Even though using animals for human food is the leading cause of many of our planet's most pressing problems – a fact so accepted that more than 15,000 scientists now agree a shift to mostly plant-based diets is an effective step to transition to sustainability – some people still feel the need to attempt to make the astoundingly absurd case that is it actually veganism that is destroying the planet.
The latest journalist to make this claim is Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in her January 8th iNews Opinion piece that could easily be satire instead, "Sanctimonious vegans would do well to think about their diet's global impact."
However ridiculous, lazy articles like this are effective bias confirmation that perpetuate the same defensive rationales slung at vegans time and time again. So let's dig in, shall we?
The article sets the tone by starting out with typical do-gooder derogation against vegans and shooting the messengers, because presumably she doesn't like what their message says about her.
Silly Little Lifestyle Tho
She then trivializes and depoliticizes veganism into a "lifestyle" when it is actually a clear ethical stance against animal exploitation that goes far beyond diet and is an exploding movement focused on justice and fairness.
A Fad Tho
She then mischaracterizes veganism as a "fad" even though the Vegan Society began during World War II not only to address animal rights but also global peace, justice, and food security.
Although there was no word for veganism before then, it was certainly practiced by some people including prominent figures like Amos Bronson Alcott and historically by members of the Rastafari religion. Per author Jim Mason, prominent Roman writers like Ovid, Seneca, Porphyry and Plutarch frequently denounced the killing of animals for food. People didn't like hearing about it then either though, so that aspect of their writing has been largely overlooked.
She then disparages all vegans – a massive and diverse group of people from all walks of life including politicians, doctors, scientists, theorists, artists, teachers, pastors, and more – as being collectively "clueless."
Next we are policed for being too "aggressive."
Death Threats Tho
Alibhai-Brown then defends a chef who bragged of adding bovine mammary secretions to a vegan's meal who has since resigned due to the backlash. Apart from potential health concerns, the chef's actions were deeply unethical and unfair. Yet Alibhai-Brown positions the chef as the true victim using the typical "death threats" diversion, even though non-vegans make disingenuous "death threats" in comment threads all the time whenever animals like dogs are harmed.
In fact, there is a PETA video in which non-vegans were fooled into thinking they were drinking dog milk, and many people who are presumably dairy drinkers commented that they would want to kill whomever gave them dog milk. Clearly, if people hadn't been indoctrinated into thinking human consumption of cows' milk is somehow normal, many would likely react the same exact way as some vegans do to the idea of being tricked into consuming cows' milk. To most vegans, the concept is no less disgusting and abhorrent.
This isn't meant to defend vegans making death threats (and please don't ever do that!) but let's not pretend that doing so is something unique to vegans in regards to animals and their treatment or the unwanted consumption of their flesh or bodily fluids.
On top of that, she concludes that section with the ableist term "insane."
Scandals & Tragedies Tho
All this was before she even gets into the "scandals and tragedies" that "popular vegan crops" are allegedly imposing upon farmers and their families (always with the families) that she claims vegans don't care about.
But vegans are the sanctimonious ones!
First, what are "vegan crops," and are they unique to vegans? No. Vegan crops are any crops that are grown from the Earth for direct human consumption (as opposed to animal feed). So all fruits, veggies, grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and fungi that are eaten by vegans and non-vegans alike.
Quinoa and avocados are not vegan dietary requirements, nor are they only consumed by vegans. And any large explosion in demand for any particularly crop cannot be logically attributed to vegans, since we still only compose a tiny minority of the general population.
And that's the difference between vegan food and non-vegan food; everyone can enjoy the former and only non-vegans can enjoy the latter. But only 20% of all agricultural land is used for anything outside of animal agriculture, per UN FAO. Meaning 80% of all ag land is used for either grazing animals or growing their feed crops. Per Our World in Data, the amount of land used for vegan crops supplies more calories and protein for the global population than the almost 4-times larger area used for livestock.
But vegan crops are the problem? Mmmkay.
Here's where she trots out the debunked anti-quinoa meme, spawned by a 2013 Guardian article (which was the epitome of sanctimony, by the way, guilting anyone who ate quinoa, especially if they happened to be veg) and several other articles like it that came out that year.
As described in Slate using information from insider sources such as Emma Banks for the Andean Information Network, the anti-quinoa hysteria oversimplifies a very nuanced issue, and "discouraging demand for quinoa could end up hurting producers rather than helping them." Quinoa is also now being grown in many other areas globally, including the US.
She then makes the novice mistake of conflating primary consumption of soy with secondary consumption of soy (eating soy-based foods vs. eating soy-fed animals), thereby blaming vegans for the damage specifically caused by non-veganism. Apparently she missed elementary school science class the day they went over trophic levels.
There's nothing inherently environmentally damaging about farming any type of bean, including soybeans. The damage is caused by growing said bean to fatten up tens of billions of farmed animals, because then an unreasonable and unsustainable amount of beans must be grown. The fact is that 85% of the world's soybean crop is used as animal feed (Soyatech). The way to prevent soy over-farming is by eating it directly in the form of vegan soy foods rather than cycling it through animals before consumption, as has been pointed out by WWF and also by Guardian journalist & UN Global 500 Award winner for outstanding environmental achievement George Monbiot.
(There is a tacked-on mention that a "large proportion" of soy goes to farmed animals, but that's the understatement of the year.)
Of course she mentions deforestation when talking about soybeans. Since animal agriculture uses the vast majority of all agricultural land (including for growing feed crops like soybeans), it's no surprise that animal ag is the top driver of deforestation. That's according to Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Union of Concerned Scientists, Florida International University researchers, Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project, and more. To imply that vegans are driving deforestation without mention of its actual top driver, which is the very thing veganism opposes and which is demanded by her own "lifestyle," is unbelievably obtuse.
You almost wonder if she is just writing this article to get people like me to waste their time refuting it. I guess it worked.
She then blames vegans for the environmental damage caused by avocados without:
- comparing it to the much greater damage caused by non-vegans due to animal agriculture;
- mentioning that most people who consume avocados are not vegan since vegans compose a small fraction of the population;
- mentioning that a Soil Association organic sticker means that an independent body has verified the practices of the farm that grew the avocado; or
- mentioning the enormous potential for more sustainable avocado farming to meet growing demand..
To elaborate on the latter, according to Vogue,
In Peru, the World Bank identified areas in which the Hass avocado would grow well, and embarked on a long-term project to educate communities on sustainable avocado farming, while also offering them financial support to set up their farms. The Dominican Republic has a huge potential for increased avocado production, and the avocado (although not always the Hass variety) grows very easily in its high tropical fields. Spain’s avocado production is small, but the government is beginning to see the value of investing in it; while Israeli avocados are grown with exemplary practice.
While avocados can be grown sustainably, animal agriculture can never be sustainable due to it's extravagantly high land requirements and material cost. It can also never be ethical to exploit and slaughter other sentient individuals for no vital reason.
Farmers Toiling for the Rich Tho
She then laments the toils of farmers without mentioning:
- Most crops grown and harvested are actually fed to farmed animals.
- Vegan-run food justice organizations like Food Empowerment Project spotlight injustices like unfair working conditions for produce workers and the unavailability of healthy foods in communities of color and low-income areas, and are working to make a difference.
- Speaking of feeding the rich, per The Economist, "The desires of rich carnivores often trump the needs of poorer cereal consumers." Per a Chemical & Engineering News 2015 cover story: “A switch to plant proteins by those who can afford meat would go a long way to feeding the growing global population while using fewer of the planet’s resources.” 1999 research found that the majority of the global population eats a plant-based diet due to resource scarcity.
- Slaughterhouse workers (including not only the ones doing the killing but jobs like slaughterhouse sanitation workers) have the most physically dangerous factory job in the US and one of the most deeply psychologically damaging jobs in the world. In fact, the entire slaughter process is so disturbing it's masked from the public and is not considered a palatable topic for polite society.
Inconvenient Facts Tho
She then has the gall to end the piece by saying vegans are the ones who neglect to bring up "inconvenient facts," and goads us by asking us to refrain from making death threats to anti-vegans, and to love them too since humans are also animals. I think a 5-year-old could manage to do better than that.
The fact that this childish, ignorant diatribe was even published, let alone that it was written by someone who was awarded the Broadsheet Columnist of the Year at the 2017 Press Awards, is astounding. She is actually doing exactly what she is accusing vegans of: being sanctimonious and putting little if no thought into her own diet's global impact, a far greater impact yet one she completely omits.
Oh, and when she Tweeted out this article, she called vegans "thoughtless."
Congratulations Yasmin Alibhai-Brown! This article has earned the distinction of being the worst piece of inflammatory anti-vegan trash article of 2018 so far, written by a person who seems very deeply uncomfortable with her own complicity in animal exploitation and the inherent unsustainability of the animal slaughter industry. To spread such damaging myths and lies at this time in history when a plant-based shift is so urgently needed is beyond thoughtless; it's downright unethical.
By Lorelei Plotczyk