In my own life, my decision to return to my omnivorous ways is drastically shrinking my carbon footprint. The truth that as a vegan I did not like to face is that most places on this planet are not suited for annual grain agriculture, but for a mix of plant and animal husbandry. Most ecosystems on this planet simply cannot support annual grain agriculture, and the urging by vegans for the inhabitants to adopt a vegan lifestyle anyway is damning them to an eventually desiccated land base and inevitable starvation. Saudi Arabia, where I live, is one of those places. Now, instead of relying on grains and beans grown overseas with pesticides and seriously unsustainable farming methods to form the bulk of my diet, I can now turn my focus towards local animal products, such as goat, lamb, or chicken. For example, I can go to the local market and buy goat meat from goat herds that graze just a few miles away over the open desert, herded by Bedouins from oasis to oasis in a centuries’ old tradition. These goats make use of the dry and scrubby land that would be completely unsuitable for crop farming and they drink ancient artisanal well water. If the land they use was transformed into huge swathes of crop fields it would require staggering amounts of synthetic fertilizer and imported water, and it would wreck the delicate ecosystem that currently exists in the desert. Not only do I feel better physically and mentally as an omnivore, but my choices are much more consistent with my conviction that we need to live as ethically and sustainably as possible within our local community.
Whether it is the staggering destruction caused by factory farms, or the slightly less staggering but no less devastating destruction caused by vegan agriculture, our planet is being irrevocably annihilated and we must stop treating the symptoms of this disease and abandon short term solutions. We can’t shop our way out of this crisis, personal solutions are not enough. Presenting veganism as a panacea that will stop global warming, save all the animals, and feed the starving masses is nearsighted and unfounded. And it shames me, as an academic, that I ever let myself believe it. We must instead focus our efforts on a complete reimagining of the way we live on this planet. Anything less is suicide.