Can We Grow Food Without Animals?

by Pauline

I've been a vegetarian for over 16 years and am on my 8th month of being a vegan. An argument I've heard twice now, over the last couple of months has more to do with how we couldn't grow crops without the use of animals. I can't believe I never thought of this myself and I would love to hear what other vegans think about it.

Animals fertilize the land, right? So without breeding them to be "used", how would we grow crops?

My argument was that we could "use" them for that but allow them to simply live until their natural expiration date (not kill them for food or use their milk).

I would love any further thoughts.

Editor's Response:

I've never heard this exact argument, but I think it's a variation of "If we all stopped eating animals, the world would be overrun with cows and chickens."

Often the misconceptions about our food industry date back to "olden times" (even just 50-100 years ago) when food was grown according to normal patterns of seasons, local to that area, and on small, family farms. Those farm systems would be devastated by the lack of animals because the old system worked like this... animals grazed and grew strong on land, pooped on ground, worms crawled through the poop, birds pecked at the worms and grew strong on the worms and grains, animals gave birth when fertilized by
the same species, their feces was used to fertilize the earth, and more animals grazed on that land. Bees and birds polinated the grains and vegetables, and we had food.

In that world, we could never grow crops without animals.

Now, the food system is nothing like that, and there are very few farms where a "normal" pattern exists. Instead, each and every type of food we eat is grown on an enormous plot of land; tomatoes on one farm; corn on another; potatoes on another; soybeans on another, etc. There are no animals to graze and poop because the animals are cooped up in enormous factory farms being treated in inconceivable ways to provide the amount of cheap meat that humans demand. And, there's no way to use all that poop to fertilize the big plots of tomato/corn/soy fields because the amount of poop those animals produce on factory farms would create high piles of poop on the fields rather than tomato/corn/soy fields. As it is right now, there is no regulation on what needs to be done with the animals' excrement, so it is piled into cesspools in the earth that leak into our groundwater.

The whole food system is a disaster right now, so anyone posing this argument to you is speaking of a dream world, or hypothetically. It just isn't a concern in today's world. And your answer is right: we should just allow them to live their normal lives and die their normal deaths. Jonathan Safran Foer has an absolutely sensational book out right now called Eating Animals that I highly recommend.

The happy part is that the more people learn of what happens in the food industry, the more opportunity we have to vote with our dollars. Choose local farms, go to farmers's markets, join a CSA, and stop eating animal products. As our demand goes, so goes the market. And in that ideal world in which we all collectively put our foot down and end the factory farmed food industry, the number of existing animals would revert to a natural number and we'd have just enough cows, pigs, chickens, etc, and poop to fertilize our crops.

Hope that helps! What does everyone else think?


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Circle of life
by: Anonymous

Where do you think the fossil fuels that make the fertilizers that are used to allow industrial agriculture to thrive, come from?

From bone meal that's added to the ground, manure that's added to soil, or fertilizers made from fossil fuels, everything is still based on the circle of life. Plants need some things from us and we live better with some things from them. We all live because of this cycle. Vegans are eating meat even if indirectly. It's nothing to feel shame about. Nature is amazing in it's complexity.

Part of My Conversion Story
by: Anonymous

This is an absolutely valid argument for anyone who supports local agriculture- which was very influential in my conversion from veganism to eating a balanced diet of local foods (including meat and dairy).

The editor is completely correct when she mentions that modern, USDA subsidized systems of agriculture promote monoculture and extreme amounts of waste- and when she says that small farms cannot function without mixed farming, which includes crop and animal rotation (this is especially true for organic producers who cannot use petroleum based fertilizers or pesticides [chickens are great for bug control btw]).

A local rancher converted me from veganism when we worked out, in conversation at the local farmer?s market, that soy wasn?t grown for over 1000 miles from our location, and my protein source was most likely causing massive deforestation, and displacement of native tribes in the Amazon.

Instead, I opted to try some ground beef and lose the soy burger. I still buy flour and some veggies commercially, but I know that my ecological footprint has been reduced, and local animal?s quality of life has increased since I adopted a mixed diet of local foods.

And I don't live in a "dream world" btw.


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