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omnivore's dilemma and vegetarianism

paul wheaton
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Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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I'm almost done with this book.

He really gives vegetarians a fair shake.  He tries it for a month and studies it profusely.  He finds a book that is apparently the greatest persuader for vegetarianism and exchanges some emails with the author. 

A lot of the argument is why would you eat a pig and not a person?  And then something about what if you have a severely retarded orphan - would you eat that person?  And then there are lots and lots of explorations down these sorts of paths.  Pretty interesting.  For a while, the OD author was pretty convinced.

And then he did some math and exploration of a vegetarian diet eating conventional (non-organic) food.  Just for the pesticides sprayed on wheat, millions of birds are killed.  The author makes an issue of the number of lives taken by pesticides alone, that a vegetarian kills more animals than an omnivore. 

So then you go to organic.  The author spends a lot of time in the book exploring organic factory farms.  Tilling is done far more often to fight weeds.  Tilling kills all sorts of little furry creatures in the soil.  Based on the tilling alone, the organic omnivore kills fewer animals than the organic vegetarian.

I just thought it was interesting ....




Omnivore's Dilemma


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Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
I have read bits and peices of that book in the book store. I have always been of the opinon that it is natural for us to eat meat. our teeth and digestion are designed for an omnivorous diet and who am I to argue with nature 

I personally however would have a difficult time eating animals that I think are capable  of more advanced forethought and reasoning such as  cetaceans, many primates and even canines.

there is a whole lot of grey area surrounding the issue.


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paul wheaton
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Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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The book dives in to how we are designed to eat meat (eyes and teeth of a predator/omnivore) and the basic vegetarian counter to that:  are we not capable of higher thought?  Can we not choose to be civilized?  Can we not strive for a higher calling?  And then, as we weigh out what our higher calling is, to purify ourselves based on what we think is good and right and decent. 

I think the author does a really good job of laying things out for both sides.  And it is not an obvious choice. 


paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I wonder ....  vegans need to eat coconut oil ... something to do with a particular kind of fat found in most meats ... something to do with the nervous system ....  what would happen if vegans didn't know about this nutritional requirement? 

More and more I think about what we are designed to eat and we keep fiddling with our food system.  We are not designed to eat food that is grown in rows.  We are not designed to eat animals that are not designed eat food that is grown in rows. 

The whole food-in-rows thing seems okay - but are we really cutting ourselves short and we just don't know it yet?

Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
about the food in rows thing. I think that a balance has to be struck. convenience shouldn't be completely discounted. for instance. I just planted my asparagus in rows. I previously had a plot of asparagus and found it to be a nightmare to maintain and the asparagus suffered. so this time I thought I would plant in rows so that I can maintain it better. other things I prefer inplots or spread out. squash I like to spread out. one on one end of the garden, another in the middle, one in the flowerbed at the house. this foils bugs better. I think row gardening can be fine as long as the soil gets the attention it needs.

the vegetarians I have met have been the most unhealthy sickly people I have ever met. can it be done in a healthy way? yes. do people really have the knowledge they need to do it and use that knowledge? not usually.

they also tend to replace meat with soy. which is evil and will kill you and that is that

how many people that I have met who think 'soy milk' is equivalant to real milk. ...........
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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Rows:  Everything in moderation - including moderation.

Wind pollinated stuff needs to be bunched up a bit.    Sepp grows his "russian corn" in bunches because of the way it has to be harvested. 

I think if somebody is starting a new plant and they don't know what it looks like, you might grow it in a bit of a row so you can learn to recognize it later.

As for healthy vegetarians:  I think there are lots of vegans that are healthy and a lot that are not.  I know I've talked to some former vegans that said that while a vegan they got really sick - and when they stopped, they felt much better.  And I think there are probably a lot of folks that are in the opposite boat. 

Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
recognition of the seedling is one use for rows I've forgot about!  especially in gardens that are a bit more...er...'natural'.... meaning weedy    thats a great point.

of course there are always going to be 'diet' followers that dont' know what they are doing or whose particular genetic make up isn't conducive to it. . my mom tried the atkins diet. for grins I tried it for a week. I felt awful!  I need the energy that carbs provide to sustain my lifestyle. 

unfortuatly the general publics veiw of what is heathy is getting twisted into 'healthy=lose weight'

recently the ads I have seen for milk say something to the effect of  ' x amount of servings of milk per day are associated with a drop in weight'.....now since when does consuming a product that makes you lose weight (without changing anything else in your diet) mean that product is good for you!!! if you told someone 500 years ago ..'eat this, it is good for you, it will make you lose weight' they would think you were insane. if something interferes with the bodies efficiency in digestion I have a strong suspicion it isnt' good for you. but I still like milk  and think there could be alot worse things to be consuming.

paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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I think there is a long list of reasons folks might choose to be a vegetarian.  All of them have to do with choice - an attempt at being a being with a brain that chooses to be a bit more evolved. 

And I think you're right Leah.  It turns out that some of these higher thought shifts turn out to be not as good of a fit for one person as another.  I think that would be the next step in this whole higher thought thing. 

                            


Joined: Apr 24, 2009
Posts: 34
Location: West Seattle, WA
He goes a little further with his discussion of this topic in an interview here did here at Bastyr University.  I've listened to so many of Michael Pollan's lectures and read most of his books.  This interview is by far the most candid and indepth one I've heard to date… especially on the subject of vegetarianism.  I think you two will like it: http://thewarrenreport.com/?p=316

Enjoy!
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Oh!  It's an audio thing!  I thought it was just a link to the new book.  But now I'm listening to the audio.....  how long is it?



                            


Joined: Apr 24, 2009
Posts: 34
Location: West Seattle, WA
I believe it's about 15 minutes?  I don't remember.  I've listened to it a few times while I'm working around the house or in our hot room.  Sorry, I should have specified it was an audio file.  Silly me… looking forward to hearing your feedback on it!
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
It is an hour.

It is really quite good. 

I think there are interesting bits in it. 

One is the CSA guy asking questions.  I would not buy from a guy like that - but that's just me. 

I remember thinking that it is great that he is passing on the message that he is, but there's about 8% of it that I don't agree with.  For those that have been on these forums for a while, this is no surprise. 

I thought about writing him.  Anybody know what his email address is?

                            


Joined: Apr 24, 2009
Posts: 34
Location: West Seattle, WA
LOL  15 minutes vs. an hour… what was I thinking??  LOL

Glad you liked the interview/talk.  I thought it was very enlightening to hear him go a little deeper into some of his research and resulting ideas.

Only 8%?  Not too shabby I'd say.  Would be interested to hear your 8% thoughts.

I LOVE this forum!  See… when I talk about this stuff as much as I do, people tend to start fitting me for a tin foil helmet after a while.  LOL  Not gonna happen here!
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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I would have to listen to it again and stop it for each point that I have some disagreement with, and then write about it here, and then start it back up again ....

From his book, he pointed out that whole foods doesn't care much from the little farmer - it's still big ag.  I think there is a series of remedies for that.  The main one being to focus on the profit margin for whole foods.  How much is WF paying for, say, apples?  It is possible that while a local vendor may be a hassle due to the small quantity, they could, possibly, make up for it with a lower price (cutting out the middleman).

paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Elliot Coleman's take:

http://www.alternet.org/module/printversion/141898

                                


Joined: Aug 23, 2009
Posts: 3
On veganism - I've been vegan for years and I'm really healthy. And what's more, I never eat coconut oil ever. Didn't even know I was soposed to, although I'm not surprised it's good for you now I think of it. I do eat hemp or flax oil on food occasionaly, but not at all often.

As for sickly vegetarians/vegans I think that just depends on the person. if they don't know how to eat healthily then of course they will get sick sooner or later, but that can easily be said for an omnivore too. It's not the absence of animal products that is making them ill it's the absence - or even excess - of some nutrient or other. Doesn't matter whether it comes from animal mineral or vegetable, just as long as it comes in the right quantity and proportion.

I agree with the above posters about the losing weight = healthy thing. It's quite annoying really. I had a friend who really had these two values (health and skinnyness) mixed up. Whenever she was buying something she'd say 'it's good for you' and what she really meant was 'it says "low-fat" on it'. Now days she's as thin as a stick and really unwell. No comment.


Wisdom begins in wonder ~
Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
Dolly Delightful wrote:


I agree with the above posters about the losing weight = healthy thing. It's quite annoying really. I had a friend who really had these two values (health and skinnyness) mixed up. Whenever she was buying something she'd say 'it's good for you' and what she really meant was 'it says "low-fat" on it'. Now days she's as thin as a stick and really unwell. No comment.




its really wacky out there when you talk to some of the more mainstream media influenced type people about "healthy food". I try to avoid the subject all together. sometimes, when someone is lamenting about health problems I can't help but say something about how nutrition plays such a huge role. but then I'm likely to get some response like. "well....I eat healthy, I drink only diet sodas and eat sugar free "thingymebobbers" and eat low fat foods". oh. well nevermind then. that is a perfect diet........ 
          


Joined: Jan 24, 2010
Posts: 32
I know this is an old thread, but I don't really understand the comparison about the vegetarian diet killing more animals than the omnivore diet. I haven't read the Omnivore's Dilemma, maybe it is explained more thoroughly there, but it sounds like the comparisons are a little... biased.

If I were to compare a SAD omnivore, and a conventionally grown, processed food eating vegan, I don't really see how the vegan diet could be responsible for the deaths of more animals.  Both are eating highly processed foods, both eating monoculture farm crops, both eating high amounts of HFCS and other unsavory things. Seems like the only difference is that the vegan eats more of the plant crops while the omni eats meat, but that meat animal eats plant crops for however long it takes it to get to slaughter weight.

Comparing two examples of people eating a low-processed, local organic diet where one is vegan one is omni, they are both eating the same plant foods with the addition of meat for the omni. That local, organic meat animal is still eating plant foods, as well as the plants foods that the omni also eats (There aren't a lot of human carnivores out there).

So in both cases the omnivore eats, directly or indirectly, more plant foods than the vegan, so if there are any problems associated with the plant foods (and there are many, many problems), the vegan stills consumes less, as long as we fairly compare the two scenarios. It would be unfair to compare a SAD follower who just went vegan, changing nothing else, to an omni who eats locally, organically and environmentally conscientiously.
Joel Hollingsworth
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Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
paul wheaton wrote:I wonder ....  vegans need to eat coconut oil ... something to do with a particular kind of fat found in most meats ... something to do with the nervous system ....  what would happen if vegans didn't know about this nutritional requirement? 


There are stories of hard-core vegans, observing religions older than Judaism, moving to first-world cities and developing nutritional diseases their ancestors had never heard of, because you don't eat as many insects accidentally in a modern city as in a traditional village (unless you use ketchup).


"the qualities of these bacteria, like the heat of the sun, electricity, or the qualities of metals, are part of the storehouse of knowledge of all men.  They are manifestations of the laws of nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none." SCOTUS, Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kale Inoculant Co.
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
Vegetarians can get all the easily digestible B vitamins they need from home made tempei.  The store bought kind is too sterile for the right bacteria to form, but when you make it at home, the inevitably dirtier environment means that the "right" microbes will create these essential things for you.  It's the only "vegetarian" source of these B vitamins (besides, as Joel mentioned, the unintentional consuming of insects), but it's not really, because eating microscopic animal bodies still counts, at least as far as a human body is concerned. 

Jessica, if the food animal in question builds its body entirely from a perennial polyculture of grass, how then would a grain intensive vegetarian diet stack up to it? 
          


Joined: Jan 24, 2010
Posts: 32
marina phillips wrote:
Jessica, if the food animal in question builds its body entirely from a perennial polyculture of grass, how then would a grain intensive vegetarian diet stack up to it? 


I don't know, really, but I'm given a lot of cause to think on it.

I'm guessing that is someone is really concerned about making sure the animal is not damaging the land they are grazing on, that can be a fine system, environmentally. Just like gardening should be done very carefully to keep it a good, healthy part of a system, including the garden, the humans, and all the other (wild) animals that share the area, the same is true with grazing animals.

I have never seen animal agriculture I've been impressed with. Many neighbors raise cattle that are damaging to the agrarian areas, decreasing habitat for deer, beaver, elk, etc. People also tend to over-graze them, and grow too many on too small a space.  Other run them on public lands, and I certainly don't agree with that. They should be set aside for wildlife, and we already don't give them that much for themselves. I don't see pasture being "improved" by animals raised for food, for a variety of reasons.

But like I said, if someone is very careful, as I assume is the point of permaculture, I'm sure it's not environmentally detrimental, and might be positive in an environmental sense, just like a garden.

It's also true that omnivore's eat vegetables, fruit and grains, just like vegans, and it takes less land to grow a garden for a vegan than to grow a garden for an omnivore (an I'm not sure how much different in size the two gardens would be) as well as pasture an animal/animals responsibly. I would rather take up as little land as possible for myself, leaving as much as possible for the non-humans (the ones that are already there, living their own lives for their own reasons).
Joel Hollingsworth
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Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
Jessica Wiley wrote:it takes less land to grow a garden for a vegan than to grow a garden for an omnivore (an I'm not sure how much different in size the two gardens would be) as well as pasture an animal/animals responsibly.


I think if land were the limiting factor, a village that kept a few laying hens (fed garden waste, insects, and kitchen scraps), plus a small number of milk goats (fed garden waste chickens don't want), might be able to support more people than a vegan village. Two important points in their favor are a faster cycling of nutrients, and transformation of calories that would otherwise be inaccessible to humans (tree bark->milk; goat manure->fly larvae->eggs).

There are probably also some more-subtle benefits. Bacteria in a goat's rumen can make B vitamins without consuming starch that might otherwise support a human, for example. Depending how the system is set up, gardeners might also need fewer calories with animals helping.

I imagine the maximum carrying capacity would mean far fewer animal-derived calories than most omnivores would want, though.
          


Joined: Jan 24, 2010
Posts: 32
Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
I think if land were the limiting factor, a village that kept a few laying hens (fed garden waste, insects, and kitchen scraps), plus a small number of milk goats (fed garden waste chickens don't want), might be able to support more people than a vegan village. Two important points in their favor are a faster cycling of nutrients, and transformation of calories that would otherwise be inaccessible to humans (tree bark->milk; goat manure->fly larvae->eggs).

There are probably also some more-subtle benefits. Bacteria in a goat's rumen can make B vitamins without consuming starch that might otherwise support a human, for example. Depending how the system is set up, gardeners might also need fewer calories with animals helping.

I imagine the maximum carrying capacity would mean far fewer animal-derived calories than most omnivores would want, though.


I don't actually know how much goats eat, or if chickens need grain or would subsist on kitchen scraps and insects. Would it be necessary to grow extra food for them at all, to supplement the scraps?

I know lots of people who raise chickens, and all of them (that I know) are fed kitchen scraps and garden scraps, but I've never known any that didn't feed them grains also. I'm no expert on chicken raising, I've just observed others.

I've heard of goats being... a little tricky to manage, girdling trees and being destructive to new growth. There are already deer around that can do that well enough, and they were here first. Part of my issue is that I'd like to disturb the folks already living on the land as little as possible, and all the things that goats can eat that we can't are already being eaten by other animals. It's not so much supporting the maximum amount of people as having the least amount of impact. If that makes sense.

What you said seems to make sense, if it works like that. It might be a method that, properly managed, could support the maximum number of people. I don't know, and I agree that it would involve a lot less animal-derived calories than some would prefer.
     


                        


Joined: Jan 28, 2010
Posts: 175
Interesting thread.  I have been an anthropologist all my post graduate life and a vegetarian for at least 30 years. I don't eat meat, milk, or eggs and I try to avoid processed foods.  I have never consumed coconut oil and I think I am quite healthy. 
As for  the omnivore/vegetarian classification there were discussions some years ago about how anthropologists were promoting that primitive peoples lived mostly by hunting -- and how this perception was an artifact of most male anthropologists doing field work.  They never got to see all of the vegetable products that women were bringing in.
Actually, if you do the comparison, people close to the equator tend to be vegetarian and people fartherist from the equator tend to be meat eaters - like the eskimo.  Why?  because that's what's available in those environments.

In every case -- well adapted  human societies eat a whole lot more variety and smaller amounts than the average grocery store fed American.

In an evolutionary sense,  humans are omnivores - more or less.
paul wheaton
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Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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One thing that has been mentioned in other threads, but I think has not seen the light of day in this thread yet:  If you practice rotational grazing, you get five times more growies in that area.    So, more vegetation.  More food.  Because you practiced a very particular form of grazing.  So you get more vegetation based food plus meat. 

So, I can see how a meat eater would use ten times more acres than a vegan if we are talking about an animal trapped in a confined space and fed nothing but people food.  And this does, sort of, happen with SAD (standard american diet - it took me a while to figure that one out).

But you can walk into any organic market and get grass fed, grass finished beef.  On unplowed polyculture pastures.

But nearly all of the vegan food in any market is grown in rows of monoculture in plowed fields. 

If the vegan desires to live a more evolved life that harms fewer creatures .... well, if they don't raise the food themselves, then that higher path would include a lot of grass fed beef. 

I would like to see vegans continue on their path without beef.  I think the first step is to start demanding no-till polyculture food.


                        


Joined: Jan 28, 2010
Posts: 175
I remember visiting a family who lived in a rural area of Tennessee ( Ex space engineers) who had decided they would be vegetarian.  They had a teenage son who really didn't adapt to the vegetarian lifestyle.  So their deal with him was that he could eat meat as long as he killed and dressed what ever he ate.

I thought that was a little extreme, but I think it is true that most teens growing as fast as they do and ruled by hormones would have trouble being restricted to a vegan diet.
Joel Hollingsworth
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Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
Jessica Wiley wrote:
all the things that goats can eat that we can't are already being eaten by other animals.


This is a very contrived thought-experiment, of course, and maybe not particularly relevant to the discussion.

But I was thinking of things like bean husks, corn stalks, the bark from coppiced fuel wood, etc., that are often burned, and aren't naturally available to wildlife.

(Speaking of that, this is another discussion entirely, but it might possibly be a good idea for us to serve as a major predator of deer until our wolf population recovers enough to fill that role.)

The seeds these thought-experiment chickens would eat would include grains missed in processing (it's amazing how much seed is in a bale of straw...I didn't know until I looked through one), the un-eaten seeds and pits from fruit, and weed seeds picked out of compost before it is used or out of garden beds between seasons.

It's my understanding that a diet with fewer than usual calories from seeds is better for them, and that some varieties have been bred to be more dependent on grains than others.
                          


Joined: Dec 01, 2009
Posts: 211
Location: Northern California
But nearly all of the vegan food in any market is grown in rows of monoculture in plowed fields. 


Could you clarify, Paul? Given that most vegan food is fruit, vegetables, and legumes--I know it's not as easy as picking up bagged salad, but I would think you can find polyculture raised fruits, vegetables, and legumes in many organic markets as well. I can get it in my grocery store. I can certainly get it at my farmers market, which is also where I get my meat. Even if not, I don't know anyone who lives on meat and dairy alone; when we're not eating meat and dairy we're usually eating "vegan foods" that may or may not be grown sustainably, so I think we would all share the burden here.

If we're talking about industrial agriculture being the problem--the same industrial agriculture that spawns CAFO feedlots and GMO soyburgers--then ethical eaters of all sorts are choosing different strategies to minimize our dependence on industrial agriculture, and each set of strategies comes with different challenges. A few of those challenges are: How do you know your palm oil shortening isn't coming from clear-cut former orangutan habitat? How do you know your eggs aren't coming from chickens being kept under lights all night to artificially boost production? How do you know your grass-fed cows aren't coming from land that should be forest? It makes more sense to me to use my energy to put more pressure on industrial agriculture in all sectors, and I think that's something ethical eaters from all factions of the meat debate can agree on.
Joe Skeletor


Joined: Jan 04, 2010
Posts: 104
Location: Blue Island, Illinois - Zone 6a - (Lake Effect) - surrounded by zone 5b
Kerrick wrote:
How do you know your palm oil shortening isn't coming from clear-cut former orangutan habitat? How do you know your eggs aren't coming from chickens being kept under lights all night to artificially boost production? How do you know your grass-fed cows aren't coming from land that should be forest? It makes more sense to me to use my energy to put more pressure on industrial agriculture in all sectors, and I think that's something ethical eaters from all factions of the meat debate can agree on.


I agree. That's why I'd say -

Skip the palm oil entirely and find some good local butter or lard.

Know your egg farmer.

That last one's tricky. Forest covered much more of the land in the past.

paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Kerrick wrote:
Could you clarify, Paul? Given that most vegan food is fruit, vegetables, and legumes--I know it's not as easy as picking up bagged salad, but I would think you can find polyculture raised fruits, vegetables, and legumes in many organic markets as well. I can get it in my grocery store.


Saywhat?!!!

You are able to get polyculture food at your grocery store?  This is the first I have ever heard of any grocery store carrying any polyculture food other than grass fed beef. 

Tell me how it is labeled.



Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
i suppose that depends on where you live. the only polyculture vegies I will probably ever have local access to (meaning in my life time) will be coming from my own garden.
          


Joined: Jan 24, 2010
Posts: 32
paul wheaton wrote:
Saywhat?!!!

You are able to get polyculture food at your grocery store?  This is the first I have ever heard of any grocery store carrying any polyculture food other than grass fed beef. 

Tell me how it is labeled.


I'm a little confused. I've done some reading on polyculture and it seems to me that employing crop rotation and/or intercropping and/or multiple cropping are the ways polyculture is achieved with regard to plant crops. Is this true or is it more complicated than that? I would say most farmers I know (the growers that sell to us at the Co-op and at the markets in town) use crop rotation, but I don't know many that use intercropping or multiple cropping, are the last two necessary to be called polyculture? 

What is necessary for calling grass-fed beef polyculture? I'm sure it's not any cattle raised on grass, but what is it specifically?

(those Polyface farm youtube videos are quite long so I didn't watch them yet, maybe it says this information in there?)
paul wheaton
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Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Pasture is usually grasses and dozens (hundreds) of species of other plants.  Sometimes called "weeds".

Intercropping doesn't go quite far enough.  And crop rotation is definitely not polyculture.



          


Joined: Jan 24, 2010
Posts: 32
paul wheaton wrote:
Pasture is usually grasses and dozens (hundreds) of species of other plants.  Sometimes called "weeds".

Intercropping doesn't go quite far enough.  And crop rotation is definitely not polyculture.


So... All grass fed beef is polyculture by the nature of pasture? Is that what you are saying?

There's probably somewhere I can read specifics, can you point me in the right direction for that?
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
Firstly.  There seems to be some confusion regarding the meanings of "polyculture," "inter-cropping," and "crop-rotation." 

A polyculture is a guild of many plants (and animals if you pull the lens back far enough), each with slightly different needs.  Many species can live right next to each other if they have different root patterns and growth structures, and if they can partition water and nutrients so everyone gets what they need with minimal competition.  In the ideal polyculture, plants even help each other acquire nutrients, and the most ideal polycultures available to study and learn from are natural forests and grasslands.  Humans aren't quite smart enough about plants to design really efficient ones YET, but that's the "holy grail" of forest gardening and I'm sure we'll get way better at it in the next century. The ultimate goal is to create a garden that over-yields - produces a greater yield than separate monocultures of the same crops, and in far less space because of the advantage of vertical stacking. 

Intercropping is a watered down version of the polyculture concept.  Two species are planted together who have slightly different needs.  They don't compete too much, and they may even offer each other things the other needs.  Because it's only two or maybe three plants involved, the plant relations are too simple to call it a true polyculture.  But it's simple enough to harvest two things at once (or one after the other), and this makes it a common and very beneficial practice in organic vegetable farms and gardens.  Pesty bugs in particular are often thwarted by a pungent species growing in between something they find tasty. 

Crop-rotations used to be the major way of maintaining the fertility of farm fields, before chemical farming's synthetic fertility enabled planting the same crop year after year.  The idea (and there are lots of variations) is that a crop which feeds the soil early in the year is followed by a heavy feeder later in the year, which is followed by something that can over-winter and be turned under in the spring as a 'green manure.'  This whole series can be done over several years where there is the luxury of space and time to do so.  It's one mono-culture after another, and it isn't as harmful to the soil as all out chemical warfare - eh hem, I mean, "farming", but it requires a whole lot of tilling and sowing and tilling and sowing and tilling and.....

Most evangelists of polycultures are also on the quest for alternatives to annual tilling of the soil, as even a clumsy human-created polyculture leaves the soil alone long enough for the worms and microbes and fungi to do their thing, thereby reducing our workload.  Plus, no tractor (or horse, ox, or slave) required!

I think an important part of the "polyculture" we were talking about is also the word "perennial."  A perennial polyculture specifically grown for ruminants to eat (pasture!) never needs to be tilled, sowed, fertilized, or harvested by human hands.  With the right management, animals can reduce the amount of effort required to produce our calories.  If you can "farm out" (ha!) the task of turning the compost pile to the pigs - why not?  If the pigs eat a bunch of our sour milk and then we eat bacon later in the winter when our cow dries up - that's a lot of food we wouldn't otherwise have!

On properly managed pasture, a variety of plants grows the majority of the year.  Not just grass, but many varieties of grasses, some that like wet springs, others that prefer humid summers, and still others stick it out through dry autumns.  Nitrogen fixing legumes similarly space their peak growth times out throughout the season.  Other herbs that provide micro nutrients and medicinal chemicals to cows also appear, the importance of which in a balanced ruminant diet haven't even been thoroughly studied yet. 

The "mob and move" of a close packed herd grazing a small area for 24 hours ensures that every single plant is eaten and mushed into the ground.  There is no chance for toxic plants, or other noxious weeds that get the blame for "ruining pasture" to take hold, because they are eaten before they have a chance to seed.  The two to three week period of rest following this intense grazing (pulsing) allows the polyculture to re-grow and absorb nutrients dropped out the business end of the cows.  The pasture is rarely allowed to rest longer than this crucial two to three weeks because more time would allow some plants to get too large and tough, or to acquire enough toxins in their tissues to be harmful to the cow. 

A well established forest garden without animal activity would have to be about thirty years old and extremely well designed to both close the loop of nutrient leaching through rainfall, and to provide food for humans.  Even then, the benefit of incorporating animals into these tree-based polycultures cannot be ignored.  Pigs can come through and harvest the dropped fruit and nuts that humans would rather not or cannot eat, aerating the soil and fertilizing as they go, to give another example of a 'pulse'. 

(those Polyface farm youtube videos are quite long so I didn't watch them yet, maybe it says this information in there?)


I'd encourage you to take the time to explore all aspects of permaculture, not just the things that immediately appeal to your world view.  You never know when the weirdest/most backwards sounding thing can turn out to be exactly the right thing, and eventually might make the most sense you've ever heard. 

It's also true that omnivore's eat vegetables, fruit and grains, just like vegans, and it takes less land to grow a garden for a vegan than to grow a garden for an omnivore (an I'm not sure how much different in size the two gardens would be) as well as pasture an animal/animals responsibly.


The amazing thing about animals is their ability to stack functions in the same area.  Plus, animal foods have such amazing caloric density that you'd need to tend more plants to make up for the lack of animals and their products.  And when multiple animals start following each other around, the functions and benefits start adding up faster than you can say POLYCULTURE!

We all agree that it is extremely inefficient/horrible/inhumane/environmentally destructive to raise animals in a confined space, force them to stand in their own poo, and to bring them all of their food in the form of fossil fuel intensive grains. 

However, there are other ways of raising animals that can be beneficial to where they/we live, while providing another source of food beyond what a person can simply grow in the ground.  We can't change your heart about the way you feel when it comes to killing an animal for food (and that's perfectly fine as it is your choice) but if you really plan to grow all of your food on a small piece of land, you should consider incorporating the FUNCTIONS (mowing, rooting, scratching, and most importantly of all - pooing) of animals on your land.  You don't have to eat the pig, but the rooting behavior that is perfectly natural in the species can take the place of a machine or human labor for digging up the ground as part of soil preparation for other growies.  That same pig in an orchard would eat dropped apples that are all wormy and disgusting to us, consuming the larva of the moth along with the apple and breaking the life cycle of that pest.  PLUS!  He'll POO everywhere while he's cleaning the orchard!   AND!  You don't have to pay him!  That's digging, apple gathering/pest elimination, and fertilizing, all done for free, and not by ME. 

The only farm I've spent time on that was owned by vegans (raw foodists, at that) bought LARGE amounts of ground up fish guts, and imported quite literally tons of animal poop to maintain the fertility of their extensive, beautiful, established orchards and forest gardens.  Luckily, they could financially afford to do this.  The man from whom they bought their property planted all those trees (he's credited with being possibly the first person to plant avocados in New Zealand - in a north facing south island valley) in steel barrels to protect them from the sheep grazing between them.  A few years after the animals were removed from the orchards, the trees started to suffer from more weed pressure and less nutrient cycling.  Jess sayin. 

Anything that you buy in a grocery store, organic or conventional, was planted in a long monocultural row, and planted, fertilized, and harvested by a tractor. Farming is required to be of a certain scale in order to supply a centralized food retailer.  Even small scale truck farms run by the friendly faces appearing at your farmers market are forced to streamline their systems to make it worthwhile, nay, POSSIBLE for them to sell you a veggie at so many bucks a pound. 

Growing food for profit requires a certain efficiency in harvesting and tending, and that is the main (economic) benefit of straight rows and monocultures.  Growing food for yourself encourages a wider range of techniques, as you don't care if it takes you three or thirty minutes to harvest enough food for your dinner.  For the small scale farmer harvesting tomatoes at 3 am so she can sell them at the farmer's market at 8 am.....she doesn't design her plot so that she has to wander from individual tomato plant to plant.  She straps on a headlight, goes down the row, and puts them in crates as fast as she can. 

I also had a more romantic image of the small scale organic farmer - until I helped a friend run his market farm (on less than an acre of land)!  You have to make decisions that aren't "natural" because of the pressure/necessity to make some money at the end of the day/season. 
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14853
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Marina does make a point that I would like to present on my own. 

The statement was that the garden space that that a vegan uses would be smaller than an omni cuz the critters would eat some of that garden too. 

I agree with marina, that that math is a bit off.

1)  I think we can all agree that if 20% of my diet is meat, then I'm probably cutting back on the vegan food by at least 40%.  So if I were to raise a garden just for me to eat, it would be smaller than a vegan's garden.

2)  Critters eat mostly stuff that I don't.  I don't eat bugs, grass or most of the plants out there that the critters like.  Plus, they make much more efficient use of my scraps than if i were to compost it.  And if there are leftovers in the garden, they take care of that too.  One might say that a steer needs more acres for grazing that could be used for growing food for vegans - but the land that most cattle graze is usually not so good for raising crops the way crops are raised now.  And the amount of effort for pasture is far, far less than any crop - as grown now.  Plus, way better carbon lock.

3)  This is something most folks aren't aware of.  Crops do better when you pulse animals into the area.  So if you have an acre of crops and you get X pounds of harvest, you can run cattle through that acre once a month for three months, and .... the cattle will have eaten quite a lot, and you will get more than X pounds of food from that same acre.  There is a bit more to it, but in a nutshell, this is what happens.

Here is what is true from what you said:  It takes ten times more acreage to get a pound of corn fed beef than a pound of corn.  But corn fed beef is wrong. 

tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3081
Location: woodland, washington
    
  52
having just read through the following post, I think I'm going to come off like a bit of a know-it-all.  or maybe more than a bit of a know-it-all.  I apologize in advance and want to say that what follows is just one person's take on this.  I do try to be informed about these things and try these ideas out myself, but so do the rest of you, so despite the tone, I don't think I know better than everyone else.  also, it's way too long.  thanks for your understanding.

[quote author=paul wheaton]1)  I think we can all agree that if 20% of my diet is meat, then I'm probably cutting back on the vegan food by at least 40%.   So if I were to raise a garden just for me to eat, it would be smaller than a vegan's garden.

that is some interesting math there, paul, and I don't think we can all agree.  are you suggesting that your diet would only make up 80% of your diet?  or are you suggesting that an additional 20% of your diet is not meat but also not vegan because of the 20% meat?  eggs and dairy necessarily go with meat consumption?  honey?  I wouldn't pick on your ambiguous math if it didn't completely obscure the point you're trying to make.  I think you're maybe suggesting that a certain mass of meat contains more nutrition than an equivalent mass of not meat, but I can't be sure.  if that is your point, it's a good one and important.  there are at least a couple of traditions that cite this fact when proscribing meat, however: it is too dense in nutrients to be healthful.  I'm not suggesting that those traditions have a collective monopoly on dietary guidance, but I do think they're worth taking into consideration.

and while the garden dedicated to just food that you're going to eat might be smaller than a vegan's, you neglect to mention the land dedicated to feed the critters you're eating.  we all know that these spaces can and should overlap, but that's not the situation you've presented here.

[quote author=wombat]Actually, if you do the comparison, people close to the equator tend to be vegetarian and people fartherist from the equator tend to be meat eaters

I think this hits on an important point that's missed by folks trying to make blanket statements.  a lot of the early (and later) information about the benefits of animal impact and intensively managed grazing came from Allan Savory and Holistic Management International.  as far as I can tell, Allan Savory is a rather amazing chap, maybe even worthy of the upper echelons of the "wheaton eco scale".  not only is HMI a great crowd, but Allan was an outspoken anti-racist when and where it was very unpopular to be so.  Allan Savory: great.

in my understanding of HMI concepts, it is really only brittle environments that benefit greatly from animal impact.  non-brittle environments do just fine without the large animal impact, and might even be damaged were it applied.  now, I know that we aren't just talking about large animals anymore, but I don't think we should lose sight of this: different methods are appropriate in different places.  to suggest that animals are going to improve things everywhere seems a bit irresponsible to me.  likewise, to suggest that animals aren't ever an appropriate part of an ecologically sound farm or garden is also unwarranted.  if somebody has refuted or is currently refuting HMI's division of things, I'm embarrassed to say I'm ignorant of the fact.

[quote author=paul wheaton]3)  This is something most folks aren't aware of.  Crops do better when you pulse animals into the area.  So if you have an acre of crops and you get X pounds of harvest, you can run cattle through that acre once a month for three months, and .... the cattle will have eaten quite a lot, and you will get more than X pounds of food from that same acre.  There is a bit more to it, but in a nutshell, this is what happens.

there's a lot more to it.  I still think we're painting with too broad a brush, here.  there are a lot of crops in a lot of conditions that would benefit from a 'pulse' like this or something similar, but there are also a lot of crops (even in polycultures) that would be entirely destroyed by it.

if a person, or persons, were to put together an effective perennial polyculture without adding livestock, other critters would likely show up to provide a lot of the benefits that managed animals would.  a quick example: my folks' chestnuts get eaten up and shit out by squirrels and birds if they aren't harvested by humans in a timely fashion.  they aren't going un-eaten and the nutrients aren't going un-cycled just because hogs aren't brought in to tear the place up.  that isn't to say that a very resilient and productive polyculture couldn't be put together under those chestnuts that would benefit from periodic disturbance, but that isn't the only or necessarily the most effective way to do it.

just for the record, I prefer to incorporate animals when I can for many of the reasons mentioned by others.  I do, however, think it's entirely possible to build a productive and regenerative food forest without livestock in far less than 30 years.  I don't know which (with or without livestock) would outperform the other in terms of biomass or human food produced or either of those relative to labor input, but I don't think either one has such a huge advantage in a majority of situations that we should confidently proclaim a winner.  nothing I've seen to date here or elsewhere has changed my opinion of this.  marina phillips: you, in particular, made a pretty erudite argument in favor of livestock.  you're clearly knowledgeable about these things, but I'm not convinced you could definitively show that livestock, properly managed, is always going to be beneficial.

fortunately, there is vast room for improvement over current food production with or without animals involved and I think most of us here are working toward that end.  in light of this, determining the winner doesn't seem dreadfully important to me at the moment.  at some point, this question may be of vital importance, but by then I think there will also be a lot more evidence to help us make that determination.  for now, there's room for our diversity of approaches and we'll be richer for that diversity in the end.


I suspect that there's some wish fulfillment or confirmation bias going on here, and I'm not claiming to be immune.  as a vegetarian, it's very tempting to feel superior to meat folks.  evidence suggesting we might not be superior is very threatening and might not be well-received even if it's well-reasoned or well-researched.  as an omnivore who takes great pleasure in eating critters, it's very threatening to be told that such a basic part of my life as what I choose to eat is detrimental to all life on earth.  with a little knowledge about regenerative and responsible livestock practices, it's likewise very tempting to feel superior to ill-informed vegetarians.  meanwhile, very few of us are willing to honestly examine the situation if it might mean feeling fallible or questioning habits we're fond of.

regarding the initial post about Michael Pollan: while he's a great guy who has done a lot of great work, in this instance I think Pollan is roughly full of shit.  if the choice is between eating big ag grain, or big ag critters that eat big ag grain, eating the grain is easily the more responsible option.  in the audio linked to, he doesn't make the same claim paul wheaton cited in the beginning of this thread, so maybe he's backing off that particular bit.  and the audio is 80 minutes, by the way.

I've got a bit more to say, but I'm getting carried away and I'll not subject everybody to it all at once.  and I've got some other things to do...


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Joel Hollingsworth
volunteer

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
We don't get many calories from it, but there's such a thing as shade-grown coffee.

You're absolutely right that polyculture vegan products are extremely rare at the grocery store, but I think they exist.
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
I want to point out that I am only regurgitating lots of reading materials when I post stuff like that last mammoth thread.  I'm sure I came off as very "know it all" (it's not me that figured any of it out - I just read voraciously) and to be clear, I have no experience whatsoever in the realm of pulsing animals through a food growing space, or in raising animals for food.  This will change in a few weeks when we acquire some piglets and chicks, and I'm sure I'll feel a lot more confident about how the whole thing fits into itself in five years or so.

However, I do have a fair bit of experience of growing food in gardens without any animal activity.  It's not impossible to grow a bunch of food plants without direct or intentional animal activity, but, from my experiences, I can see how incorporating animals would really help a gardener/farmer work a bit less.  That's the main reason I'm attracted to using animals in this way.  It's a whole lot of work to do everything with your own two hands.  We want to avoid purchasing a tractor entirely, and I think with the help of some domesticated friends, we can achieve that goal without crippling our own bodies. 

There are some mornings when I look at what needs to be done (not just in the garden), and a big heavy feeling of "how am I supposed to do all that in 12 hours, or even 12 years?" can start to creep up.  I feel lucky to be so young and able bodied (I'm a few days into my 26th year on earth), as we put in 70 hour work weeks from April thru November.  I'm not going to be a mere spring chicken forever, and my amazing partner, though in the prime of his physical fitness, is pushing 40. 

The whole idea is to get gradually smarter about things so that by the time we're old(er) we don't need to labor so intensely.  We have many other things going on outside of feeding ourselves, and minimizing the attention our gardens need is going to let us concentrate on creating other things.  Like, finishing our root cellar, and then building a house on top of it.  That's a few years of 70 hour weeks all by itself. 
          


Joined: Jan 24, 2010
Posts: 32
This thread is very interesting.
 
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subject: omnivore's dilemma and vegetarianism
 
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