Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Sir Albert Howard, in 1940:

Mother earth never attempts to farm without livestock; she always raises mixed crops; great pains are taken to preserve the soil and prevent erosion; the mixed vegetable and animal wastes are converted into humus; there is no waste; the processes of growth and the processes of decay balance one another; ample provision is made to maintain large reserves of fertility; the greatest care is taken to store the rainfall; both plants and animals are left to protect themselves from disease.

I find this quote profoundly interesting. It's from An Agricultural Testament, one of the foundational writings of the organic movement. Yet during the 16 years that I spent as a vegetarian, not a single person ever said to me, "But, Jamie, isn't it impossible to farm in a truly sustainable manner without animal inputs?"

Isn't it?

And isn't the implication that, while vegetarianism is an honorable and morally consistent position (indeed, I would say the only honorable and morally consistent position) for people who cannot stomach the idea of killing animals for food, vegetarian evangelism is unwarranted? Shouldn't humankind as a whole aspire to eat a smaller quantity of meat, raised humanely, rather than to eat no meat at all?

After all, if animals were raised only for milk and eggs and to provide on-farm fertility, what would happen to those animals when they grew too old to produce? Surely it's not economically feasible to keep cows solely for their cowpies?

I will admit that finding inconsistencies in arguments has never been my strongest suit. So help me out here. Is there any way that truly organic (i.e., sustainable) agriculture can exist in the absence of meat production?