Permaculture & The Vegan way

John Irwin jwirwin at
Thu Mar 8 17:28:43 EST 2001

Hi Toby et al:

During a class someone once asked Bill Mollison if he
ate meat.  He just replied "I don't eat factory food"  Sums
it up nicely.


Toby Hemenway wrote:

> I appreciate many of the points that Graham raises on veganism in
> permaculture at
> >
> I tend to agree with Wes Trotman, that veganism is only feasible in rich
> countries. But I think the whole question, "which is more sustainable,
> veganism or omnivory?" misses the point. Vegans point to the huge acreages
> needed to produce beef; omnivores point back at the wasteful agriculture
> that monocrops soy beans. The culprit in those cases is not a particular
> eating choice but rather industrial agriculture, whether as feedlots or
> beanfields. Neither "side" of this discussion is living sustainably, just as
> all of us who drive cars are not living sustainably. So I think basing the
> choice of eating animals on sustainability is a blind alley and isn't
> related to how we're really living. I can certainly envision a permaculture
> system that integrates animals in a way that consumes no more land and
> resources than one without animals, and offers more yields. We can stack
> animals into the system very efficiently, just as nature does.
> Frankly, I have a hard time conceiving of a sustainable agriculture that
> does not involve animals, as the many roles they play in natural systems and
> in designed ones must then be replaced by fossil fuel inputs or vast amounts
> of human labor (and I prefer my hammock). For example, setting aside acreage
> to grow and process compost crops is probably less efficient than running
> livestock within a system to consume forage and crop wastes and generate
> manure. Humanure can't be the only source of fertilizer?the Second Law of
> Thermodynamics dictates that you'll run out of of nutrients. Plus having
> humans as the only animal designed into the system is its own form of
> monocrop, and overlooks many other ways to process nutrients.  Stripping
> animals out of our designed ecosystems seems unwise and certainly unnatural.
> Having animals in a system doesn't mean you have to eat them (although those
> who believe keeping livestock is slavery are still going to be unhappy).
> However, I share the views of Paul Shepard expressed in "The Tender
> Carnivore and the Sacred Game," and of David Abrams in "The Spell of the
> Sensuous" wherein they say we need relationships with animals; they enrich
> us, connect us to the rest of life, and expand what it means to be human.
> Even our role as predator is a crucial one, deeply embedded in our psyche
> and genes. Not everyone wants to act out that aspect of ourselves, but as a
> biologist I've got a healthy respect for 3 billion years of the
> predator/prey dynamic, and I feel deepened by entering into the
> awe-inspiring mysteries of that ancient and respectful relationship with the
> "more than human" world.
> Thus I feel the sustainability argument tilts somewhat in favor of omnivory,
> but that in the face of much larger constraints--since few of us are growing
> all our own food, and we are dependent on industrial systems--whether or not
> we eat animals really boils down to personal belief. Hence we can discuss
> it, cheerfully or angrily, forever.
> Toby
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