Thursday, July 31, 2014

A strange dream about vegan and omnivore long term sustainability

I had a strange dream the other night that has been haunting my waking world.  I was living in this long term experiment where we had a small community and we had to survive with as low an environmental impact, and as self sufficiently as possible.  There were two teams, one who worked with animals and the other team lived a pure vegan life.  I was part of the first team but was for some reason giving lessons and advice to both teams.  It involved all sorts of people, historians, enthusiasts, ecologists, gardeners, and a transient student population.

In my dream, the goal of the study was to discover if it is possible to combine current day knowledge and to some extent technology with traditional methods and wisdom.  The aim is to supply a surplus of necessary resources (food, clothing, shelter, entertainment) while leaving the soil and overall environmental stability in a better state than when we started.

The other part of the experiment was to investigate if a Vegan way of life was actually ecologically friendly when compared with a similar community living the same lifestyle but also using and on occasion consuming animals.  Can a vegan live a nutritionally fulfilling diet on local resources alone?  How would a vegan cloth themselves in the winter if they can't depend on industrial fabrics made from plant pulp and petroleum?  Would the soil deteriorate without the addition of animal manure or would it thrive on compost alone?

The groups would meet weekly, talk about problems, observations, and questions of things that needed more in depth study.  For example testing the fertility of different soil management methods by careful record keeping, or testing the nutritional density of apples grown in a regular orchard, or in an orchard that had a herd of sheep grazing on it.  For those sorts of things, our academic counterparts would arrange lab work or perhaps research methods for solving a problem, or stuff like that.

It was a very precise dream with a strong structure to the experiment.

At one time in the dream, there was a great debate as to whether it was in agreement with vegan principles to use worm composting - the debate spread across the world and many university students and teachers wrote in with their opinions.  In the end, it was decided that worms confined in a bin were not whereas worms in a compost pile were fine.  For some reason undisclosed in my dream.

Originally, my dream memory tells me, it was suppose to last 4 years.  The first three years to build fertility in the soil, and by the end of the third year, be almost completely independent.

There were some interesting differences in the vegan vs the omnivore groups.  The vegan group had to grow extra acres of oil seed crop to use as fuel for their tractor, whereas the omnivore's could use cattle to pull the equipment.  For some reason horses weren't multipurpose enough for us.  The downside with the cattle was that we needed to grow extra feed for them during the winter.  However, something happened and the tractor the vegan group used broke down just at a vital point at some agricultural even - harvest or planting, or something vague.  It wouldn't be a dream worth remembering without obstacles to overcome.

And so the dream went.  The original four years, was expanded to six, then ten.  We built different houses out of local materials.  The vegans yurt was fantastic in the summer, but an utter failure for winter warmth.  However, they had super awesome luck with their cob construction and after a few years made one large house that they all lived in.  The omnivore's eventually had mostly yurt living spaces with wattle and daub communal buildings.  Both living arrangements had their advantages and disadvantages.

Although it was almost a contest between vegan and omnivore living, we did live side by side, and as the years progressed, the two communities came closer together, learning from each other, sharing resources when times were tough (to the chagrin of the professors managing the experiment).  We had become so independent, or perhaps codependent, that there was less and less desire to interact with the outside world.  The tidal influx of students participating in the study was sufficient for us to feel connected to life outside.  By year eight, it was a very pleasant rhythm.

But also, great inspiration to the world at large.  Academics built their reputations talking about our endeavours.  Political decisions were influenced by our accomplishments.  Even corporations took notice and started to make changes to the way they managed their resources.  As we produced so much excess food, other cities started to plan farming communities like ours to provide supplies for emergency situations.

But like I said, it was just a dream I had.

What a strange dream though.

I've been thinking for a while lately about how eco-friendly a vegan diet is.  Compared to the Western Diet, it's very good.  However, compared to my personal situation, I think that a vegan lifestyle would have a devastating impact on the environment.  But maybe I'm wrong.  Academics can make good arguments for both sides; science can confirm the validity of both opinions.  That leaves us with no way to discover the truth - unless we actually try it.

I've been trying it a little bit on the farm here in real life.  One of the gardens I grew flax in this year, I used animal manure on one half of the garden, and compost on the other.  Other than that, both halves received the same treatment.  However, the flax on the manure side grew a good foot and a half taller than the compost side.  One garden is not enough evidence.  That is why more practical research needs doing - not just reading reports, but actually having people living the life on a day to day basis.  I think it's a fantastic idea and I loved participating in the experiment in my dream.

As much as the world needs to know more about this kind of thing, I don't imagine there are enough people in the Western World up for this sort of a challenge.  Though I wish they were because I would jump at the opportunity in a heart beat.

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