Have vegans got it all wrong?

Have vegans got it all wrong, when it comes to the vegan diet saving the planet?

Time and again, we hear we should be going vegan “for the planet”.

But should we? Is it better for the planet? Are vegans telling the truth? Or is their logic faulty, blinded by feelings and unable to analyse facts?

I’m an ex-vegan…here’s why…

I was a vegan for a long time (about a decade), and vegetarian before that for a few years.

I thought I was doing the right thing, and one of the main reasons I was vegan was environmental… I love the planet, I wanted to be as sustainable as possible, and I felt personally responsible for what I consume.

I still feel this way. But I’m not vegan any more, or even vegetarian.

I stopped being vegan when I bought a small farm with my ex-husband back in 2010.

With the farm came chickens and sheep, and although we hadn’t intended to breed the sheep, a neighbour’s ram got in with our ewes through a dodgy fence.

You can figure out the rest! šŸ˜‰

From eight ewes we suddenly had seventeen woolly mouths to feed, and our property wasn’t big enough for them all.

We sat and watched the lambs growing quickly, stripping our grass down to bare earth, while we ate our imported tofu and grains and lentils, most of which came from Australia, the US and China.

Soon we realised we needed to reduce the farm’s carrying flock, and we organized a home kill.

Most of the meat went to friends and we decided to try meat again, for the first time in well over a decade. It seemed pointless for everyone else to eat our lambs and not us. After all, we’d killed them.

I haven’t gone back to being vegan. Or vegetarian.

The truth about our food

I live in southern New Zealand, and so what I say about our food is relative to the situation here. Your situation, depending on where you live, may be completely different.

Here most of our bulk foodstuffs – the foods that vegans depend on – are imported.

Our rice comes from India and China mainly, as do our lentils and other beany-type foods. Our wheat, flour and sugar come from Australia, the US and the Phillipines. Olive oil – and olives – come from Spain. Our tinned vegetables come from all over – I have seen everything from South Africa to Costa Rica on labels.

While our fresh foodstuffs sometimes come from New Zealand, this is often not the case. A lot of our fresh fruit in winter comes from the US and Australia, even in summer.

About the only thing that always seems to be from New Zealand is our apples – and they’re shipped across from the north island in almost all cases (New Zealand is two main islands, and we’re in the south one).

In fact, I’ll state pretty unequivocally that if a vegan were to subsist only on locally grown foods in Dunedin, New Zealand, they’d be eating potatoes, berries and not much else. In winter, it’d be turnips, swedes and potatoes.

Sound exciting? Thought not.

In reality of course, the vegans I know here eat a wide variety of foods…with the vast majority of their food imported, packaged, processed, shipped, salted, sugared, altered.

But “vegan”. Yes, vegan.

Compare this to someone like me, who is eating a fair bit of very locally-sourced meat, some of it pest animals (wallaby, deer, rabbit etc.), and the vegan option isn’t looking kind to the environment at all.

I also eat a lot of local cheese, and some NZ-grown greens. We have chickens for eggs too. I’d bet my “carbon footprint” against a Dunedin vegan’s any day.

(This isn’t meant to be a competition. I’m just making the point that veganism doesn’t mean much when it comes to the environment.)

Is veganism just “nice in theory”?

I won’t go so far as to say that veganism is just “nice in theory”, but I will say that, for anyone who is not eating a very locally-produced diet – which means almost everyone who lives in a city, or who lives in a climate that is not ideal for farming – veganism is pretty much only good in principle.

Once you start to dig down a little, the theory falls apart. It doesn’t hold water. At all.

Even the “kind to animals” line doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, because vast amounts of animals are slaughtered by pest-controllers to avoid farm crops being eaten. My partner and I know some professional pest controllers personally – like the guy who shot nearly 200 wallabies a couple of weekends back to protect a New Zealand farm.

No, veganism is not animal-death-free. Not one bit.

Veganism is only kind to animals if you don’t count all the animals.

So what is the best diet for the planet?

I’d have to argue that the locavores might on the right track. Eating locally reduces the shipping, the packaging (although this depends), the wastage. You’re also supporting your fellow countryfolk, which is something I happen to agree with.

Right up alongside the locavores are the hunters, especially those of us keen to eradicate and eat pest animals. If you’re hunting and consuming animals that are a pest in your local area, you’re making a difference in the right direction.

Up with these two is growing a bit of food in your own backyard. This can be keeping chickens (we love our chooks!), growing a veggie garden or even planting a few herbs. It’s all good.

Solutions for the planet

In the end, if we’re serious about cutting our emissions, we need to close our borders quite a bit too, especially when it comes to food. Borders help control what is coming in and going out, and they encourage people to eat a more restrained, local, planet-friendly diet.

As for veganism, I don’t think it will solve anything. You can slap a label on a mass-produced, mega-processed junkyburger from the other side of the planet and call it “vegan”, but it’s not going to do anything except make you fatter and add wealth to some slick corporation’s bank account.

So what I’m saying, in conclusion, is don’t be suckered in by labels. Use your head. Dig deeper. Ask questions. Instead of asking whether a food is vegan, ask where it came from, what it was wrapped in, and how long it’s been sitting on the shelf.

The answers might get you thinking. They sure got me thinking!

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