Agricultural Fantasylands

» November 30th, 2014

In the field of sustainable agriculture, there’s enough magical thinking going around to cause vertigo. I hear it from purveyors of humane meat especially. They’re going to provide “cruelty-free” meat from livestock cuddled with love, pastured pork from pigs who were never harmed before their trip to the slaughterhouse for that “one bad day,” and—the perhaps the most common but least plausible of all—cattle whose manure and hoof action are going to restore global grasslands and reverse global warming.

The magical thinking continues with those who promise to end the use of fossil fuel. Solar (and, to a lesser extent, wind) will take over oil and gas. Animals will help us convert sun into flesh. Led by the organic lobby, farmers will replace synthetic fertilizer with composted manure. Biological control will replace chemical insecticides, especially in the organic sector. Fuel required to truck produce will diminish to virtually nothing as local farmers stock our larders. And so on.

As an advocate for the abolition of animal agriculture, I work hard to negotiate this fantasyland of hopeful thought. I certainly do envision a day when the domestication of animals is no longer a part of modern agriculture. When I indulge that vision, I feel fairly confident that it’s doable. That it’s grounded in reality. But when I contemplate the animal rights’ endgame—the abolition of all animal suffering in every arena of life—I agree with the sentiment while quietly wondering if I’m not engaging in the same sort of fantastic thought that Allan Savory engages in when he argues that cattle can reverse global warming. “Do I really think that’s possible?”, I ask myself. In my more honest moments, I’m unsure.

While maintaining our ideals, advocates for animals must also be ready to reluctantly compromise. Not doing so lands us in the same arena of unreality that allows agrarian tricksters to tell us agriculture can provide a cruelty-free free lunch. There are no free lunches. There is no perfection in agriculture. Nothing even close. As long as we eat, there will be some level of animal suffering. We should work to reduce it without losing touch with this reality. The past is littered with magic thoughts that lasted a long time and then faded into the past, brought up as evidence of a loony generation.

That’s no fate for animal advocacy, but if we lose touch it could be.


9 Responses to Agricultural Fantasylands

  1. Teresa Wagner says:

    Don’t ever, ever give up James. Your role as a thought leader in this issue is crucial. It keeps us going. Surely does me.
    And your first paragraph totally made my day. I want to puke every time I hear someone talk about how it’s not cruel to kill animals for food if they are loved and given fresh air and organic food until that very last day–the day of betrayal and horrid suffering. You are so very, very good at showing when the emperor is wearing no clothes. Please continue! Thank you!

  2. Jimmy Videle says:

    I agree. There is no humane, happy, sustainably raised meat. It’s time to end it all.

    Please join with me and sign and share my petition:

    we need to all be abolitionists make a stand and never compromise…

  3. Lisa LeBlanc says:

    From an utterly crass and selfish perspective, meat production, along with fossil fuels, benefits me very little; they are expensive, destructive pursuits that, in the final analysis, do little but provide more profit for those who already have more money and power than the next 10 generations of heirs will ever need.
    And that’s the crux of it, isn’t it?
    Fruit trees live long and produce; we have neighbors whose cherry, apricot and plum trees produce enough to provide pounds of fruit for every neighbor in a 5 block radius – at the 1 time cost of planting that tree and allowing it to prosper on it’s own. Vegetables grown responsibly are easy keepers, and again, our neighbors share that largesse for pennies, and out of their own pockets.
    Solar and wind – on a home owner’s scale – vastly undercut fossil fuels and other forms of energy production on a corporate scale. True ‘energy independence’ would be that which would benefit the individuals, not the corporations.
    And a vegetarian/vegan diet is cheap, cheap, CHEAP! Once the animal products are removed, the human necessity of food is more accessible for all.
    Of all the ‘convenience’ foods, animal products are, without doubt, the most destructive blight on our planet and our species; unless you live in a polar region where vegetation is an impossibility and meat your only food source, meat is an addiction we could all live longer and better without.
    No compromise.

  4. Karen Harris says:

    I think the key obviously, is what is open to compromise, and what isn’t. For example, I do not believe that animal advocates should give the green light to “humane slaughter,” and award insignificant improvements in cage size and the like. I am glad that gestation crates are going to be banned, as the suffering they cause is no doubt excruciating. However, I think it is wrong to declare this a victory. As advocates for the abolition of animal agriculture, where should we draw the line?
    By the way, thank you for letting me know about Cowspiracy – it is such an important documentary.
    Big article in the New York Times today on climate change – no mention of animal agriculture. Unreal!

  5. Tracy McDonnell says:

    Your calling out the B.S. being promulgated by the “happy exploitation” crowd is deeply appreciated.

    However, when you refer to animal advocates, what in your view should needing to “be ready to reluctantly compromise” actually mean (in practical terms) for an abolitionist vegan?

    (FWIW, since you never answered me a few blogs back as to whether you yourself personally eat insects, I am trusting that will not be one of the “compromises” to which you may be referring.)

  6. unethical_vegan says:

    “Led by the organic lobby, farmers will replace synthetic fertilizer with composted manure.”

    The irony is that much of the manure used by organic farmers today depends on non-organic animal feed grown with synthetic fertilizer. In other words, it typically takes an awful lot of synthetic fertilizer to make a much smaller amount of organic fertilizer. I believe that large-scale organic farming is impossible without large-scale exploitation of animals. I consider avoidance of most organic crops* to be as intrinsic a part of my vegan(ish) practice as avoidance of animal flesh.

    *some are grown sustainably

  7. Debbie Graham says:

    Folks, I am reading a book review which brought me to this site. I have been vegetarian for over 20 years, but after having raised 2 children in an urban area on a very limited budget with limited time, please get real. Unless you are able to help the average person put fresh vegetables etc on the table in a timely and cost efficient manner (and yes I know that meat is artificially cheap etc etc), dream on. In my mind, the worst part isn’t just animal abuse etc, it is the waste we have created. It isn’t that your fight isn’t worthwhile at all but just don’t dump on those who can’t muster the time, energy or money to take care of family without resorting to meat and/or other animal products in our current world. Also do not forget either that many changes have unintended consequences – wind energy has created an uptick in bat/bird deaths.

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