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Literal Poppycock

If the entire world not only turned vegetarian, but also vegan, and ALSO wanted to do so under the seal of “organic” … would it be possible? Ignore for the time being any difference in yields that such practices would imply and ask only the following: where would the fertilizer come from? If we went vegan or vegetarian, the number of farm animals would plummet – not all the way to zero, but close enough to zero as to be statistically relevant. Would farmers just grow cows for fun if they could not sell the meat, milk, bones, blood, skin and other products? Of course not.

So, if manure is the organic fertilizer of choice, and it disappears entirely from the planet, where are the organic sources of nitrogen and other nutrients going to come from? Trawled fish from the sea? The entire ocean ecosystem would collapse in short order if we did that. What about getting the nutrients from other plants that perhaps fix it? Well, perhaps you can get nitrogen that way, but it would require a LOT more land under cultivation to do it – my bet is it would take well over an entire Planet Earth to do it.

What other “natural” sources of fertilizer could we rely upon once cows and sheep and chickens and pigs, etc. were out of the picture?

3 Responses to “Literal Poppycock”

  1. Jason Treit says:

    I’m curious what happens to my fellow vegetarians’ consumption choices when science + capitalism provides routes around animal suffering that don’t really derive from vegetarianism or its politics. My view from the inside is that ethical vegetarianism is doomed to max out at a sizeable fraction of rich people. And as people marry it with other commitments like organic, local, anti-GMO, it becomes less and less about an alternative global food supply (per your nitrogen example) and more and more about managing an aesthetic.

    My prediction: factory farming declines in our lifetime. Demand for meat (both the real stuff and spookily good simulations) doesn’t. Some of us vegetarians will be satisfied, others horrified. New vegetarianisms will emerge in reaction to how food is produced in 2050.

    • wintercow20 says:

      Incredibly, meat consumption in the US has not increased in three decades or more (need to find the source for that). I also tend to be optimistic about the future of cultured proteins, and as we continue to be better about other resource use and energy production, and our wealth increases, I don’t see a future where factory farming gets worse, and tend to agree with you about its long run demise.

  2. ZC says:

    The assumption of “entire world turning vegan and organic” seems to suggest that everyone is willing to pay much higher prices for food, so that farm animals will not disappear or kept as pets but primarily raised for producing fertilizers. Just like sheep are raised for the wool.

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