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Randy donahuer at
Thu Mar 15 04:47:57 EST 2001

           Hey everyone!

                I have had the distinct pleasure of reading one posting
after another about veganism and its relationship to food production and the
environment. There have been many of them. They have all been pretty much in
favor of omnivorism, with a negative attitude towards an exclusion of meat
from the diet. I would like to address some of the points that have been
made against vegetarianism which I find umplausible or not well- explained
                I read where one individual stated that humanure could'nt
function as the sole source of fertilizer, and thermodynamics illustrated
why this was so, since the nutrients would run out. Did I miss something
here? Do animals somehow add nutrients other than nitrogen to the nutrient
cycle? Does feeding fibrous and indigestible plant remains to animals(the
ones that humans cannot process) somehow lock those nutrients into a
perpetual wheel that itself defies the second law?  The only nutrient that
animals add is nitrogen, and that only by the bacteria in the digestive
system of ruminant mammals. These bacteria utilize complex carbohydrates in
their work, producing greenhouse gases such as butane and methane in the
process. Egad! Is the loss of energy not sped up here, when those complex
carbohydrates could have contributed to soil structure? Does the nitrogen
gained by feeding to ruminants exceed the amount that would be fixed by
growing legumes on the same amount of land? There is always more energy lost
with each step that it must pass through the food chain before it reaches us.
                However, these animals also require nitrogen on the input
end. Why am I going to take nitrogen, whether in bulk or concentrated form,
and feed it to an animal who will expel it as volatile urea and ammonia(and
therefore lose it), when I can incorporate it into the soil to provide a
longer lasting soil-ammendment? Pure manure in any form is a short-term,
quick-fix ammendment to the soil, and its composition will not yield the
much longer benefits of the inactive humus that can be generated from plant
residues. It is plants that fix nutrients in the first place, and the energy
constantly pouring into the system in the form of sunlight allows the plants
to continually unlock nutrients from the soil they grow in as well as

reclaim the nutrients of other plants and, yea, even from animals. This is
why the laws of thermodynamics are firmly in place in a field of
farm-generated fertility that does not include animals, because it relies on
that continual energy input to raise nutrients back into the cycle. Any such
system uses energy inputs outside of itself to stay in existence. 
                 I have consistently heard that the monocrops of soybeans
are environmentally damaging. Who claimed that vegetarians had to rely on a
monoculture to supply their protein needs? That is kind of putting down the
diversity of all of the alternative sources of protein from permanent
plantings that I have seen suggested on this list alone. But I find no
reason why I should have to feed any of this protein to an animal before I
eat it myself. The typical kinds of animals that north american agriculture
uses are not very dainty, and I find that they tend to increase compaction
and erosion, not prevent it. The only reason that human beings need to put
an animal into the mix is possibly to preserve the genetic diversity of rare
breeds. But the actual raising of a few animals by a hobby breeder would not
have the ecological impact for a definite positive or negative effect. These
animals might speed up the recycling of nutrients into a plant useable form,
but at the same time, the length of time they are available will always be
less so than if the materials were simply allowed to break down over a
                  If preserving the natural order or imitating it as close
as possible is what what you desire, why not set a planting in place, and
then allow indiginous animals to wander in? You can still eat most of them,
and your ecologically sound sytem should work much the same, in theory.   
                  It would be nice to think that animals were the perfect
complement to plants in a system. But they arent't. Plants can be arranged
on a grid, or however you desire, to take full advantage of the available
resources. Animals on the other hand, have a mind of their own. They may or
may not take advantage of that particular area of grass that you wanted to
get mowed down/ recycled into nutrients. And they may not put it where you
want it. Often they have a favorite place where manure becomes concentrated.
You then have to micromanage the animals, either confining them to to a
small area that is to be grazed, or keeping them somewhere and bringing them
nutrients as they become available(and then spending the energy to preserve,
haul, and spread the manure). It is interesting that someone mentioned the
practices of Native Americans in the argument for "sacred killing". Now they
had a true reverence for the land, and didnt raise any large meat
animals(except for some south american cultures). Those cultures that
primarily hunted had the benefit of few other consumers to compete with, as
well as great efficiency when consuming the kill. But Europeans rolled in
uninvited, and they are now living among populations of much higher density.
"Natural" populations of (large)animals couldnt even begin to supplement our
diet usefully, much less can they exist among us. So here we are trying to
micromanage this flock of chickens or cattle again, pretending that an acre
of animals on pasture will produce as much digestible protein as an acre of
properly spaced, properly timed plants(monoculture or otherwise), and that
they will have less of an environmental impact if we blunder into trying to
force them to do so.And maybe that guy over the fence has a lesser density
of cattle that he raises on permanent pasture, and at that density he doesnt
have to manage nearly as carefully and he doesnt experience compaction or
overgrazing, and his climate is such that his naturally diverse forages are
in their peak year round . . . well then he could probably lessen his
footprint if he used less land(back to intensive management). And at a
certain point this hypothetical rancher would be producing so few pounds of
extra protein per his low management acres that the amount of protein that
would be provided per capita to everyone who ate beef if all cattle were
managed this way becomes an insignificant figure.        
           Don't get me wrong, the plan is to use cattle, chickens, and
honeybees in the future. But only because I like these creatures and have a
taste preferance for their products, I enjoy the appearance of diversity,
and have romantic ideas about farmyard animals as well(no, don't go there),
not because I believe I can somehow imitate nature, completing her goals and
mine with equal efficiency. 
          If you think otherwise, educate me. Use some depth and don't make
alot of obscure references.  
                                                    -Joseph Donahue

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