It may sound a silly question – just how vegan are vegetables? But when you consider it closely, it may not be as ridiculous as it first appears. It is likely that the majority of vegans, when buying veggies, will choose organic products, meaning that fewer chemical fertilisers have been used in the growing of the produce. But it also means that it is more likely that natural fertilisers are used in their place – and of course that means “moo poo”. So if you avoid industrial farm produce, it’s highly likely that your vegetables have been grown with the help of manure and other animal products.
It is creating a real dichotomy for many strict vegans, and a new breed of “veganic” farmers are cropping up (if you’ll excuse the pun) across the United States. Will Bonsall, a homesteader and vegan in rural Maine, is an influential member of this growing band of vegan and organic farmers, who wish to revolutionise organic agriculture which has traditionally relied on animal byproducts like manure.
“There’s a little bit of a disconnect, even hypocrisy, in vegans” says Bonsall. “We vegans like to put on our plates vegetables grown in methods that are very un-vegan, not just manure but also blood meal and bone meal.”
Farmers like Bonsall argue that the use of animal byproducts actively supports large-scale industrialised animal farming, which makes it unethical. Ironically, industrial farming could therefore be argued to be more vegan than the majority of organic farming methods. They use nitrogen-fixing synthetic chemical fertilisers and, as such, could be argued to be more vegan as they are not derived from animal products. They also tend to be more successful in growing larger vegetables in smaller spaces, limiting land usage.
Jenny Hall, from the Vegan Organic Network, a UK-based organisation promoting “veganic” farming methods, believes the solution is simple. “The next logical step is growing organically but without animal manure. Within the organic movement it’s still controversial,” she explained to the Guardian newspaper. “But actually, the reality is all plants are the original source of energy. I any ecological system, plants are the bottom of the food chain, so it’s really just following nature’s cycle.”
Certainly, industrial animal agriculture is the second most environmentally damaging activities carried out by man, after fossil fuels, and is a leading contributor to deforestation and water and air pollution. And, as we have seen, a major shift to a vegan diet would go a long way to reduce greenhouse gas output. With a global vegan diet, farmland use around the world would be reduced by 75%.
Although veganic farms are currently few in number and small scale, it is a growing movement. For vegans it could be the answer to the organic conundrum that has concerned them for years.