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More Thoughts on “Humane Meat” by James McWilliams

"The outrage generated by exposes of factory farming have led to a number of responses, but by far the most popular has been the rise of progressive systems of animal production designed to be more humane. Free-range pork and chicken, cage-free eggs, and grass-fed beef are prime examples of consumer options that have become mainstream alternatives to factory farmed meat. Within these arrangements, farm animals enjoy greater freedom to move about, socialize, eat from the land, interact with other forms of wildlife and, if they are lucky enough, have sex outside.  We purchase products from these farms in part because we believe that an animal raised under such conditions was an animal that lived with dignity. It enjoyed being alive.  And we are, of course, absolutely correct  in these beliefs."


Please read the whole thing.

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Comment by Monique on October 4, 2011 at 2:26

It seems to me (as an avid backyard gardener) that we can avoid both synthetic fertilizer and animal manures and still have plenty of alternatives that could be done on a large scale. 

1. Compost.  Most of the compostable materials in our society go to waste.  Commercial scale composting is a viable prospect.  I can remember when commercial scale recycling was considered a dream, but it is happening now, and I believe that commercial scale composting can too.

2. Cover crops, aka green manure.   Nitrogen fixing crops alternating on a rotation schedule with food crops to maintain soil fertility.  In fact the nitrogen fixing crops are usually edible too.   Hopefully a more vegan world will also be more open to new edible plants.

3. Worms.  Nature’s fabulous little soil builders will readily colonize organic fields. 

4. No-till agriculture, which avoids deliberately harming worms and other soil dwellers, can actually improve the soil over current tillage methods by increasing water retention and reducing erosion and nutrient loss.  I’m told it is just as financially feasible as current agricultural methods.

Of course I’m just a gardener.   I don’t know how economically profitable these approaches would be, and in our profit driven world that is a concern.  Another fundamental questions would be whether the food produced through these methods would be affordable for everyone. 

What we need are experimental farms that can demonstrate the commercial viability of non-animal based farming – the way Rodale and others promoted organic farming in the 50’s.

Comment by Tyler on October 1, 2011 at 10:06
I agree with you.  A theory is meaningless if it has no application in the real world.
Comment by Tim Gier on October 1, 2011 at 2:28
Hi Tyler,

The issue you are addressing is one of those that speaks to how truly radical veganism is, and how radically different a vegan world would be compared to the one we live in now. This is why it is a mistake, in my opinion, to approach veganism as if it were simply a matter of changing the behavior of individuals.

There are structural, institutionalized and systemic issues that must be reckoned with that, so far as I know, haven't been adequately addressed, either from the practical or theoretical perspectives. For example, if we are serious about the lives of other animals, then it seems that wide-scale hydroponic or aeroponic agriculture has to be part of a vegan world. Otherwise, we can't address the problem of the incidental killing of insects and small animals entailed in the conventional sowing, cultivating and harvesting of crops. Are alternatives to conventional agriculture feasible? I don't know, but it isn't a sufficient answer, in my opinion, to say "Let's get lots of vegans now and we'll worry about that later."  On my view, such a response would show that we don't take our cause seriously, that we haven't thought carefully about where our line of thinking ultimately leads or, indeed, how veganism, once widely adopted, would even work in the real world.

We won't be taken seriously until we grapple with these thornier issues. Thanks for bringing them up.
Comment by Tyler on September 30, 2011 at 4:52
I'm not clear what this article has to do with my question.
Comment by Tyler on September 30, 2011 at 3:05
Maybe others don't see this issue as being as important as I do.  I just think the abolitionist movement will ultimately go nowhere until we address whether argiculture can be sustained on a large scale without animals.  Today when we go to the grocery store for food all of the bread, fruits and vegetables were likely grown with manure from cattle.  A key question for the abolitionist movement, at least in my mind, is can we produce this level of food in an agricultral system independant from animals?  If we can, there we go.  No problem.  But if we can't, then what?  I keep looking for information on vegan argriculture, etc... but all I can ever seem to find is garden scale examples.  And if indeed attempts to implement this kind of farming on a larger scale fail, then what?  I think our culture, as we evolve, will slowly start to move away from our use of animals, but I honestly think that it will be dependant on our ability to grow our food in a natural and sustainable way.  If we can't, I think the public will, in the end, regect abolition.  Then I think we may be stuck with welfare.  :(  But if we can't grow enough food to feed our population, what other choice do we have?  Any ideas?
Comment by Tyler on September 26, 2011 at 4:52
I've read a little about this, but it's hard to find any information on when it's been done on a large scale and without livestock grazing.  Most of what I've read has been on the backyard garden kind of scale, and they never really say if the green manure is being used alone or in conjunction with other fertilizers.  I wonder if any farmer has attempted a 100% green manure crop on a large scale and what the results were.  Hmmm?
Comment by Kate✯GO VEGAN+NOBODY GETS HURT Ⓥ on September 26, 2011 at 1:06
Comment by Tyler on September 26, 2011 at 0:57

Hey Sky,


Most of the people who posted on that link say that it isn't possible to use human waste, or at least not on a large scale.  None of them seem to be experts though.  So my question remains.  I think this is an important question for abolitionists to be thinking about though.  If we can't use manure because there are no cows, and we can't use human waste on a large scale, how are we going to grow enough food to feed our population.  I'm not sure what the answer is, but I am sure that at some point we're definately going to need to have one.  I don't think chemical fertilizers are the answer.  No one is going to take our arguments seriously if we suggest that our entire food system will be dependant on chemicals.  Thoughts? 


Comment by Tyler on September 25, 2011 at 10:39
One question that kind of nags at me is something I first read in The Omnivore's Dilemma.  Pollan suggests that it's not possible to produce food on any kind of scale without manure.  If that's true it would theoretically create a serious problem for abolition and a future where our own species lives independant from animals.  The obvious problem being that we couldn't grow enough crops to feed ourselves because we no longer have the manure to fertilize the soil.  I'd never thought of that before.  The trouble is I'm not an agronomist, and I have no idea if it's true or not.  Have any of you guys read any literature about this, or know of any scientists who have studied this issue?


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