Naturalistic Pagans not only view the Earth as sacred, but also ourselves, each other, and other beings that share this planet with us. But regarding food, what does the most Naturalistic Pagan diet look like? Writers, Renee Lehnen (an omnivore) and Kansas Stanton (a vegan) debate this question regarding topics on human evolution, health, environmentalism, ethics, sustainable meat, and clothing. We hope that within this debate, the reader can answer this question for themselves and be able to make a spiritually conscious and physical difference. Continued from Part I.
….. I was just looking up this information for my coach! In the U.S., 37 million tons of meat is consumed annually. The U.S. raises the most cattle in the world with dairy production second to beef. The US poultry industry is the world’s largest and the US is one of the biggest egg producers. Twenty-six percent of the world’s protein comes from animals. World-wide meat consumption is expected to double by 2050 when our numbers are predicted to reach 9 to 10 billion.
Healthy cattle require a minimum of 2 to 3 acres per animal, more for grass-fed, free range. The US has 98.4 million cattle right now (again the number is likely to double to accommodate a higher world population), with 155 million public U.S. acres available for grazing. With 30 percent of the Earth’s ice-free surfaces occupied by livestock, 50 percent of arable land in developed countries used for livestock feed, a third of global cropland used for livestock, 72 percent of deforestation for livestock, and livestock consuming 32 percent of global freshwater, you can see how I might be hesitant to consume meat. -Kansas Stanton
I make no apologies for over-consumption of meat, nor for feedlots, over-grazing, and other unsustainable practices. However, sustainable agriculture relies on nutrient cycling and animal husbandry is part of the circle. Eating a couple of free run eggs each week or bacon at a family brunch goes a long way in the human diet. If heavy consumers eat less, there will be plenty of healthy, animal-based food to go around while we rein in global population.-Renee Lehnen
Grass-fed/sustainable sounds happier for everyone, but long-term it is not viable due to increased space requirements (as well as releasing 20 percent more methane gases into the atmosphere than penned or caged livestock and consuming more water and feed). Furthermore, pastured livestock cannot always be controlled and high concentrations of nutrients in manure can contaminate water sources and deplete oxygen levels for aquatic life, killing off those species.
Speaking of fish, with the increase of overfishing and disruption to marine ecosystems, aquaculture is technically better. But this can still cause problems: exotic species can wipe out wild species; chemicals and medications can destroy other marine organisms; and farmed fish can go feral due to accidents that allow these fish to escape.
I acknowledge the danger of aquaculture. And I realize that growing vast fields of corn to plunge calories into hogs, cattle, or poultry is wasteful. Housing and feeding animals takes space. However, people have selectively bred animals to convert vegetation to meat in ingenious, frugal ways as well. For instance, sheep, cattle, and goats can live contently on marginal, rocky, hilly land unsuited to crop production. Chickens can scratch in backyards. Rooftop dovecotes can shelter meaty pigeons. Keeping animals can be more productive than growing crops inside and outside of cities under some conditions. Furthermore, on the fringes of many cities, farmers profit by pasturing animals on land that would otherwise fall under developers’ shovels. Thus, animal husbandry is a defense against suburban encroachment on green spaces and can be a pillar of land conservation.
This is a great point; if someone had a house with a yard or were able to get their meat from animals raised on rocky mountain cliffs and rooftops, which have not been converted to accommodate livestock, that would be an environmentally sustainable way to consume meat. Of course, these animals would still have to be controlled, regulated, and treated to prevent diseases from occurring. However, this would not contribute enough meat to meet the demands of over 7 billion people. Ergo, some people choose to be vegan out of advocacy.
True, space must be considered. And water as well because the claim is often made that animals drink water and therefore waste it. They also exhale water vapor, transpire, and urinate. Animals are part of the water cycle and, as such, are not “wasting” water any more than an apple or a coconut wastes water.
It takes 53 gallons of water to make a single chicken egg. I can get the same amount of protein in half a cup of oatmeal. So, no, animals aren’t taking extra-long, hot showers. But when we can get everything we need to sustain ourselves from plants that require a fraction of the world’s freshwater compared to what livestock need, some would equate choosing to eat meat with wasting water. Remember, half of the world’s freshwater is consumed by humans, leaving the remainder to millions of global species many of which provide us food, oxygen, and other eco-services. It is so important that we don’t let livestock hog all the remaining immediate water.
Never mind eggs. Corn is thirsty- 110 gallons per pound. Or coffee- 35 gallons per cup. Or a one-pound loaf of bread- 200 gallons (stats courtesy of the US Geological Survey). The water isn’t wasted when a goat drinks it, or when it plumps up a tomato, or when it rinses the equipment at the oatmeal miller. It flows back into the water cycle and eventually we will drink it and other species will use it too.
In addition to water, animal agriculture requires energy, often from fossil fuels. However, grain, pulse, seed, and nut production can be energy intensive as well. On the surface, a vegan diet may appear more energy efficient, but the energy advantage shrinks if vegetable proteins must be transported over long distances, processed heavily, or cooked for a long time as with dried beans. For many people, it may be more energy-efficient to eat a locally-sourced, omnivorous diet rather than a vegan diet that is reliant on foods from afar or that need a lot of processing.
Cattle and pigs are shipped to their destinations in smaller batches than produce is to grocery stores, and with more weight. This burns more fuel in transit, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But, CO2 is not the biggest problem gas with meat; it’s methane. One ton of methane is the same as 23 tons of carbon dioxide in the effect of global warming. A dairy cow produces 75 kilograms of methane annually, about the same as 1.5 tons of CO2. Now, multiply that by the 1.5 billion cows on the planet, plus other types of livestock!
Vegetable oil production and food processing can be costly on the environment, that’s correct. But vegans can choose to eat healthier and make environmentally friendly choices like anyone else. We can choose to buy organic food from farmers nearby, just like meat eaters can.
Point taken on methane. Perhaps omnivores should favour poultry, eggs, and pork, over products from ruminants, and save steak for special occasions. Regardless, I think we can agree that the fewer miles our food travels, the better. Which brings us to waste, specifically manure.
When poorly managed, manure can contaminate water. However, manure is also the solution to the problem of soil nutrient depletion as any backyard gardener knows. Farms are human-created ecosystems and farm animals are domesticated, herbivorous, prey animals who graze, provide food to omnivores (e.g. us) and carnivores (e.g. pet cats), and feed the earth. Ideally, farm systems should mimic natural ecosystems and fecal matter from animals should enrich soils. To complete the circle, humans represent predatory animals in the farm ecosystem. Meat, egg, and dairy production are part of soil-nurturing agriculture.
Biosolids formed from wastewater sewer sludge help to do the same thing as manure fertilizer; not all manure comes from livestock. Biologically, yes, manure contains macronutrients and micronutrients, as well as digestive enzymes that benefit crops in organic farming. However, scientists have found that salmonella and E. coli from livestock manure can stay in the soil for up to 10 months! This contaminates the food growing there, causing vegans and omnivores to be vulnerable to these diseases when consuming their produce.
Furthermore, erosion is a real danger with livestock due to overgrazing. Overgrazing from livestock depletes the soil’s nutrients to a point where nothing can grow, and suddenly we have barren land, flooding, and water pollution. Over the course of four decades, 30 percent of the world’s arable land has become unproductive due to erosion. This is due in part to farmers’ lack of consistent care and knowledge and a desire for economic gain.
As a disclaimer for pet cats, however, I am all for cats eating meat! We are the primary consumers in this overpopulated world and we have a choice. Cats do not; they are obligate carnivores.
To be continued……..
About the Authors: Renee Lehnen
Renee Lehnen is a registered nurse and recent empty nester living in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. With her new found free time, she enjoys outdoor sports, working on local environmental projects, and gazing at the sky wondering, “What does all of this mean?”
Kansas Stanton is a Naturalistic Neo-Pagan who resides in Seattle, Washington. He belongs to, and practices with, a local group of Reform Pagans and blogs at https://leavesontheroad.wordpress.com/. He also volunteers every year at the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle and regularly attends various Pagan festivals and events.
He is a full-time student, earning his degree in Environmental Science and a Certificate in Sustainability, after which time he will move on to law school to receive his Juris Doctor in Environmental Law. When Kansas is not in class or working his job in the art industry, he also attends heavy metal concerts both locally and internationally. He is also a vegan outdoorsman who frequents the trails and whitewater rivers of the pacific northwest and loves to spend his time with friends over a cold, dark beer.