This is my latest article for the newsletter "Sierra Club Planet Kansas", April-May Issue, 2011. I write articles for the "Eating as Though the Earth Matters" column for each issue.
Missing Dirt and Dirty Deeds
As environmentalists and outdoor enthusiasts we are all keenly aware that the Earth does indeed matter—and not just to each of us but to everyone and all those who will live here after us. We are also painfully aware of what “civilization,” empire building, and runaway greed has done to our precious planet.
Yet caught somewhere in the shadows is another fearsome force that seems to have two faces. It is agriculture. This 10,000 year old invention has, on the one hand, the aura of love and care. It carries with it the pastoral images of farmers planting seeds and watching the miracle of food, flowers, pollen, and green leaves germinating from each tiny seed. It also brings with it our very survival since that is what the majority of people depend on in order to eat and stay alive. On the other hand, it carries with it a picture we don’t really like to face. Both animal agriculture and plowing to grow food are among the primary factors which have brought this planet nearly to the brink of disaster.
In order to take action, of course, we have to bear witness to this and fully understand what has been happening gradually over the centuries that has brought us, the earth, and the animals into this crisis.
In this article, let’s take a look at one aspect of the destructive face of agriculture—soil erosion and desertification. As we know, this is happening all over the world right now. As William Kotke explains in his book The Final Empire: The Collapse of Civilization and the Seed of the Future, desertification occurs as follows:
1. Too many confined animals overgrazing their limited space, deforestation (often done to provide more grazing land for more animals), and plowing land for grain to feed animals strip the native vegetation. That vegetation was kept intact and nourished for centuries by wild herbivores, but domesticated grazing animals cannot roam freely, choose their favorite grasses, and move on before doing any damage.
2. Once stripped, the land begins to erode, and the topsoil leaves a more or less impermeable layer of soil with less vegetation behind. This layer does not absorb water as well and so begins to wash away as well. In addition the water tends to run downhill instead of being absorbed into the soil to work its magic there and to replenish the water table.
3. This begins a spiral of more and more erosion as less water is absorbed and instead races downhill causing floods followed by droughts. Springs and creeks dry up, and rivers run muddy and full of the many toxic products that come from upstream, including farmed animal urine, feces, pesticides, herbicides, and animal pharmaceuticals.
4. According to Kotke, the floods carry huge amounts of sand and gravel that then bury the fertile floodplains downstream. He states, “This is the history of civilization from China, to India, to the Caucuses of Central Asia, to Europe, and now to the whole world. Civilization equals aridity.” He calls soil erosion “one of the most life-threatening problems on the planet.”
5. As the ability of soil to retain moisture is lost, rainfall decreases.
6. The end result is desertification. We have seen this happen in the span of our own lifetimes, for example, where rainforests have been clearcut in order to provide grazing land for cattle.
7. It’s important to also face the fact that this desertification alters the ecosystems. So not only do wild, native animals suffer from loss of habitat, but ranchers kill them by the millions in order to maintain their domesticated herds.
A permaculture book entitled Forest Farming points out that land dedicated to animal herds can produce only an average of 200 pounds of food per acre, compared to 1 ½ tons of cereal grain or 7 tons of apples.
According to Kotke, domesticated herds are grazing 70 percent of the land in 11 western states.
I love deserts and semi-arid ecosystems, but that is not what is being created here. A healthy natural desert provides homes for many animals and plants, and life flourishes. But deserts that have come into being as the result of human manipulation and destruction support very little life.
Animal agriculture is an immense and overwhelming factor in this devastation to the earth. However, the very, very good news is—we don’t need legislation to change this. We don’t need to change the minds of ranchers. We need simply to stop supporting this destructive industry by ending our consumption of animal products. One of our greatest powers as people is the boycott. And as I have said before in this column—the Mother of All Boycotts is to go vegan. When we adopt a vegan lifestyle, which is essentially a commitment to nonviolence to the earth and all life, we no longer purchase animal products and, thus, end the demand for the destruction that such purchases cause.
As human beings dedicated to bringing our beloved, miraculous earth back to health; restore ecosystems for our wild cousins; show compassion for all animals; and repair the enormous damage caused by our species, we need to show the power elite that we do not depend on them to tell us what to eat or how to treat the earth.
The meat and dairy industry is heavily subsidized by the federal government. Otherwise, those animal products would be much more expensive than they are. Out of all federal agricultural subsidies, vegetables and fruit receive .37% of the take; nuts and legumes, 1.91%; sugar, oil, starch, and alcohol, 10.69%; grains, 13.23%; while meat and dairy receive a whopping 73.80%. (Source: http://www.pcrm.org/magazine/gm07autumn/health_pork.html) And remember—the vast majority of the grains are fed to farmed animals. Powerful, special interest lobbies, good old boy networks and our own complicity have caused this dysfunction. We have the power to choose not to support them.
"I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence." Frederick Douglass, abolitionist (1818-1895)
As if it weren’t fun enough to say “we don’t need you” to the power elite, here are some vegan recipes to make life even more fun. (Use as many organic and fair trade ingredients as possible.)
Vegan Mac and Cheese from vegweb.com
1 1/2 pounds pasta, preferably macaroni
1 1/2 cups unsweetened nondairy milk
1 1/2 cups nutritional yeast
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 cup water
1/3 cup tamari or soy sauce or Braggs Aminos
1/4 (12 ounce) block firm (not silken) tofu
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon vegesal or salt
1 dollop mustard, optional
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Boil water in a big pot and cook pasta according to package directions.
- Add all of the "cheese" sauce ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Once pasta is cooked, drain and put it in the baking pan (about the size of a brownie pan). Pour the "cheese" sauce over the pasta.
- Bake until the top of the pasta looks slightly browned and crispy, about 15 minutes.
Julie’s Amazing Cole Slaw
In a food processor, finely shred
One head of purple cabbage
Or ½ head purple and ½ head green cabbage
In a separate bowl mix
2/3 of a large jar of Vegenaise
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
Adjust seasonings to taste
Toss in cabbage and mix together.
Submitted by Judy Carman, M.A., Author of Peace to All Beings, co-author of The Missing Peace: The Hidden Power of our Kinship with Animals.and owner of a truck powered by used veggie oil. circleofcompassion.org, peacetoallbeings.com