Thursday, June 12, 2014

1441. How Veganism Can Help Save the World

By Kamran Nayeri, June 12, 2014


1. Introduction
In 2011, more than 58 billion chicken (more precisely, 58,110,000,000), nearly 3 billion ducks (2,917,000,000), more than billion pigs (1,383,000,000) were slaughtered worldwide. Other farm animals slaughtered for food numbered in hundreds of millions each: 654,000,000 turkeys, 649,000,000 geese and guinea fowl, 517,000,000 sheep, 430,000,000 goats and 296,000,000 cattle (Meat Atlas: Facts and Figures About Animals We Eat, Heinrich Böll Foundation, January 3, 2014, p. 15).

The great majority of these animals are raised in industrial farms under horrendous condition (see, for example, how chicken, pigs, sheep and cattle are raised in American industrial farms).  

Of course, consumption of non-human animals as food is not limited to farm animals. In 2011, over 156 million tons of seafood (capture and aquaculture) was consumed worldwide (FAO, “World Fisheries Production,” accessed June 2, 2014). There is also “exotic food” that in the United States includes alligator, alpaca, armadillo, bear, beaver, bobcat, caiman, crocodile, camel, coyote, capon, dove, frog, iguana, kudu, lion, llama, monkey, muskrat, opossum, otter, ostrich, pale, quail, turtle, venison and zebra meat (see, for example, this marketplace mail order for exotic food).  Other countries and cultures have their own choice of meat. In China, Korea and the Philippines cats and dogs are eaten.  Japanese prize whales as food.  The French eat horse meat. In Africa, bushmeat is treasured.  

In contrast, vegetarianism and veganism are spreading slowly across the world (John Davis, World Veganism: Past, Present and Future, 2010-2012).  Young people and an increasing number of older people are taking up vegetarian or vegan diet for a healthy life style, some for ethical reasons as well.  In the U.S. 4% of men and 7% of women describe themselves as vegetarians; in European Union it is 2% and 10% respectively. However in India, because of the influence of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, 30% (375 millions) of the population are vegetarians (Meat Atlas, 2014, p. 56). 

Even if one interprets this trend as a fad, it differs from most other current fads as it is directed to an essential human activity that has become both a key industrial sector of the world economy and a fetishized orgy of eating all that can be eaten. While, of course, a significant part of humanity goes without adequate access to nutrition.  

Moreover, those who take up vegetarianism or veganism often consume locally produced food that use organic, agroecological or permacultural methods and employing “fair labor practices.”  Vegetarians and vegans tend to be critical of agribusiness conglomerates that practice high-input large-scale intensive monoculture that use chemicals or genetically modified crops, bust unions and super-exploit workers. These facts should make present day veganism of interest to anyone concerned with radical social change.  

However, in his recent letter written in response to my criticism of his claim that the Great Recession was caused by natural limits to growth, ecological socialist Saral Sarkar takes a skeptical attitude towards vegetarianism and veganism. 

Criticizing my proposition that “…ecological socialism and anarchism or any other emancipatory movement should be based … on a positive world movement to reintegrate ourselves with the rest of nature,” Saral writes:

“That is too much for even the best eco-socialist or eco-anarchist. I wrote to you in my comments on an earlier essay of yours that going back to a hunter-gatherer way of living (that is what is required to reintegrate ourselves with the rest of nature) is for the time being impossible/unimaginable. It may be possible or even necessary after a great collapse, when human numbers have gone back to perhaps just one million or two. But for today, we should concentrate our discussion upon what is imaginable in the next 100 years. Even a theoretical ethical discussion must take note of the limits to what is technically possible and what not. One may then go further and issue ethical commandments: e.g. eat vegan or at least vegetarian, use for lighting only lamps that need only vegetable oil etc. But of what use are such discussions today? Such discussions (and possible decisions) have nothing to do with the question whether there are limits to growth or not. They may be carried on separately. The crisis we are facing today have little to do with such questions.” (All emphases in bold letters are mine, the italic is Saral’s emphasis) 

The entire set of propositions in the paragraph above are flawed, individually and taken as a whole.  

First, Saral objects to my proposition by asserting that it requires “going back to a hunter-gatherer way of living.”  But how could any ecological socialist deny that reintegrating humanity in the rest of nature is both desirable and necessary to overcome present-day world crisis?  Is not our estrangement (alienation) from nature the problem?  If Saral denies the need or desirability of such de-alienation he should simply explain himself instead of claiming that it requires a hunter-gatherer existence. I have never suggested this leap in logic. Why does Saral suggest it as if it is my point of view?  What I have proposed is a return to ecocentric world views similar to those of our forager ancestors but have offered modern ecocentric world views such as Deep Ecology and Darwinian evolutionary theory as examples from philosophy and from science. I have never held that there is either one ecocentric world view or that there is a best one.  What I have argued is that an ecocentric worldview is necessary for transiting to ecological socialism.  And I can vouch for its desirability the more I make progress in opening myself up to the rest of nature.  If Saral disagrees with the need or desirability for ecocentrism—and I will show below that he actually does disagree with it—he should simply explain and motive his point of view to move our discussion forward.

Second, Saral’s proposition that veganism or vegetarianism falls outside the“limits to growth paradigm” tells us more about his own interpretation of the causes of humanity’s problems than the alleged irrelevance of veganism for the emancipatory movement.  We know that Saral’s ecological socialism is inspired by the Club of Rome’s limits to growth simulations.  As I have argued earlier (see, Part 4 of my “Limits to Limits to Growth perspective”), as informative as these simulations are about the problems of the present day capitalist civilization they really are technical arguments without any explicit social theory, moral philosophy or policy prescriptions.  

Furthermore, it is  not really hard to see that the carnivore diet violates these technical boundaries that Saral surely respects.  Take, for example, global warming.  “Depending on how you count, livestock are responsible for 6 to 32 percent of greenhouse gases. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), it’s 14.5 percent. (Meat Atlas, p. 34, see, also EPA, Agriculture gas emissions).  For another example take fresh water scarcity: 70% of all fresh water is used in agriculture, one third of it for livestocks. So clearly, veganism if practiced universally will alleviate the problem of global warming and fresh water shortage. Why should Saral dispute its relevance to natural limits to growth “paradigm” and postpone a discussion of it for 100 year? 

Third, as Saral’s adopted “paradigm” of limits to growth is merely technical we can understand why he views veganism as an “ethical commandment;” because it does not follow from the findings of the simulation models.  But that tell us more about limits to limits to growth “paradigm”and Saral’s own conception of ecological socialism than the actual reasons why people become vegan: their own health, welfare of farm animals, and for the environment that is being poisoned by the meat industry and species and ecosystem diversity that is being reduced daily (think of emptying oceans of many fish species). Clearly, these concerns are valid (Saral has not objected to them so far and I doubt if he objects to them at all). So, why call veganism an “ethical commandment” that has nothing to do with the “crisis we are facing today?” 

Thus, the problem with Saral’s misjudgment lies in part in his limits to growth paradigm.  However, there is one more foundational conceptualization in Saral’s theorizing that contributes to such poor judgment. It is his humanist anthropocentrism.  Allow me to explain.

2. Ecocentric ecosocialism or anthropocentric ecosocialism? 
In the opening chapter of his Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism (1999), Saral offers foundational concepts of his version of ecological socialism.  Included is a discussion of anthropocentrism and ecocentrism on pages 10-15. There he adopts humanism as his own standpoint. Humanism, including socialist humanism, is a variety of anthropocentrism. Thus, Saral writes:

“Since we are humans, our main (not our only) concern is the suffering of humans…This might be called anthropocentrism. But the reason for this anthropocentrism is very simple. It is because we are humans that we are anthropocentric. No philosophising is necessary, and no religion or mythology—no species wants its own extinction or increased suffering.” (ibid., p. 10). 

But the argument that humans view the world as humans so their worldview must of necessity be anthropocentric is flawed. In “Anthropocentrism versus Ecocentrism Revisited: Theoretical and Practical Conclusions” (SATS: Northern European Journal of Philosophy, volume 14, number 1, November 2013, pp. 21-37), Teea Kortetmäki finds two “conceptual confusions” to defend anthropocentrism.  One is the conceptual confusion “that is used to defend anthropocentrism is the view that as we can have only a human viewpoint, we are always anthropocentric.” (ibid. p. 32).  

Let me explain why Saral’s position is “conceptual confusion.”

First, it trivializes anthropocentrism that is in fact an historical and philosophical worldview as I have explained in “Economics, Socialism and Ecology: A Critical Outline, Part 2.”  

Second, it turns a historical phenomenon into a biological, natural one. As anyone who has read my earlier discussion of Saral’s writings knows; from his explanation of the Great Recession to his discussion of the population question he naturalizes the issues under discussion, perhaps because of his adoption of limits to growth as his “paradigm.”  Yet, as I document in “Economics, Socialism and Ecology; A Critical Outline, Part 2," a key conceptual progress in anthropology is the realization that the transition from ecocentrism to anthropocentrism is central understanding our history.  For millions of years our forager ancestors held ecocentrist world views. Anthropocentrism emerged as the ideological basis for the Agrarian Revolution thousands of years ago and became institutionalized by the rise of class societies and civilizations. 

Third, there are modern day counter examples including Darwinian evolutionary theory and Deep Ecology that provide scientific and philosophical basis for ecocentrism respectively. 

Thus not only it is possible for humans to embrace ecocentrism, to do so is essential if we are to initiate the process of de-alienation from nature, part of the process to transcend the capitalist civilization and all vestiges of class society and to end the 10,000 year old war against nature, so that we can begin to healing our bonds with it.  Ecocentrism is not an option but a necessity for transition to an ecological socialist society or any other social formation that hopes to exist in harmony with the rest of nature.

In Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism, Saral engages in some discussion of James Lovelock’s Gaia theory and Deep Ecology and at time seems to feel at peace with them. However, Saral’s discussion involves other confusions and concludes with affirmation of his humanist anthropocentrism.  Thus, after admitting some scientific confirmation of the Gaia theory he writes: “But in matters relating to us humans and our societies, it cannot replace anthropocentrism.” (ibid., p. 11).  Saral also alludes to the animal liberation literature and Deep Ecology as other sources for ecocentrism.  He does not discuss the former and his discussion of the latter is mired in confusion (e.g., his discussion of Deep Ecology its reference to “species” as if it means “animals” only; or interpreting the evolutionary and ethical reference to “equality” among species to mean having equal power; see the quotation below).  He begins with the Deep Ecology’s proposition that arguments for human superiority are frivolous, a view that actually can be based on Darwinian evolutionary theory; that is, it has scientific basis. But he concludes: 

“One thing is clear: only at the beginning of our evolution were we really equals of other species. At present, this equality is only a wish and a theory. In practice, it is only a moral duty of ours. Even so, let us not arrogantly think the whole of the rest of nature is at our mercy. The enemy bacteria that we thought  we had eradicated—those that cause cholera, malaria, plague—are all coming back, and we have to kill them, otherwise they will kill us.” (p. 13).   

Though obviously sympathetic to ecocentrism, Saral’s theory of ecological socialism remains anthropocentric.  

However, anthropocentric ecological socialism will lead to wrong policies (as Saral’s paragraph quoted at the opening of this writing clearly demonstrates). Ecological socialism can only be meaningful if it is squarely based on ecocentrism. Let Kortetmäki explain what this ecocentrism is and how it would differ from anthropocentrism in everyday policy decisions we must make:

“In contrast to anthropocentrism, ecocentrism is then characterized by the carnality of ecosystems or biosphere, varying degrees of egalitarianism between species and valuing the nonhuman species, ecosystems and life itself regardless of its use-value for us.  Reasons for environmental concern arise not only out of human interests, but also from seeing the biotic community as having moral standing in itself.  The difference from anthropocentrism is obvious when we consider the notion of ‘sustainability’ in an ecocentric sense: as all life forms and their flourishing are valuable in themselves, exploiting nature cannot be called sustainable when it threatens the flourishing of other life forms and species, though not yet human flourishing.  This argument has practical implications also to climate policy: at the moment some emission mitigating practices (for example, producing certain types of biofuel crops) can be accepted by anthropocentrists due to their carbon emission mitigating impacts, but ecocentrism cannot accept a practice that so greatly reduces biodiversity in the crop area and, in addition, is merely a short-sighted tool that does not advance changing the unsustainable practices that actually cause the problems.” (Kortetmäki, 2013, pp. 33-34). 

3. Anthropocentrism and political economy of food
Political economy of food deals with how food is produced, transported, retailed and consumed in the capitalist economy (For a pictorial history of the meat industry in the U.S., see, A History of the Meat Industry).  Radical political economy of food addresses larger issues neglected by mainstream analysis such as the wellbeing of workers in the industry, its impact on peasants and small farmers, issues of hunger and food security, its effects on the environment and health, and perhaps even ethics of raising and slaughtering industrial farm animals.  Dealing with these topics are outside the scope of this writing.  Here I merely like to point to the fact that radical studies of the present-day food system show that no radical social transformation is possible without building an alternative food system from the ground up (see, for example, Peter Goering, Helena Norberg-Hodge and John Paige explain in From the Ground Up: Rethinking Industrial Agriculture, Zed Books, 1993, Vandana Shiva, The Violence of Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology and Politics, Zed Books, 1992, Michael Pollen’s Omnivore Dilemma, The Penguin Press, 2006). 

There are valid concerns with healthy diet and food safety (see, for example, “Meat Consumption and Cancer Risk,” ,”Antibiotics, the Meat Industry and Superbugs,” “Film Review: Forks Over Knives,” and The China Study) and environmental sustainability and ethics (Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, 1975, Gary L. Francione’s Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation, 2008).  

Today's meat industry is a highly centralized capitalist industry with relatively few giant firms operating worldwide. Among the top ten are the following firms listed with their “home country” and latest available revenue figures: JBS (Brazil, $38.7 billions), Tyson Food (USA, $33.3 billions), Cargill (USA, $32.5 billions), Vion (Netherlands/Germany, $13.2), BRF (Brazil, $12.7 billions), Nippon Meant Packers (Japan, $12.8 billions), Smithfields Food (USA,  $13.1 billions), Marfrig (Brazil, $12.8 billions), Danish Crown AmbA (Denmark, $10.3 billions) and Hormel Food (USA, 8.2 billions). 

Closely tied to these is the animal genetics industry that literary manufactures prototype animals for meat. The largest are Charoen Pokphand Group (Thailand), EW Group (Germany), Genus (U.K.), Groupe Grimaud (France), Hendrix Genetics (The Netherlands), Smithfield Foods (U.S.) , and Tyson Foods (U.S.).

Industrialization of meat production, distribution and retailing has spread a culture of meat eating to the entire population in the industrial capitalist economies and more recently to middle class layers of the rest of the world.  It has done so by making meat more available to the world and by reducing its market price. Thus, according to the National Chicken Council, dressed chicken was retailed in the U.S. for $6.48 a pound in 1930 (in today’s dollar) but retails these days for $1.57 a pound.  

Why such a drop in price of chicken? 

“Costs came down partly because scientific breeding reduced the length of time needed to raise a chicken to slaughter by more than half since 1925, even as a chicken’s weight doubled. The amount of feed required to produce a pound of chicken has also dropped sharply.” (“Industrial Farming and Your Diet”, March 12, 2014)  

Poultry Science journal has calculated that if humans grew at the same rate as modern chickens, a human by the age of two months would weigh 660 pounds! 

Among the scientific techniques used to raise farm animals in increasingly cramped spaces is the intensive use of hormones and antibiotics. 

Meanwhile, there has been a rapidly expanding mega-retail chains, conditioning, responding to and consolidating demand from the expanding middle classes worldwide.  

Thus, the rapid rise in meat consumption worldwide even though consumption of meat in the West has stagnated or declined due to recent awareness of health and environment issues and a sense of compassion for the farm animals. 

“Meat, a luxury in many parts of the world only 10 or 20 years ago, is now a part of the daily diet for a growing number of people in developing countries. Big supermarket chains such as Walmart from the USA, France’s Carrefour, the UK’s Tesco and Germany’s Metro are conquering the globe. Their expansion has sparked huge investments by domestic supermarket companies. The process has been well researched. The first wave began in the early 1990s in South America, in East Asian tiger economies like South Korea and Taiwan, and South Africa. Between 1990 and 2005, the market share of supermarkets in these countries rose from 10, to 50 or 60 percent. The second wave, in the mid-to-late 1990s, focused on Central America and Southeast Asia. By 2005, supermarkets accounted for 30–50 percent of the market share there. The third wave began in 2000 and washed over China and India, as well as big latecomers such as Vietnam. In only a few years, supermarket sales in these countries were growing by 30 to 50 percent a year. 
“Why this huge shift? It is not only due to the rising purchasing power of the middle classes, but also to more fundamental changes in society. In Pakistan, for example, cities are expanding so quickly that traditional methods of supplying meat and dairy products cannot keep up with the demand. The city of Lahore is growing by 300,000 people a year. The result is product shortages and poor quality, factors that drive the middle classes into the supermarkets, says the Express Tribune, a Pakistani daily. Working women, who are still responsible for cooking for their families, have no time to go from shop to shop to check the meat quality or haggle over prices. (Meat Atlas, p. 16)
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the prevailing anthropocetic culture that justifies a carnivorous diet and the violence that goes along with it.
4. The Anthropocentric culture and treatment of non-human animals
Almost all the animals served on the dinner plate have long been considered sentient, that is, they are shown to have feelings and capable of experiencing pain and suffering (see, Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, 1975). Clearly, systematically raising or capture of trillions of non-human animals to kill for food each year exceed all accounts of genocide  committed in human history—unless, of course, one trivializes these animals’ lives and magnifies our own.  And yet, all political currents, almost all intellectual traditions, including Marxists, and most world religions are silent or otherwise complacent in this abominable violent culture.  

Our culture prettify animal slaughter and meat eating.  As a child growing up in Tehran, Iran in the 1950s, I vividly recall a poster framed on the wall of butcher shops of an angel delivering a sheep to prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) who looked about to sacrifice his son (presumably Ishmael) to God.  The suggestion was evident even to a child: Why not sacrifice the sheep?  Thus, the idea that killing other animals is better than killing humans or eating other animals is fine but cannibalism is a sin.  Meanwhile, the half butchered skinned carcass of a cow or a sheep hanged from a nail secured on the butcher shop’s ceiling.  I also recall seeing how the butcher slaughtered a sheep, her legs tied with a rope and the blood running into the street’s gutters.  Of course, with the “progress” of modernity in Iran it was increasingly rare to see such violence in public. Instead, I recall when riding the city bus on a particular route there was a stop called Koshtargah (Slaughterhouse). Those days, the slaughterhouse was inside Tehran.  These days slaughterhouses are moved into far corners of rural areas hiding the violence that goes on inside every moment.  Today, worldwide “…ten corporations slaughter 88 percent of the total number of pigs. The global capacity of the companies is hard to believe: Tyson Foods…slaughters 42 million chickens, 170,000 cattle and 350,000 pigs – every week.” (Meat Atlas, p. 14)

In the 1980s, some of my fellow socialists worked on the “kill floor” of the American slaughterhouses.  This was part of our strategy to root ourselves in industrial unions to build a fighting labor movement capable of taking power and ushering in the socialist alternative. It never occurred to anyone involved how a working class that does not object to such violence against other animals would be capable of ending all violence we have endured in class society.

How do we account for our complacency?  I suggest it is our alienation from nature.  We can empathize with fellow human beings (unless they belong to the “other” group with which we are in conflict). But we cannot empathize with hundreds of species that we kill to eat.  If my argument for human alienation from the rest of nature is correct—that it is helped cause and became a consequence of the Agricultural Revolution--it is that alienation that explains common acceptance of the blood thirsty society we call civilization.  

In Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism Saral points to two traits of human beings that he suggests are unique to humans: to kill other human beings and altruism of taking care of our sick and old.  If it was not well known in the 1990s, it is commonly understood now that other species kill members of their own species (e.g., chimpanzees, lions, even not-neutered domestic male cats fighting for turf for food and females) and that other species are capable of altruist behavior (see, the wikipedia entry).   However, is it not amazing that Saral did not notice what is truly a unique trait of us humans: the very violence we commit daily on such colossal scale to support our carnivorous habit?  Similarly, no other species commit anything like genocide.  Again, key to understanding this behavior is alienation.  In the case of other species, it is alienation from nature. In case of genocide or other systematic act of oppressing and exploiting groups of humans it is social alienation. African slave trade was part of the primitive accumulation of capital that helped institutionalized capitalism not only in Western Europe but also the United States.  Germans participated in or kept silent when fascists systematically sent 6 million Jews to their death. A century later, Turks still deny genocide against Armenians committed by the Ottoman empire.  Most white South Africans tolerated or actively participated in the Apartheid regime.  Jewish people who fled fascism in Europe colonized Palestine and have systematically driven out or oppressed millions of Palestinians. These criminal acts have been/are only possible by claiming moral superiority for the oppressor and relegating the oppressed to a subhuman status. We do the same to non-human animals to justify their subordination, oppression, exploitation and systematic killing. 

Of course, our focus is on food. But how many other ways are there that we abuse non-human animals? Each year hundreds of millions of “laboratory animals” are systematically subjected to what amount to torture and large majority finally killed. This is done in the name of human welfare (however, evidence is mounting to the contrary. For example, recent research show that animal models in laboratory medicine are not generalizable to humans. See, John J. Pappin, “”The Failing Animal Research Paradigm for Human Disease,” May 20, 2014). Less benevolent is the military use of animals. U.S. military uses live pigs for shooting practice and dolphins to detect underwater explosives. It’s use of sonar hurt whales and dolphins. How about the “pet industry?”  Not only dogs and cats are bred to fit human fancy (think about “toy dogs” or “Persian cats”), but each year a “residual” of untold hundreds of millions that have gone feral are estimated to be put to death worldwide. There is also a growing “exotic pet” industry. In the United States they include African wild dogs, armadillos, Asian small-clawed otters, bears, bobcats, coyotes, dolphins, foxes, giraffes, hedge hogs, lemurs, lions, lynxes, monkeys, penguins, porcupines, raccoons, sloths, tigers, wallaroos, wolves and zebras (for a marketplace for exotic pets see here).  Bullfighting and cockfighting are consider entertainment and in the case of the former, a tourist attraction.   Hunting and fishing are considered "sport" supported by large industries.  More socially acceptable are the zoos and circuses.  But animals suffer in captivity and circus animals are routinely mistreated (“trained”) to preform tricks.  Let’s not forget roadkills.  These are animals who have managed to cope with human population expansion (“development”) but remain at risk of getting hit when they cross a road. We also routinely exterminate other animals simply because they are inconvenient or at cross purpose to human activity as in gardening and in agriculture.

As humans increase in number and expand geographically we occupy more living space on Earth. Increases in our per capita consumption, including of fresh water and land drive other species out of existence.  Tens of thousands of chemicals are released into the environment allegedly at levels safe for humans but without any consideration of their toxicity for other species. The same is true of human waste. The anthropogenic climate change, ocean acidification, and nitrogen and phosphorus release into the environment all threaten untold number of species. 

We have turned the planet into our play ground that is in effect depleting it of biodiversity that is the basis of life itself.  I submit none of this is possible without an anthropocentric culture that regards the rest of nature at best as “our natural resources.”  The problem of production and consumption of food is one aspect of how present-day civilization views the rest of nature. 

5. History of food, lifestyle choices and emancipatory world views
Never our species consumed so much meat as we do today in the industrialized capitalist.  Estimated current per capita meat consumption in kilograms for industrialized capitalist countries/regions follows: beef (U.S. 26.5; Australia 22.9; Canada 20.2; New Zealand 19.1; EU 11.1; Japan 6.8); pork (EU 32.4; U.S. 21.1; Australia 20.0; Canada 16.7; New Zealand 15.5; Japan 14.9); chicken (U.S. 44.4; Australia 38.8; Canada 32.6; New Zealand 31.6; EU 20.8; Japan 12.8); lamb (New Zealand 8.8; Australia 8.4; EU 2.0; Canada 0.9; U.S. 0.4;  Japan 0.2). While the rest of the world consumes much less meat, their meat consumption is increasing fast due to the expansion of the middle classes.  (Meat Atlas, p. 47). That is, on average in a year an American eats an estimated 26.6 kilograms of beef, 21.1 kilograms of pork, 44.4 kilograms of chicken, 0.4 kilograms of lamb.  That is 92.5 kilograms or 203.5 pounds of meat a year!  

For millions of years our forager ancestors relied on gathering food from plants. Paleontologists know this because of the wear and tear of teeth of such foragers that can be only caused by plant fiber.  

However, it is also true that eventually humanoid foragers ate meat as well; first as scavengers and then as occasional hunters.  
“During the 400 millennia in which Homo erectus evolved into Homo sapiens… gathering did lose some of its importance, perhaps because of climatic conditions (the period concerned is 430,000 to 40,000 BC), only to recover it again as game became scarcer.” (Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, A History of Food, Blackwell, 1992, p. 72). 
Still, an increasingly carnivorous diet with high calorie animal proteins contributed to population growth, emigration and spread of our ancestors across the world.  An increasingly varied diet contributed to more developed intellectual capacity.  With the discovery of fire, cooking food became possible. There is still dispute about a gender division of labor in food gathering and hunting (ibid. pp. 39-40). But there is no dispute that proportion of plant food vs. meat varied by geography and across time.  Where little greenery existed, more meat was consumed and vice versa.  Still, for hundreds of thousands of years hunting provided almost everything to the foragers: the principal food, clothing and tools and instruments like the fat-burning lamps. (ibid., p. 72)  But, hunting itself went through a period of expansion and then decline as the game became scarcer. 

Stock-breeding emerged from hunting.  The earliest indications from archeology is from the region that is now the Negav desert north of Siani some 30,000 years ago where gazelles and fallow deer were herded.  For practical and cultural reasons (there was aversion to eating scavenger animals like hyenas who Egyptians tried to eat) herbivores rather than carnivores were herded, tamed and then domesticated. (ibid. p. 94) As stock-breeding took hold, hunting for food was gradually given up. 

Except for herders who relied heavily on their animals for food and for fishing cultures, meat was never a large part of the diet of most people until recently.

So, given what I have outlined above why should an ecological socialist or anyone who adheres to an emancipatory vision for humanity refuse to become a vegan?  Is there no relationship between lifestyle choices and our worldview?  

Instances when modern humans or our ancestors were mostly carnivores are few and relatively brief: several hundred thousand years when hunting predominated among hunter-gatherers, among herding and fishing cultures throughout history and in the industrial capitalist societies and among the middle classes worldwide. From what we know from archeology, anthropology, history and nutrition science, there is no grounds for meat eating being integral to human life.  For millions of years hunter-gatherers lived on a vegetarian diet and today hundreds of millions of people live on vegetarian and vegan diets and enjoy  active and healthy lives.  In fact, there is considerable evidence that a vegan diet is healthiest for people and a carnivorous diet can cause serious illnesses. 

At the same time, bioethics and moral philosophy, the animal rights movement, Deep Ecology and some religions like Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism hold that it is immoral to enslave and/or kill other animals for food.  

Ecology and environmental science tell us that industrial agriculture and the meat industry that provide the bulk of meat, dairy and seafood worldwide are destroying the ecosystems and poisoning the environment. 

Given all this, becoming vegan and advocating veganism become an obvious choice. 

Of course, anthropocentric ecological socialists like Saral, may still feel not quite convinced. But if we advocate reducing wasteful world consumption, as Saral does, veganism should be among his top policy choices. 

As Saral know well, ultimately, all species live off energy that arrives on Earth via sunshine.  Through photosynthesis green plants (primary producers) convert solar energy into sugars. They consume about half of it for their own livelihood. What remains is called Net Primary Productivity (NPP).  The NPP is the basis for all animal life. Herbivores eat plants to gain energy for their livelihood (primary consumers). Finally, some carnivores live off herbivores (secondary consumers).  Some omnivores eat secondary consumers (tertiary consumers).  The final link in the food chain is the decomposers that live off the organic matter of plants, herbivores and carnivores.  In each step in the food chain about 90% of the energy is lost. 

Thus, by going vegan much more food will be available for humanity. If we get rid of the capitalist production, distribution and consumption of meat, dairy and seafood and adopt a vegan diet, not only there will be more food per capita produced, it will require fewer resources, making more vital resources available to other species.  By adoption of cruelty free permacultural methods (even the best permaculturists can be anthropocentric, see, my Book Review: Gaia’s Garden, March 15, 2012), methods that mimic how nature works, by producing locally and by involving the community in growing their own food, we will be taking key steps to a simpler, ecologically, environmentally and ethically more sound and more communal way of life.  In the process more of us will also adopt an ecocentric worldview. That would be the key requirement for an ecological socialist society.  In the 1970s, we used to proclaim that women liberation is human liberation. Today, we should also proclaim that without animal liberation there would be no human emancipation. And live our lives accordingly.  

Related posts:






2 comments:

Vijayendra T. said...

Actually I have a lot to say on the subject and I have written a piece for Indian audience called, 'Vegetarianism and Communalism'. The politics of vegetarianism in India is a sectarian politics, politics of holier than thou, creating an image of the 'other' (read Muslims, Christians, poor, tribals, lower caste etc.) as dirty and lower human beings. Then it is just one step further to justify pogroms. It is thus a part of a racist, semi fascist agenda in India.

Kamran Nayeri said...

Thank you Vijayendra for your comment.

I have read your article and I will write you separately about it.

However, I like to clear one possible misunderstanding about my article. Hitler became a vegetarian towards the end of his life. Yet by all accounts he was a violent man. Clearly, to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet is not a sufficient condition for becoming non-violent. However, by becoming vegan one disengages from some of the horrendous violence humans have been committed against farm animals and others (that is what I understand from the graphics that accompanies the article). The issue I am addressing is about ecocentrism, environmental ethics, lifestyles and ecological socialism.

Clearly, the situation in India requires its own specific analysis. However, I doubt vegetarianism is the source of violence even though some who are vegetarians might commit violence against those who may be carnivorous. At any rate, those issues are entirely outside the scope of the article.