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Animal Death in Plant Production Is Not a Reason to Shun Veganism

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Okay, here we go again.

High Country News shared a piece called “Vegan food may not be as “vegan” as you think,” and our eyes have rolled so aggressively into the back of our heads, that we’ve had a hard time reading through to the end of it. Writer Ari LeVaux circles back to the predictable straw man argument that since animal death is a part of plant production, vegans who consume produce they don’t grow themselves might as well not avoid animal use at all. As usual, all the animals killed to grow produce to feed animals that are killed is conveniently left out, and the only solution we’re given to rectify some death is to participate in more death.

The clear defensiveness here comes from fear, as the article begins with all the ways meat eaters are hearing they’re wrong these days. Namely, the conversations we’re having on greenhouse gases, the correlation of meat eating and improved risk of certain cancers, and animal production’s contribution to world hunger. He even points out that many don’t want people killing animals on their behalf, the only ethical part to this article. But it all goes up in smoke when he gives us the “bad news,” that manure and bone meal are used in farming. Yup, our salads aren’t animal-free, because our backwards society means vegetable production requires that animals die. I can’t believe he left out insects.

Seriously, he even looks to blame all compost for our continued use of grass-fed beef, feedlots, and animal auctions. But LeVaux goes out of his way to talk to one vegan to confirm all vegans are in the wrong. “You can be vegan as long as the rest of the world is eating their animals,” Will Bonsall, a farmer in the mountains of Maine, told him. Mr. Bonsall claims to be “one of the few vegans in the world who actually eats a 100 percent plant-based diet.” He grows his own food, and says that any vegan who buys theirs has blood on their hands. Cool.

But this Bonsall guy totally takes over the piece, and this is where it gets weird. After attempting to explain how much energy is wasted on farming animals, he’s decides to make it known he’s not a “bunny hugger vegan” (which I’ll go on the record as being, as I am hugging a bunny right now). He must have used “plant-based” earlier to confuse LeVaux further, because he regularly shoots animals to protect his fields. Still, he thinks people who buy plants grown in manure are murderers, and that his way is morally superior. 

Oh, he also calls vegans his enemies and competition (could have just said deer), and his friends “vegan-eaters” (again, coyote was what he was meaning). But he doesn’t eat the animals he kills, so apparently he can stay on his pedestal. “We kill animals if we have to,” Bonsall said. “But it’s stupid to eat them as food.” Not wrong, just stupid. Instead he likes to leave deer bodies in nearby woods to attract coyotes and intimidate other deer. Again, attempting to argue that sacrificing the lives of deer for crop production is somehow less morally reprehensible than using the byproducts of other animals for crop production. 

Look, we’re not sure which is worse; the argument that you might as well commit more murder if you can’t avoid it all, or that someone who shoots and kills deer so he can have 100% plant-based crops is a “true” vegan. LeVaux, vegans know that animal exploitation is an inescapable horror of our capitalist society in more ways than just farming produce. That doesn’t change the fact that we can actively choose to reject animal use in the daily decisions we make, and that the impact of being vegan is still the least harmful option we have. LeVaux and Bonsall are guilty of ignoring that we have non lethal solutions to crop protection, and that consumer demand for alternatives that live up to our ethical expectations will drive their increased use, rendering the current practices one day obsolete. Gary Francione explains it best: “if we all went vegan because we cared morally about nonhumans, that would necessarily translate into methods of crop production that would be more mindful of incidental and unintended deaths.” 

Since we all agree that it’s morally wrong to kill animals, we cannot counter the death of some by breeding and slaughtering many, many more. This AnimalVisuals report demonstrates that, overwhelmingly, “The most animal suffering and death can be prevented by following a vegan diet.” That’s something we can do today, that’s going to simultaneously impact the way we do things in the future. 

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  • Larry Shaeffer

    many farmers avoid manure because of the public health risks using it involves. Cover crops that fix nitrogen are used instead.

  • I often wonder why exemplary farmers like Will Bonsall don’t also exemplify non-lethal strategies of crop- protection. I know he is growing out a legacy of seeds which, if lost, could involve the extinction of plant genetics. So the stakes are high. However, looking at partnering with dogs in this deer repellent work-or using electric fencing with tabs of alluminum foil spread with peanut butter (to lure the deer and then develop aversion to the area upon shock)-I wonder why these strategies seem to be dismissed? We vegans do need to become better-versed in the life-costs of the foods we consume, and begin to help develop better growing strategies, and then buy from farmers willing to use them.

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