This guest blog is written by Derek Blomfield, co-owner of The Conscious Farmer of New South Wales, and was originally published on The Conscious Farmer’s website.
How conscious are we? When it comes to food choices, just how conscious are we in our decisions?
For those of us that choose to eat any type of meat as one of our proteins, ethics come into it because we are in fact choosing to take the life of another living being. It’s that simple, there is no denying it. If we make that choice, then it is up to us to honour those animals through our gratitude for the sustenance they have provided.
I respect that for some people, that is confronting and I also accept that some are so confronted by it that they will choose not to eat any form of meat. They have made a conscious decision and that is something that I value and respect.
Is it only omnivores though, that are responsible for the taking of life? Before a person makes any choice regarding their food type, I hope they have thoroughly considered all of the factors involved. There are going to be a lot of questions for you in this post, and there are no right or wrong answers, they are purely to get you thinking!
Every food choice we make supports one or more production systems, which may range from growing your own produce through to large scale industrial agriculture. When we make those choices, how much consideration, research or questioning is put into our decisions?
Are they based on convenience? It’s a busy world after all.
Are they purely based on emotions? How does it make you feel?
Are they because of something we saw on facebook or the web? And is that factual?
However it happens, have we factored everything in when we make those decisions? Are choices based on what we know and also what we don’t know about how the food is produced, sourced and processed? A conscious choice can only be made when we have considered all things as best we can.
Is the beef, lamb, pork, chicken or the dozen eggs you choose to purchase produced in a way that heals the land, or is it harming the environment? There are plenty of examples of both out there, which type are you supporting? This also happens to apply to vegetarian and vegan diets – how many millions of hectares are used for growing monocultures of soybeans around the world and what effect is that having on the environment? How many tens of thousands of tons of fungicides are used just for growing disease free chickpeas? How are the proteins for those diets grown and sourced?
Where animals are involved, are they cared for by always having fresh pasture available, or are they pushed so hard that they have to be hand fed on bare ground for much of the time?
How are they weaned from their mothers? How are they handled when they are moved between paddocks, or in the yards? Are the animals living in a low stress environment, where they are free to express their instinctual behavior, or not? Do these things even matter to us?
When it comes to choosing if we eat any type of meat, what values do we place on the life of another being? Does the emotional value of a cow with a cute face far outweigh that of field mice or tiny and largely unseen native mammals? If so, is there a threshold – Just how many little creatures do equal one cow? If we choose to not eat meat because of these difficult ethical reasons, do we fully understand all of the factors involved in growing the food for our vegetarian and vegan diets? Has there truly been no harm to any animals or the environment to produce that food?
Is there a point where we draw the line, or are all living things factored in to our decisions?
Let’s go even further and look at the effect your food choice has on soil biology. After all, nutrition for every single one of us depends upon how healthy the soil is. If the soil is supporting greater diversity of plants above, then it is hosting a greater diversity of micro-organisms below, and just that alone can make a huge difference to the nutritional value of the food that soil provides. When we look at production models, we have to consider everything, and I mean everything that is being displaced for that production to occur.
What good is it growing plants in monoculture (even if pesticides are not applied) if what humanity needs to thrive is diversity? How many living beings are killed off? The quail, the lizards, the birds of prey… or how much fungi and carbon is lost from soil in a system like that?
On our farm, we have consciously chosen to establish diverse grassland out across the deep, alluvial black soil plains where our cows move across the landscape briefly every few months or so. While these soils can grow beautiful grass, they are also ideal for producing grain and other high yielding and high value crops. I wonder how many living creatures wouldn’t exist here if we displaced that habitat with monocultures of wheat or cotton, or even cauliflowers and pumpkins. There are ways to have the best of both worlds, but unfortunately they are not widely understood yet and their adoption is uncommon.
We are told that if we eat less meat, we can reduce emissions of methane, a major source of greenhouse gasses. In cases where management of the animals across the landscape is poor, this point is sound. However, who is accounting for the farmers who are sequestering more carbon into their soils than equivalent methane emissions from their animals? Don’t we actually want more of those farmers out there with their animals managing those landscapes unsuitable for other forms of food production? Who is aware of methanotrophs – soil organisms that metabolise methane as their only form of energy? These are present in well managed soils – right under the nose of methane producing livestock.
I would love for consumers to ask me about these things – but I’m not surprised that most people don’t know about these more complex aspects of farming.
True, it can be so difficult to obtain all of these details. Rarely is anything found on the label and there is so much more involved when we truly break it down than could be read there anyway. Generally speaking, unless you are purchasing directly from the person growing it, you are not likely to find out. The same applies to the various certifications that we as farmers can have. There is so much more to know than just a stamp of approval. read more about that here
The food system that we have today is designed not with the consumer in mind, but with the food processor and profit at the forefront. If you buy a loaf of bread (paleo people, think of a dozen “Free Range”eggs or something instead!), even if it’s sourdough from a trendy inner city bakery, do you think the grain used in that bread was grown with you in mind? It could be, but not very likely.
The more likely scenario – it was grown to meet a certain set of specifications for processing and a certain yield, both in order to maximise profit per unit of production to grow and make it. Now that’s not all bad, because without profit, how can a business be truly sustainable? But wouldn’t it be great if nutrition for the end consumer was factored into the price for the farmer growing the food. Imagine if all of the food grown in all of its various forms was purchased at a price according to how nutrient dense they are.
While many individual farmers do, that food system doesn’t consider the health of the micro-biology and quality of the soil now or in years to come. When those and many other factors aren’t considered, then how can we be sure that by purchasing that product we are making choices that take humanity forward, not backwards?
Unless you grow and produce everything yourself or have relationships built on trust with your farmers, making an informed choice is a very difficult thing to do. We can throw up our arms, give up, put our head in the sand… but then it just becomes another choice that we have made unconsciously.
Some things for you to ask where you can…
Is it a biodiverse system? In other words, is this grown in a monoculture (single species) or is it biodiverse (does it support many different species)?
Does it build topsoil and carbon in the soil?
Are chemicals used? If yes, why are they? What can’t be fixed by not using them?
What exactly do the animals have access to for their diet?
What are the conditions like where the animals graze?
Those are just a few and I’m sure you will have some of your own that are meaningful to you. Somethings we simply can’t find out about, so we just have to decide what’s right for each of us.
We can become informed and choose consciously or not, either way we are responsible for shaping the world we live in – there is no denying that.
If consciously produced beef is on your menu, we just may be able to help you out! But remember to ask us all about it first!
The Conscious Farmer – sharing our vision for nourishing food grown on thriving, living & profitable farms.
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