meat because you don’t like how commercial meat is produced, and can’t raise it yourself, I applaud you. If you choose to eat meat and source it sustainably, fantastic. If you eat meat produced commercially in large factories where animals suffer horribly, may you learn something. If you eat meat but don’t think you could ever kill an animal for meat, let me teach you. Just PLEASE don’t be that person who just told me today that she feels sorry for the chickens, thinks she should be vegetarian, and then goes home and cooks up a commercially produced chicken that she didn’t have to see when it was alive. That is too hypocritical for me.
So back to the beans. I will continue to grow them and use them as an alternate source of protein but they will go hand in hand with the meat, dairy, eggs, vegetables and fruit I grow to provide my family with an adequate supply of healthy, low carbon footprint food.