My family farm operates five acres in Northwest Louisiana (at least we try), and we buy any meat that we don’t produce ourselves from small local producers within a 90-minute drive. John W. Miller’s critique of factory farming (see “Is It Time For Catholics To Stop Eating Meat?”) Resonated strongly with me because our family’s food choices reflect a moral framework rooted in a desire for environmental and social justice. Vegetarianism (or veganism) is one way of expressing this desire for justice, and I respect the noble intentions of those who choose this option. But I came to a different conclusion, especially when vegetarianism means adopting “fake meat”.
Put simply, the billion dollar fake meat industry is built on an unfair commodity-driven grain market, in which prices are determined by investor speculation, much like the stock market. . In addition, the industry depends on a planet-destructive transportation system based on diesel fuel. Fake meat is not a real alternative to animals raised in confinement but rather is part of the very system it claims to replace. Producing false meat requires a specific range of crops and materials, including soybeans, pea protein, and beets. These crops, often referred to as “inputs”, are often grown in a monoculture system which over time depletes the soil of nutrients. Ironically, many of these same crops are also used to feed animals raised in containment systems preferred by industrial agriculture.
Fake meat is not a real alternative to animals raised in confinement but rather is part of the very system it claims to replace.
Vegetarianism, if it depends on supporting the fake meat industry, simply cannot be portrayed as a higher ethical or moral position. We don’t need another excuse to maintain the status quo: a food world ruled by big corporations that indulge in the worst excesses of our current economic system, such as monopolies, price fixing, and downsizing. humans to assets and debits on a ledger.
As Catholics claimed by the truth and dedicated to justice, we must insist on a better way, a way which respects the human person and which is centered on justice. This path already exists with us in farms around the world dedicated to regenerative agriculture.
Family farms provide not only physical food but also spiritual food.
Many of these farms are built around the family unit, which was supported by Pope Saint John XXIII in 1961 in the encyclical “Mater and MagistraAs “the ideal type of farm”. They are dedicated to raising animals in a way that respects their animal character, using pasture-based systems that allow each animal’s traits to flourish. Unlike factory-farmed animals, pigs raised from birth on these small farms spend their lives rooting, exploring, and bathing in the mud. A pig is simply allowed to be a pig. And these small farms hold the soil itself as their greatest treasure, as they recognize that the greatest legacy we can leave to our children is to regenerate the land through sustainable agricultural practices that link the inputs of humans and people. animals.
These small, regenerative farms are also deeply rooted in their local communities, which cannot be said of factory farming or factory-produced fake meat. Faced with the erosion of rural life by declining population, lack of economic opportunities and even spiritual ill-being (a decline intimately linked to the erosion of the soil itself), these small farms present themselves like a ray of hope. They offer not only physical nourishment, but also spiritual nourishment in the form of a community centered on the higher goals of sustainability, resilience and integrity.
If these farms were to thrive and multiply, they could not only defeat the current status quo of industrial agriculture, but could fulfill the vision of John XXIII, who continued in “Mater and Magistra” to comment:
In the work on the farm, the human personality finds all the incentives for self-expression, personal development and spiritual growth. It is therefore a work that must be thought of as a vocation, a mission given by God, a response to God’s call to implement his providential and saving plan in history. It must be seen, finally, as a noble task, undertaken with a view to raising oneself and others to a higher degree of civilization.
Choosing vegetarianism or veganism is certainly not in opposition to this noble task, and we can indeed make this choice in parallel with the desire to support local producers. But if such a choice involves embracing the fake meat industry with its attendant problems, the question is whether it is a choice rooted in the desire that all of God’s creation should be. ‘flourish together in a community of justice. The regenerative agriculture movement, centered on local economies, certainly meets this standard.
[Related: Cities get our attention, but rural America has many of the same challenges]