BY MARJORIE STEWART
Now that the election is over and the green movement has burst through the false promises of ‘sustainable growth’ to demand that politicians set policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is time to focus on large-scale action that can only be effected by governments. Humans are hard-wired for temporal spatial discounting: we want what we want right now, right here and we’ll pay later. This characteristic has been exploited by global corporate capitalism to such an extent that we cannot break out of the traps that depend on human exploitation and planetary destruction. We must have municipal, provincial, national and international policies to dismantle the failing systems and replace them with human-scale alternatives.
Civil society, a.k.a. non-profit activism, has been working on these very alternatives, and the knowledge exists of what to do to replace the ‘business as usual’ attitudes that prevent the cultural transformation we need.
What we don’t need is to waste our time on inadequate solutions, however tempting or fashionable. In food matters, veganism and vegetarianism are very popular right now but they do not take into account global impacts or historical realities.
I have no quarrel with a diet much heavier in plants than meat and dairy food and I wholeheartedly support the dismantling of industrial meat and dairy systems. But, after tens of thousands of years of domestication, starting with ourselves and adding domestic animals to evolve systems of mixed farming that did not destroy the land, it’s a bit late to be demanding total plant consumption for humans on the basis that eating meat is unfair to other animals.
When the colonial settlers arrived in North America, the prairie grasslands were lush and healthy and inhabited by large herbivores, their carnivore predators, and their foods (grass and some woody forages). The biomass of immigrant humans replaced the biomass of the bison and the roles of carnivores in what had been a balanced ecosystem fed by healthy soils and abundant grasses were eliminated.
It seems clear that we must return to smaller-scale, local and organic mixed farming methods to regenerate the land from the soil up.
So, if we rush into veganism, how will this contribute to ecological well-being of humans and other animal species?
Veganism has been promoted as good for health, planet and animals, the answer to the ravages of industrial agriculture. Unfortunately, within a global capitalist system, while immense savings in health costs and reduction in greenhouse gases could be achieved, the slack would be taken up by increased demand to satisfy that ‘here, now, whatever’ human trait. And the amount of the plant production required would have to be met by monoculture of fruits and vegetables, along with clear-cutting of forests to provide arable land. Cashews from India, almonds from California, palm oil from Africa, all will have impacts on planet and the people drudging to produce the products to satisfy the cravings of the well-to-do, living a lifestyle and an esthetic of gentrification.
Which policies should we be asking for to combat climate change? Trendy, self-indulgent, all-plant diets for the few or something more down-to-earth?
Marjorie Stewart is past-chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.