The Challenge, Part I: A Vegan Goes Grainless and Soyless (and Organic)

» February 1st, 2013

Today and tomorrow will be guest posts. Susan Clay and Mountain Krauss, two loyal readers of Eating Plants, issued each other a unique challenge. Here is an account of Susan’s experience. We’ll hear from Mountain tomorrow. 


By Susan Clay (aka “CQ”)

On January 1, 2013, my life changed. Not because of a New Year’s Resolution. I don’t do those. But because of a challenge. A challenge I posed to fellow blog commenter Mountain. I offered to do two things between January 1st and 31st: quit eating grains (plus soy and corn) and go organic. And I invited him to join me in trying a new-to-him ethical diet: no animal products, except for eggs from his rescued hens. Mountain accepted, with the caveat that he would “need [his] grassfed Irish butter.” Done deal.

Why this unconventional cuisine compact? Well, it started in earnest when Mountain insisted in a mid-December Eating Plants blog ( that the monoculture-grown grains vegans eat harm animals and the earth. Actually, I already knew he was right, because after he first made that claim last spring, I’d searched the web and discovered that polyculture, veganic grain crops — a food fit for what one could call “vegans-plus” — do exist. But they’re in the experimental stages of development. My research led me to ask one of those experimenters to write an article on her findings. She did so, and I edited it into the form of a comment on this blog, which James then published as the guest post “Vegan Permaculture” last May (

I’ll quote a few sentences from that post, so that everyone understands why I didn’t pooh-pooh Mountain’s contention.

Is a vegan diet that includes grains less violent than the diet of a meat-dairy-and-egg-eater? We’ve been going ’round and ’round that question on various posts in the Eating Plants (now blog, haven’t we? Recently, I found someone who has been attempting to reduce the harm to animals from grain production down to zero.

Helen Atthowe of Montana is a vegan agricultural ecologist who is behind and whose writing, photos and videos of her veganic permaculture farm are featured on it. According to Atthowe, humans who eat grain cannot, for the most part, escape causing suffering and death to other living organisms.

Consumer demand for bread, pasta, cereal, crackers and chips, Atthowe laments, has homogenized the landscape into a monoculture of annual grasses—wheat, corn (maize), rice, oats, rye, and barley grains, all called cereal grains. Even organic vegan cheesy puffs use monoculture grains. (Another monoculture crop, soybeans, is a grain legume; livestock are fed almost all the soybeans grown in the U.S.)

This vast production of grain by modern agribusiness inevitably kills many birds, small mammals, and insects. It is also hard on larger wild species, not to mention on the land itself. At present, a typical vegan eats the same grains as non-vegans simply because there are not yet any commercially viable veganic grain production systems. But thanks to the efforts of some dedicated scientists around the world, annual grains grown as single cash crops will not remain the only large-scale option much longer.

Indeed, grains can be grown and are being grown in less disruptive polyculture systems. Polyculture systems, says Atthowe, closely mimic nature’s ecosystems, within which insects, birds, small mammals and other wildlife thrive. These polyculture grains can be grown as perennials, with reduced tillage and hence less disturbance of the organisms who rely on a stable soil system.

True, the fact that I was causing easily-avoidable harm to animals took an inexcusable seven months to sink in, but sink in it finally did — not just theoretically, but practically. I craved a change that would be meaningful and permanent, like the shifts I made from omnivore to vegetarian in 2002 then to 99% vegan in 2005 and to fully vegan in 2010.

One of the biggest admissions I had to make to myself is that I was addicted to pasta. Several times a week, if not every night, I would have sizeable helpings of spaghetti with either tomato sauce or vegan butter — or equal doses of both. January was the month I came to terms with and overcame that addiction. I have no desire to return to such a counterproductive, destructive habit. In future months, after I use up the on-sale pasta I’d stocked up on pre-challenge, I won’t buy more.

Nearly halfway through the month, I learned from email exchanges with Mountain that the term “paleo,” which he had used from the beginning, involves more than simply forsaking grains and soy products. It is a diet also absent legumes (beans and peas and peanuts, for example) and sugar. Feeling that I was being an imperfect paleo, I resolved to cut out the rest of the non-paleos, even though I had made a four-bean casserole the previous day. (Into the freezer it went.) When, on January 14, I stopped adding soy-based vegan salad dressing and soy-laced vanilla frosting to fruit salads to make them palatable, I learned that organic navel oranges are plenty sweet and that peanut-butterless apples and un(vegan)sugared bananas are delicious when I’m famished. That said, I confess to using a dab of soy spread the three or four times I was weary of vinegar on veggie salads. Mea culpa.

On only one other occasion did I violate my self-imposed rules, but it was an innocent error. An out-of-state friend was in town and invited me to lunch at his ritzy hotel. Having checked out the menu on the website, I had a hankering for the only vegan-paleo option I could find: sweet potato fries. But by the time we sat down, my friend, who remembered I’m vegan, was insisting I order a real meal. He asked the waiter if the sauce on the pumpkin ravioli could be changed from cheese to tomato. “Yes” was the answer. So I agreed. Seriously, I completely forgot that ravioli is a pasta made from grain. I hadn’t eaten ravioli in absolute ages, and I was so focused on it being an animal-free entrée. By the time the mistake hit me, it was too late, and I felt, despite my chagrin, that it would be unkind to my host, to our waiter, and to the chef to either cancel or change the order — or to ignore the food once it was set before me. (No, I am not rationalizing. I’m explaining how I arrived at what I felt was the best choice!) So I ate half of it, then stopped, even though I was still hungry. Sure, the pasta was good, but it didn’t set off an urge to pig out on it. For that proof of being “cured,” I’m grateful.

Inevitably, this post has been all about food. Altering our food choices was the challenge that Mountain and I agreed to take on.

But for me, and I’m sure for Mountain, it was about more than simply adding and subtracting certain physical objects on our plates. As I wrote to Mountain in late December (I’ve adapted my words to suit this audience): “To me, this is about being willing to open my eyes to more light and my heart to more expansive love. It’s about purifying — unselfing — my motives. It’s about listening and learning. And it’s about making the best choices I know how to make and am capable of making — choices that benefit all living beings and harm no one. It’s about never saying, ‘That’s it. I’ve done enough!’”

Today is February 1. I’m eager to continue the adventure by remaining partly paleo and mostly organic. Yes, I’ll finish the grains and legumes already in the house (“waste not, want not”), but by degrees and in moderation. And yes, I’ll buy the occasional loaf of organic wheat bread. But I will never resume being a grain-aholic. The field mice in Kansas have a new friend.


The Challenge, Part II: A Paleo Goes Meatless and Milkless

51 Responses to The Challenge, Part I: A Vegan Goes Grainless and Soyless (and Organic)

  1. Lucy Goodrum says:

    Excellent, excellent piece! I can’t wait for the next installment. This issue has become increasingly thorny when debating non-vegans. Thank you.

  2. Lisa Viger says:

    I’m wheat and soy free and have been vegan for more than five years. I feel great in every way possible.

    But I’ve never understood why organic agriculture is considered “vegan friendly.” Organic fruits and vegetables are grown with heavy doses of blood meal, bone meal, ground up feathers, fish meal, various manures, etc.

    As an avid gardener, I’ve wavered between using conventional or organic growing methods, because there are SO many animal products used in organic growing. Last year, I was organic. I grew everything in my 3/4 acre of garden with the least animal product intensive organic products I could find. Still, one of the main ingredients in the fertilizer was fish meal. Fish meal is ground up fish bodies, just as bone meal is ground up bones, and blood meal is powdered blood, and so on.

    There are ways to grow veganic, and that’s what I’m moving towards … I may be entirely veganic by this summer. But … organic is far from vegan …

    • CQ says:

      I agree, Lisa.

      My pecans (from a friend’s tree) are organic! If I had a way to do veganic, I would. I guess I see organic as a stepping stone — better than conventional, but not nearly my ideal.

  3. Dylan says:

    How can you survive as a vegan without legumes?

    • Lori says:

      I agree, Dylan. It’s fine to do it for one month, but this would not be a good thing in the long run. So many studies have shown the most healthy diets are the ones that include lots of grains, legumes, veggies and fruits.

    • CQ says:

      Good question, Dylan. I’m not going to go without legumes. That’s why I wrote “partly paleo.” I’ll resume eating beans, starting with the ones I froze on January 14th! But I don’t need a lot of them, or anything else, to thrive. Ever since overcoming an eating disorder years ago, I find that the less emphasis I put on food (except as an ethical issue), the better off I am.

      • CQ says:

        Dylan, I realize I should’ve written this sentence a little differently, so as not to confuse: “Yes, I’ll finish the grains and legumes already in the house (“waste not, want not”), but by degrees and in moderation.” It implies I won’t buy any of those products when my shelves are empty.

        To clarify:

        GRAINS: I won’t return to buying pasta, rice, corn, crackers, grain-based chips, bagels, or cereal, but will sometimes buy (organic) bread as well as White Mountain Foods’ Wheat Roast.

        LEGUMES: I won’t return to buying most beans (which I’m not wild about) but will sometimes buy (organic) baked beans and peas. I cannot imagine nixing (organic) peanut butter, but I can easily replace peanuts and cashews non-legume (organic) nuts like pecans, almonds, and walnuts. Note: I also buy (organic) seeds now — pumpkin, sunflower.

        SUGAR: I’ll continue to buy vegan sugar sparingly (for use in cupcakes made with organic flour for vegan fundraisers, for example). Note: Mountain told me about almond flour and coconut flour; I located the former, however it’s out of my price range at $7/lb!

        SOY: It’s goes back on the menu, for sure. But in small doses.

        There, is that clearer than mud now? Hope so!

  4. Lori says:

    My understanding is that the Paleo diet includes grass-fed and wild meats, fish, etc., but no dairy. So, if Mountain is eating dairy, he is not a true Paleo. And without the meats, I would be concerned about you going without grains and legumes for the long-term.

    I find the whole premise of the Paleo diet to be on shaky grounds anyway.

    As for organic, I have been eating organic or local (knowing my farmers or someone I know, knowing them) for years. While it’s true, organic is not necessarily vegan, I find the heavy use of pesticides intolerable on all levels.

    I’m now learning about veganics, the wave of the future. Animal Place in Northern Cal is growing a large veganic garden and is teaching people about the principles. I’ll be involved with that in the spring.

    In the meantime, while I agree that many vegans overuse grains and soy, I see no reason to cut them out entirely. Especially if you know their source. There are many grains that are not as hard on the environment as wheat. In my evolution to eating better over the years, I became, yes, a locavore. (However, I became disenchanted with the movement as they stubbornly insist upon the heavy use of animal products.) I’ve always been a vegetarian (since my teens) and on-and-off vegan, then to 90% vegan, to the past few years of trying to be totally vegan. But I still see local/sustainable as the way to go, as much as possible, just without the animals.

    What we need is a way to bring together locavores and vegans. The vegan locavore. Vegan sustainable. I’m actually in the process of doing that now.

    • CQ says:

      Your points are well take, Lori. To me, there’s a big difference between being a grain-oholic and a consumer of small amounts of grains (as in “the occasional loaf of organic wheat bread” that I mentioned).

    • Mountain says:

      Hi Lori, there is no One True Paleo. Paleo can mean one specific diet (if referring to books by Loren Cordain or Robb Wolf), but usually has a broader meaning, much like the term “plant-based diet” has in the veg world. Some variants consider cream, butter, and cheese acceptable. I don’t know of any schools of thought in the paleo world that advocate full-on consumption of dairy.

      Because hunter-gatherers across the globe ate such a wide variety of foods, there is no real way to say a paleo person must eat this or must eat that. It is much easier to say what hunter-gatherers did not eat, or only had access to in minute quantities. So, as practiced in the U.S., paleo is often meat-heavy and low-carb, this isn’t in any way required. People have had success with vegan paleo diets and high-carb paleo diets (they just got those carbs from nutritionally-dense sources).

      Finally, when it comes to animals and the environment, I have no problem with people consuming grains (and even soy) if they have grown them themselves, or bought them from a non-monoculture source. The plants themselves are not inherently evil, but they realities of how grains and soy are produced (except in exceedingly rare instances) are very damaging to animals.

  5. ingrid says:

    Thank you for posting this, Susan. I had a similar ‘choice’ made for me when I discovered I was both soy and gluten intolerant. In the process, I came to understand more about the environmental issues related to grains. I’ve never done well on a grain-based diet anyway, but these revelations caused some significant soul searching and experimentation for quite a few years. I was even shunned by a few vegan friends who did not believe I could be sensitive to both soy and gluten, and who didn’t like the questions which arose from that realization. This was quite a few years ago, before the discussion went mainstream.

    I wasn’t sure I could make my diet work, given how prevalent these two elements are in vegetarian products. And, I admit to a lot of misguided food experiments and lapses before figuring out what worked for me. Now, I’ve learned to eat grains occasionally, as condiments, if I crave them– and the main items on my plate are always veggies. I do consume legumes and a small amount of nuts, so giving those up (except short-term) would be an issue for me.

    I realize that my existence doesn’t come close to “zero” harm in terms of how I affect the greater, ecological whole. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I tend to allow for gray areas in other facets of these discussions. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t accept the challenge of moving toward zero harm, even if it seems pragmatically unattainable at times. I appreciate Eating Plants for all of the thought-provoking pieces like this one. Some posts and discussions here have even been life-changing for me.

    • CQ says:

      I’m glad you didn’t stop experimenting until you came up with foods that you enjoy and that cause you no harm, ingrid. Mountain and I agreed from the beginning that we weren’t trying to be “purists.” When it comes to eating animal products, I am clear on not wanting to do that any more. But when it comes to the other “harms,” I try to do the best I’m able, as you are. I like that you are open to learning yet leave the ultimate decision to your conscience and your best efforts instead of following others’ opinions.

    • Mountain says:

      Awesome, Ingrid. I suspect your intolerances have made you a more thoughtful eater, and a healthier one at that. Just a quick note: nuts (other than peanuts, which are a legume) aren’t considered non-paleo, so there wouldn’t be any reason to give them up. Also, as perennials, I like them because they are much less disruptive of the soil.

  6. John T. Maher says:

    This is great! Mountain is completely correct in a macro way. Please ask James to post a recipe and pic of dinner each day. Trying without success to eliminate grains here in NYC and keep ending up with stir fried bok choi and mushrooms, hold the GMO rice please, every night.

    What about roadkill? Incidental paleo-protein with few direct ethical consequences for the consumer, although the issues may be a) depriving a predator such as a coyote of an easy dinner; b) not recognizing the ethical implications of roads and automobiles for wildlife; c) phytosanitary issues for the consumer. Not advocating for eating roadkill, just sayin’

    • Lori says:

      Love the roadkill comments! Yes, it seems that no matter what, we humans will need to consume. And consuming is fraught with problems. Even stealing roadkill is problematic, although nature does seem to favor the largest and strongest of us. I’ll never forget a scene in front of my house here in Nor Cal one day. Looking out my kitchen window, I noticed a jackrabbit had been killed by a car. A crow (or raven) was trying to drag it off to the grass on the side of the road so she could munch on the carcass without interference from passing cars. After much struggle…success, only to have two turkey vultures fly down and chase off the crow. Soon enough though, a large red-tailed hawk came and took the carcass away from the two turkey vultures. Size does matter, at least in the bird world! :-)

    • James says:

      To my knowledge, there is no GMO rice on the market. Golden Rice has been in the works for a while, but to my knowledge it has yet to be marketed. Could be wrong. (And thanks for the article).

      • John T. Maher says:

        GMO rice comment was in same playful spirit as Lori’s comment “appreciating” roadkill. You are correct that there is no GMO rice widely available but it will be the norm in 10 years the way GMO soy is now (and wheat almost is) after the US finishes the next 2 rounds of so-called Free Trade Agreements which will unify the Intellectual Property laws that make GMO rice profitable

    • CQ says:

      Your (a) and (b) and (c) are great replies to the good question you pose, John. They work for me! Especially (a). One reason I detest fish-killing is that it deprives ocean occupants or river residents of their dinner.

  7. Fireweed says:

    Readers will likely find this chart from Animal Visuals of interest.

    “Davis draws his estimates from a study done on field mice in England[12], and from a study done on sugarcane fields in Hawaii. In the English study, 33 field mice were fitted with radio collars and tracked before and after harvest. The researchers found that only 3 percent of them were actually killed by the combine harvester (amounting to one mouse). An additional 52 percent of them (17 mice) were killed following harvest by predators such as owls and weasels, possibly due to their loss of the crop cover. It is unknown how many of these mice would have been eaten by owls or weasels anyway.

    I was able to find two additional studies on the effect of harvest on wild animal populations. One study done in Argentina measured small mammal densities in a corn and a wheat field, and in surrounding border areas before and after harvest. The researchers found that there were lower densities of small mammals in the crops after harvest, and comparable higher densities in the surrounding areas, which may indicate a level of escape from the harvested fields[13]. Another study that measured small mammal densities in South Dakota corn fields and neighboring areas did not find a significant difference in the density of small mammals before and after harvest[14]. This study also did not have a large sample size (88 animals). I am not aware of any data that exists that would support a national average of number of animals killed per area land due to crop harvesting activity”

    • James says:

      Great stuff.

    • Lori says:

      Yes, I had also read that much of the claims of numbers of animals killed for grain production has been exaggerated, not to say of course that it doesn’t happen. One study I saw that claimed a large number were killed was conducted by an Austalian scientist being paid by the beef industry there. I agree with James, let’s concentrate on getting people to stop raising animals for food first.

    • CQ says:

      Those are interesting studies, Fireweed. Well, I guess I’m leaving that one mouse to an owl — preferable to my being his indirect slayer.

  8. Fireweed says:

    It’s clear to me that those who eschew animal products ( which are most often the result of feeding animals grains harvested somewhere else to begin with), are already reducing their impact on field animals like mice and birds. Eating animals or their byproducts means ‘eating twice’ far more often not.

    In my own experience as a veganic grower, stock-free techniques are indeed advantageous to reducing disruption of ground nesting birds and rodents, etc.

    Yesterday I was flipping over rows of much hay in our community potato patch, since we’ll be reseeding the soil underneath with more cover crop ( before planting potatoes in a couple of months time) to replenish nitrogen in the soil under those areas where weed growth has been suppressed over the winter. We are entering our sixth growing season of crop rotation and for the second year in a row see no need to bring in any heavy equipment as we are finally getting whole field management down pat.

    While the hay mulch comes from a neighbouring farm that would have had to use a thresher to harvest it in the first place, we are able to use the same hay more than once as mulch, moving it around before it finally breaks down completely adding humous to the soil with the help of the worms that love it wherever we finally leave it.

    Minimizing tillage, thanks to the use of mulch, allows us to significantly reduce fossil fuel consumption besides avoiding cutting too deeply down into the soil and disturbing both micro and macro lifeforms.

    I have developed an intimate relationship with this field on my hands and knees over the past five years. The mice do love to tunnel under cardboard we also use to dieback invasive grasses around the field perimeter…but I’ve never come across a carcass resulting in the minimal disruption eventually made in the strips where we plant our potatoes or turn under our low growing cover crops with a hand-tilled rototiller…they seem to have plenty of time to get out of the way.

    Scything small scale grain crops is also making a comeback, and is another way it is entirely possible to reduce the impact of machinery in the field…not to mention, to stay fit! I know this isn’t practical on a large scale.

    All agriculture, plant-based or animal-based, is going to have an impact on animals and the environment we all animal depend upon (for habitat, clean air and water, etc). But if the goal is harm reduction, a varied diet low on the food chain is still the least impactful and those with the privilege of choice must be part of setting new examples of truly sustainable organic methods- those that do not add livestock to the system. Please support stock-free growers, and learn more about veganic techniques!


    • Fireweed says:

      woops! That should have read ‘humus’…although I am told I do have a great sense of ‘humous’ :)

    • CQ says:

      I wish I lived near your veganic farm, Fireweed. My hope is that one day there will be a “Fireweed” close to me!

      Thank you, everyone, for your thoughtful, insightful, and caring comments. :-)

      In getting to know Mountain, I’ve come to respect him as a friend. I am sure you’ll be just as respectful of his efforts to reduce harm to earth and others as you have been to me.

      And thank you, James, for giving Mountain and me the opportunity to write up our month-long challenge for you and your readers!

  9. To quote one of my favorite authors: “Agriculture is more devastating ecologically than anything else we could do except pouring concrete on the land”. — James McWilliams.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Fireweed’s last paragraph. As a veganic farmer at Animal Place, I apply the vegan ethic of least harm in all that I do, from pest management to reduced tillage. Despite my best efforts, I realize that altering the land in this way will have a negative impact on the critters that live in and around our farm. We are in the process of restoring native habitats adjacent to our farm to mitigate these impacts.

    I’m not going to enter into a debate on grain and legume production, except to wonder how we can realistically feed 7 billion mouths without these foods. Encouraging to me, there are a number of grain farms that are growing veganically:

    For those who just can’t live without bread, you can support veganic agriculture by buying it from One Degree.

    • Lori says:

      Thanks for the info Stephanie. I’ve never met you, but I volunteer at Animal Place (cleaning barns and helping with the animals). I hope to get involved with the veganic farm soon. I’d love to learn more about it.

      Thanks for the great work you all do at Animal Place. It’s an awesome place!

      (Sorry if this post came through twice. I had issues posting it the first time.)

    • CQ says:

      Stephanie, I am thrilled to learn about One Degree. I entered my zip code and discovered, to my delight, that I can get this veganic bread at a specialty foods store that’s a 20-minute bus trip from my house. I’ll be calling them first thing tomorrow morning to ask when they’re open. Thank you so much!!!!

      As for Animal Place, I feel like I live near your sanctuary, in that many of the residents are featured in photos scattered throughout Creature Quotes, and I gaze at them with affection often. AP’s education director, Marji Beach, took most of pix and gave me permission to “borrow” to my heart’s content from her Flickr pages. If you see her, please tell her she might enjoy reading this post.

  10. Nalani says:

    I don’t understand what’s wrong with legumes in ones diet? I understand that paleo logic would state they supposedly weren’t consumed by ancient humans, but from an environmental perspective, legumes are beneficial to soil because they’re nitrogen fixing.

    And also, Paleo abstains from dairy as far as I know, because ancient humans didn’t drink the milk of cows or any other animal that wasn’t a human, so I wouldn’t call Mountain a Paleo.

    • Mountain says:

      Legumes generally cause problems in the human body and in the environment, but in both cases it pales in comparison to the harm done by grains. Though I don’t generally eat legumes of any sort, soy is the only one I feel very strongly about. From the rainforests cut down to grow soy, to its role as the primary source of protein for factory-farmed animals, to its omnipresence in heavily-processed food products, wherever you find soy you tend to find bad stuff happening.

      While it’s true that legumes fix nitrogen– and thus, enable more monoculture grain fields– it does not follow that they are beneficial to the soil. Wisely used by a farmer who’s serious about the health of her soil, legumes can be great for the soil. But as typically grown, they don’t lead to healthy soil.

      Finally, I’m enjoying these “gotcha” vegan moments in a discussion of paleo. But there are approaches in the paleo world that do accept some dairy, even though it wasn’t available to our prehistoric ancestors (then again, neither were olives). Paleo is a rule of thumb, or a guideline in how one approaches food, but a perfect historical re-enactment.

  11. Bea Elliott says:

    CQ – It’s wonderful that you’ve found a way to improve an already better/kinder way of sustaining your life! And glad too that you’ll still be able to enjoy the occasional veganic grain “treat”. With less consumed as habit (or addiction) – It will make the times you do “indulge” even more special. Hooray for your commendable, positive step! ;)

  12. C says:

    I hate to break it to you, but organic agriculture relies heavily on animal products. I don’t know one organic farmer who doesn’t use them, besides myself. They use blood, bone, and feather meals; factory farm manures; plant meals (like monoculture alfalfa and straw); and so on.

    You know the uproar about arsenic in organic rice? That’s in part from factory farm poultry manure, where they worm poultry with an arsenic compound. You can look it up on a government website listing approved medications if you like. (I did.) Sadly, my local beloved sustainable rice producer used that manure.

    I have a vegan friend who’s a farmer, and she buys her animal-based fertilizer every year (the same one most other organic farmers use). She describes with disgust how she becomes covered in it as she spreads it on the fields knowing how it’s made of blood and bone. It smells, it gets in her mouth. Here gophers are also a huge problem, but when they till the fields it kills them. It also kills wild bees at the same time (they live in the soil) and then people complain about the lack of bees for pollination.

    They sometimes even spray fish emulsion on the plants themselves. So basically your veggies and fruits are covered in dead animals.

    I’m vegetarian, 95% vegan myself. We do what we can. I have my own biointensive garden which I fertilize with kelp and my own compost, which includes manure from my organically fed rescued chickens, spent hay from my goat run, and plant wastes.

    Agriculture always involves displacement of wildlife and death. I just try to minimize my impact as much as possible. Even using all the food you buy helps (it’s estimated that Americans waste as much as half of their food supply).

    Good luck to you on your diet and finding ever more ethical solutions. I’m with you in spirit!

    • CQ says:

      Thanks for the indepth explanation of all the un-animal-friendly aspects of organic farming, C. I hope my response to Lisa (third comment) conveys that the only method of production I wholeheartedly endorse is veganic.

      Have you asked your vegan farmer friend about going veganic?

      Click on Fireweed’s name above your comment and you’ll find plenty of info there:

      On January 25th, Fireweed posted a video created by veganic permaculturist Helen Atthowe, whose own website is (please disregard the misspelled link in my guest blog).

      I believe Fireweed collects the names of all the veganic farms and gardens known to him, so he can probably share their locations with you and your farmer friend.

      You’re definitely right about the production of meat being wasteful (of land, water, energy, etc.) vis a vis any plant-based food.

      For a short, shareable primer on that subject, you might want to read “Comfortably Unaware: Global Depletion and Food Responsibility … What You Choose to Eat Is Killing Our Planet, by Dr. Richard A. Oppenlander.

      Thanks again for contributing helpful thoughts and appropriate links.

  13. C says:

    I should have mentioned, that it is still better to eat a vegan diet, even with grain, because it uses so much less land. The vast majority of our farmland in the US goes toward food for livestock.

    Meat uses vastly more land and water to feed people than does plant food. Compared to soy, meat production took more land (6 to 17 times as much), water (4.4 to 26 times), fossil fuels (6 to 20 times), and biocides (6 times as much of pesticides and chemicals used for processing). Compared to producing pasta, red meat used 20 times the land, generated 3 times the greenhouse-gas emissions, 17 times the water pollution caused by soil and biological matter, and 5 times the toxic water pollution. (Based on Union for Concerned Scientists study.)

    And here is that popular organic fertilizer:

  14. Fireweed says:

    Yes, I’m always looking to add the names and locations of other veganic growers to my blog. By the way, where I live I am surrounded by farms (including pigs, sheep, cows, chickens, turkeys,etc, etc) but I am not ‘a farmer’ myself… I normally self identify as a veganic grower ( also as an ecofeminist activist and writer… Female…just to provide clarification on the gender front, as well!)

    I am one of the co-founders of SPUDS, Denman Island’s organic potato co-op which IS on former farm land, and currently involves around a dozen memberships. We employ stock- free growing techniques ( as mentioned above ) Most of the land I am fortunate to live on is forest and that’s the way we would like to keep it! One of our goals with DIVA is to encourage more use of available land for vegetable and fruit production instead of livestock, but my experience over the last two decades as both an animal advocate and sustainable food enthusiast on the so-called ‘progressive’ westcoast is that the locavore obsession with raising animals for food is discouraging progress for veganic agriculture. I hope to help change that, but it is definitely an uphill battle in a rural community with so few vegans and readily available animal manure. I am heartened by the fact that One Degree organics (also BC, Canada based) was recently awarded acknowledgement for innovation ( they promote veganicture). However I have concerns about how the term ‘veganic’ is being used which I believe I have written about in the past on James’ blog. But that’s probably a discussion for another day (and time on a computer, rather than this i-phone!)

    • Fireweed says:

      Argh. iPhone typos… That should have read as One Degree organics promotes ‘veganic’. Also, I meant for my comment to post as a reply rather than a seperate addition to the thread.

    • CQ says:

      Fireweed, your online name (or birth name?) sounds to me like a guy, sorry! :-) Curiously, after I goofed (above), a friend sent me an audio interview featuring a woman named … Fireweed. I started to listen to it, but then got diverted. In case I don’t find it, could you provide the link, please?

      Also, not recalling the blog in which you expressed concerns about how the term “veganic” is being used, I’d appreciate either being steered to that post or hearing a recap of your comments, Fireweed. Thanks so much.

      • Fireweed says:

        Hi CQ…tell me more about the interview….it might have been me, but there is more than one Fireweed out there, and also more than one interview with me kicking around in cyberspace! There is a photo id’ing me as female on my veganiculture blog near the bottom, standing next to my husband…he’s the one with the goatee:)

        I can’t remember where I posted my comments about use of the term ‘veganic’ by One Degree here on Eating Plants (I’m pretty sure it was on here!) but it’s probably faster to just give you a quick recap of my thoughts …

        I took exception to One Degree’s use of the term ‘veganic’ a couple of years ago when it was brought to my attention by another veganic grower that they were promoting ‘transparency’ in food production but not really honoring the pre-existing understanding that a truly veganic farm absolutely excludes the use of domestic animals.

        For example, they claim the following on their website in big letters:”Every grower who helps make One Degree foods uses veganic growing methods only. ”

        Yes, they use the word ‘only’.

        And yet clearly, some of the farmers they source from grow other things besides the grains purchased by One Degree. Take Vale Farms in Lumby, BC, Canada, for example. They also grow beef cattle!

        I don’t call that ‘transparency’ in food production. I call that not exactly providing full disclosure!

        One Degree could chose to say that they source only from farmers who use ‘stockfree’ growing techniques to grow the grains they purchase. But to suggest that all of their farmers use ONLY veganic techniques, implies that those farmers are adhering to the principles behind the veganic movement as it originated, and as it continues to grow in places like the UK where veganic standards were developed. And those standards clearly promote a whole systems understanding of what it means to identify as a veganic grower.

        As a vegan, I want to know that when I hear someone tell me that something has come from a farmer who ONLY uses veganic growing techniques, that that doesn’t mean they actually engages in growing animals as food but reserve a section of land for growing grain they might not normally bother to apply animal manure or other byproducts to anyway!

        It is of course true that anyone, any gardener or farmer, can use stock-free growing techniques…and my own interest in promoting those techniques certainly also extends to farmers who are not even remotely interested in giving up animal products in their personal diets. I’m not going to wait for all the vegans in the world to become farmers and supply all our food, because that just isn’t going to happen. But for a company promoting TRANSPARENCY in food production to use the term ‘veganic’ freely in association with livestock growers blurs important distinctions in the minds of vegan consumers (and others) no matter how wonderful it is that it gets the ‘concept’ out there that SOME food can be grown with out animal inputs!

        I’m not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater, because I know One Degree is a good thing.

        But here’s the ‘why vegan organic’ page from the Vegan Organic Network. THIS is what I call true transparency!

        • CQ says:

          Ah, Fireweed, thank you for spelling out the importance of transparency and truthfulness in word and deed. The “why vegan organic” webpage you cited exemplifies the ethical preaching and practice you’re talking about — and is worth repeating:

          As for your recent interview, well, I just found it, listened to it, liked it — and highly recommend it to C’s vegan farmer friend who uses animal-based fertilizer:

          Toward the tail end of that interview, you answered my question about your real name. When I Googled Dianne Radmore, I was surprised that the first hit was Oxfam’s “Female Food Heroes” page! Hopefully your bio there inspires other growers to espouse and emulate *truly* humane farming and not just the pretense of it.

          • Fireweed says:

            Thanks for appreciating my thoughts on One Degree, CQ.

            Yes, the IWD show on Animal Voices! I did a better interview specific to veganic ag entirely somewhere else this spring I’ll send you the link for, FYI, once I locate it again.

            Fireweed is ALSO my ‘real name’ though…I must insist! I was born with one name, raised with another, and have identified as FW for over 20 years. I am a published writer under that name as well, it’s not simply a cyberspace handle.

            It’s a bit of a long story, the whole name thing, but DR is on all my legal documents so it gets used mostly by those who don’t know me otherwise, OR are trying to be ‘official’ (as were those who so kindly nominated me for the Oxfam thing!)

            I did decide to use DR again a few years ago when I first joined FB- in addition to my Fireweed account- as a means of connecting with newly discovered biological family I didn’t want to weird out with the Fireweed handle right off the bat! But Facebook doesn’t like you having two names on the same email account I guess, and promptly axed my Fireweed account…

            Anyway, that means you can easily find me on social media now either way (as on the Oxfam site, Fireweed is simply in brackets in the middle of my legal name now on FB)

            Thanks for your support and fellow advocacy efforts, CQ!

  15. C says:

    I’ve toyed with the idea of veganic, but for me it doesn’t make sense, because I have rescued chickens and goats who create a readily available waste that I can compost. It’s better to recycle that waste than to add it to our environment as pollution, which does sometimes happen. Until that waste stream is diminished, we do need to use it as fertilizer to be sustainable, or some other use, such as methane fuel, a natural gas substitute. Even in that case, you’re left with fertilizer at the end of the process.

    I took a class from John Jeavons, who travels the world teaching starving peoples how to grow their own food using the biointensive method. His method for this purpose is veganic, and he has detailed charts listing the calories you get planting different plant foods. One person could grow their in own food in 4000 sq ft (if I remember correctly), or half that once you get good at it.

    But, I did note that the veganic method does leave land unproductive while you are growing the plant fertilizers on it. Otherwise, you’re using monoculture crops you get from elsewhere, like alfalfa. Farmers need to maximize profits so they might not have that luxury. Because I have a ready source of my own compost year-round, and I’m in a zone 9 climate, I can grow in my beds all year with no downtime.

    If you till, you kill animals. I screen out all animals that might damage my crops by wiring in the beds underground, and also covering them with netting. That’s time-intensive and expensive to do, and farmers of any decent scale would have trouble doing it while making money.

    In the end, we’re just minimizing our impact. We never eliminate it or our harm to animals without a huge amount of time-consuming effort. But minimizing is a good thing to do, I think.

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