By Cash Moore
I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of veganism. As the son of a butcher, I’ve always been puzzled by how people could give up on one of life’s greatest delights. In recent years, veganism has grown in popularity, with vegan options becoming prevalent in grocery stores and restaurants across the country.
Reasons for taking up veganism generally fall under an environmental or ethical argument.
Environmentally, some vegans argue that animal agriculture, especially cattle ranching is more detrimental to the climate when compared to plant agriculture. This argument is dependent on location. In the arid prairies of southeast-Alberta and southwest-Saskatchewan, one of the world’s larger beef-producing regions, cattle grazing can actually be seen as an environmental positive. Cattle in the prairies fill a similar ecological niche to bison in the sense that they create a disturbance to certain native plant species which stimulates growth. A short-grass prairie ecosystem requires grazing in order to support biodiversity. In our neck of the woods, cattle pastures provide a relatively similar habitat to the one that existed prior to the arrival of Europeans.
Compare a drive from Medicine Hat westbound on the Crowsnest Highway with a drive up Highway 41. Along the Crowsnest corridor, irrigation has allowed for the proliferation of a variety of crops to be cultivated. This form of agriculture has a more dramatic impact on our landscape and ecosystem through the removal of native plant species, use of pesticides, intense water use and release of carbon stored in the soil. If the world were to go vegan, an enormous amount of water would have to be diverted from the South Saskatchewan River for irrigation and the grasslands harboured in pastures would be converted to corn, soybean and canola fields.
Ethically, some vegans take issue with what they call the exploitation of animals. Despite the biological fact that our species is designed to eat meat, some vegans argue that because of our higher intellectual capacity, we have a moral responsibility to not commit undue harm against animals.
There are many counterpoints that can be made to justify eating meat, including the argument that animals are incapable of having a sense of identity; or the idea that without animal agriculture, the lives of billions of livestock would simply not exist in the first place.
The ethics of eating meat is a subjective issue that comes down to personal beliefs. Growing up, my parents always told us “if you’re not comfortable with where your food comes from, don’t eat it.”
It’s important to recognize that animals are killed for the meats we eat; if this fact bothers you when you eat a steak or chicken wings, then yes, perhaps you should become vegan. However, those who are able to find personal justifications for eating meat should not be shamed for their beliefs.
At the end of the day, the path to a more sustainable food culture goes beyond the vegan/meat-eater argument. The most sustainable way to eat is one that emphasizes whole, locally produced foods and the minimization of waste.
However you eat, it’s important to think about how we eat as we strive to move toward a more sustainable and ethical future.
Cash Moore is a University of Alberta student from Medicine Hat