Veganism, and to a lesser extent vegetarianism, misses the point when it comes to food and environmental ethics; change my mind. Before you arm yourself with your pitchforks, think about this: I have spent pretty much every weekend at the farmer’s market for the past four months so obviously I know my vegetables.
The industrialization and globalization of food production, no matter which food group, is rife with environmental and social harm. This is true especially for factory farming of animals, from deliberate fattening of Thanksgiving turkeys to overcrowding pigs and chickens. Even beyond the ethical implications, this cruel treatment has a very real impact on your food. Chicken that was raised how chicken is supposed to be raised just tastes so much better, something I didn’t fully understand until eating chicken taken from a family’s backyard in a Nubian village on the Nile (yes, that was a flex). Your Wegmans’ family pack of chicken breast tastes bland without liberal marination precisely because of this type of industrialized production. But the ethical quandaries of industrialized farming pervades well beyond the treatment of animals. The dependency of underdeveloped economies on cash crops, like peanuts and cashews, is nothing new, and our own dependence on countries with cash crop economies providing the bulk of our supply of one particular commodity is a pervasive form of economic exploitation. Even beyond the social harm, think about a prominent vegan staple: A cashew, which is poisonous until shelled and boiled, generally grows very unsustainably, using ten times as much water as almonds in order for it to be an edible product. Think about the vegetables picked by migrant laborers in California working through a wildfire; is that ethical just because it’s not meat?
Vegetarianism and veganism ignore issues like these with their economic, social governance and environmental implications. This is not to disrespect those who adhere to religious, cultural or health-related vegetarianism, or those who value animals as fellow living beings, but rather to call attention to the fact that vegetarianism and veganism are often touted as sustainable solutions, even as direct action against unethical meat industries. However, the future of food conservation lies in local, ethical sourcing rather than just boycotting meat and animal products at large.
Our local butchers and animal farms raise their animals as humanely as possible; boycotting them out of principal is a misdirection of antipathy towards industrialized farming. In Ithaca particularly, we are ripe with the ability to take advantage of the local food landscape. There are far fewer barriers here than in most other places — you could buy most of your vegetables and meat at the farmer’s market and easily avoid national chains.
Community supported agriculture, a program through which every week you get a selection of a farm’s produce, are another way to support local business and source your vegetables from local farms. I joined a CSA over the summer (and I have not shut up about it since) and through it I found out that new CSA memberships helped make up for the COVID-related impacts on farms. Joining a CSA introduced me to new vegetables, and through it I’ve realized that in-season vegetables just taste better. CSAs aren’t free, of course, but joining one has significantly lowered grocery bills and free access to the farms’ U-Pick areas makes the investment worth it. If you are lucky enough to spend a summer in Ithaca and you like vegetables, I very much recommend joining a CSA.
At first blush, cost is a prohibitive factor for local sourcing, particularly in frequenting the farmer’s market for groceries. However, the farmer’s market is usually only marginally more expensive than Wegmans (I’ve been doing the comparisons all summer so trust me on that one), and you get significantly better quality. The main trade-off is that you’re only getting what is in season, so for fans of only three vegetables — AKA one of my roommates — you might want to stick to Wegmans. The meat might be more expensive, but, for example, the ground beef you get from Walmart is literally half water, so you get more bang for your buck from the farmer’s market anyway. Next time you go to the farmer’s market for Saturday brunch or stop by Indian Creek Farm to take half an hour’s worth of pictures with a pumpkin, peruse the farm stands as well, and don’t be afraid of trying something new.
Being in Ithaca gives us so many opportunities to source our food locally, ethically while simultaneously helping out local businesses. Given our vantage point, we should all become more aware of how industrialized agriculture acts to the detriment of these local businesses, and instead of unilaterally boycotting meat producers, we should funnel our desire for ethical food sourcing into supporting local producers.
Robyn Bardmesser is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com. Impolitburo runs alternate Fridays this semester.