4 Responses

  1. Jeff White February 13, 2013 at 4:02 am |

    Ricardo, PETA’s moralistic response is completely devoid of any class perspective or recognition that the way food is produced is a social and political issue. Instead, it relies on the wastefulness and overconsumption inherent in capitalist forms of agriculture and food production as arguments that certain foods should never be eaten at all.

    By their logic, we should not eat rice, because its production consumes vast quantities of water and produces up to 19% of the world’s methane emissions. By their logic, we should not eat corn, because its production is so wasteful of resources. By their logic, we should not eat any agricultural crops at all, because 70% of all our water use is for irrigation, and industrial agriculture uses megatonnes of pesticides and fossil-fuel based fertilizers.

    Quinoa is far from being the only crop that carries “unpalatable truths” about the colonialist appropriation of food by imperialist countries in the era of “free trade” agreements. And the fact is that industrialized crop production, under capitalism, is no less cruel and unsustainable than meat and fish production. Instead of pitting vegetarians against meat-eaters we should be uniting them in struggle to revolutionize the world’s systems of food production and distribution.

    1. Ricardo Coelho February 14, 2013 at 11:02 am |

      I agree with you until the last point. What I wanted to emphasize is that the Guardian article, instead of analyzing the political economy of quinoa and other imported cereals and how capitalist globalization drives food away from the plates of the poor, points the finger at vegetarians as the ones to blame for the rising quinoa prices. This is vegaphobia at its worst and a dangerous distraction.
      I disagree with you when you say that “industrialized crop production, under capitalism, is no less cruel and unsustainable than meat and fish production.” I think the fact is that meat-based diets are less sustainable than plant-based diets and you just have to compare the data available on land, water and energy use to realize that it makes sense to eat vegetable products instead of eating meat from animals that ate vegetable products. In fact, nowadays no one denies, I think, that high and rising levels of meat consumption is a problem. This, for me, stands even after considering how meat consumption follows class inequalities and how different modes of meat production have different environmental impacts.
      I’m not interested in pitting vegans against meat-eaters. I’m interested in having a system of food production that can feed the world in a sustainable way. Reducing the consumption animal products won’t lead us to that, as the right wing of the animal liberation movement implies, but it helps a lot, as everyone outside the meat industry acknowledges.
      Let me make an analogy with energy. Having 100% renewables won’t solve all of the environmental problems associated with energy production. An energy system based on renewables but dominated by powerful corporations will still have significant negative environmental impacts, so it’s more important to talk about collective control of the energy system than to discuss technologies. But thinking that the collective control of the energy system will “clean” the system even without having more renewables and less fossil fuels and nuclear is just plain wrong.

      1. Jeff White February 14, 2013 at 6:44 pm |

        It seems we don’t like each other’s last paragraphs. I was primarily objecting to your last paragraph’s characterization of PETA’s Guardian article as “spot on”. I thought it was anything but, for the reasons I indicated.

        But now it seems I must widen my objections.

        The original Guardian article by Joanna Blythman does not purport to blame vegans for rising quinoa prices. While the headline writer provocatively mentions vegans, Blythman mentions them – last – among a list of categories of people who have taken a shine to quinoa: “food lovers…dieticians…adventurous eaters…vegans”. Far from singling out vegans as culprits, Blythman merely notes that “well-intentioned health and ethics-led consumers here [in the global North] [are] unwittingly driving poverty there [in the global South].” I see little to object to in that. It’s certainly not “vegaphobia at its worst”.

        I don’t particularly want to eat the vegetable matter that is currently fed to cattle and pigs. So for me it doesn’t “make sense” to eat that vegetable matter in preference to the meat from animals that do eat it. Livestock can turn undigestible and unpalatable vegetable matter into nutritious, protein-rich meat. You assert (questionably, in my opinion) that vegetable products are a more sustainable use of land, water, and energy than meat, and yet it is vegetable products that are the primary inputs into the production of that meat. I find that a contradiction.

        More importantly, I disagree with your apparent belief that changing our personal consumption choices (among the one percent of humanity that has the luxury of making such choices) “helps a lot” in bringing about a system of sustainable food production. It only “makes sense” to eat vegetables instead of meat in the same way that it “makes sense” to ride a bicycle instead of driving a car; eating vegan and riding a bike does nothing to change the way industrial food production degrades the environment and tortures animals, or the way capitalist systems of manufacturing and transportation devour the earth’s precious reserves of fossilized hydrocarbon.

        You may not be interested in pitting vegans against meat-eaters, but PETA certainly is. They epitomize the petty bourgeois adherence to the myth of consumer sovereignty that obscures the real sources and dynamics of a food system in serious crisis. Moreover, PETA’s real concern is, of course, with animal welfare, a cause that is also dear to my own heart. Their motivation in promoting veganism is to stop the killing of animals for food. It has nothing to do with concern for the environment or climate change. If you come up with humane and environmentally sustainable methods of animal husbandry and slaughter, PETA doesn’t want to hear about it.

        What “makes sense” to me is to bring into existence a radically different system of food production; one driven by human needs and not private profit; one that has regard to ecologically sound methods of animal husbandry and feeding, the preservation of topsoil, the minimization of food wastage, the conservation of water supplies, the welfare of animals, the maximization of nutrition content, and natural methods of pest and disease control; one that does not rely on endless supplies of petroleum and petrochemicals.

        I am confident that such a food system will include the production of meat, fish, milk, and other animal products, in addition to nutritious and tasty vegetables and fruit. I am equally confident that a vegan lifestyle today will do nothing to hasten the development of such a revolutionary food system.

  2. Ricardo Coelho February 12, 2013 at 12:03 pm |

    On the Quinoa-gate:
    Blaming vegans for taking the quinoa away from the plate of poor peruvians is ludicrous. It should be self-evident that vegans are not the only consumers of quinoa. The notion that buying imported “health foods” usually hurts the local people where these foods are produced is true, but the reference to veganism is misplaced at best.
    The intentions of the article become even clearer when the reporter claims that meat-eaters can be environmentally friendly because they can eat locally grown meat, while vegans eat imported soy. As if meat is not produced with cattle fed on soy. As if a vegan diet is inherently more dependent on imported food than a meat-eater diet. As if almost all soy production in the world is not used to feed cattle.
    While I particularly dislike Peta for giving veganism and animal liberation a bad name, I have to recommend their reply, which is spot on:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/22/quinoa-bolivian-farmers-meat-eaters-hunger

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