Josh Morris responds to Veganism and the Revolution and makes the case for an environmentally sustainable future for food production which includes animal rearing.
An article that recently appeared in Challenge offered some interesting points regarding Veganism and the Revolution by David Swanson. In the launch of Challenge the General Secretary of the Young Communist League stated that Challenge would be a place for debate and discussion. I hope this is deemed a comradely response to a well thought out piece which has made me seriously think about my position.
In the past few years vegetarianism and veganism has started to become mainstream. The meat-free market is set to rise from £559 million in 2016 £658 million in 2021 in the UK.
This is relevant as it shows what capitalism does to social movements. You can now go out and buy a Che Guevarra t-shirt or an anarchist hoody off companies who stand for the complete opposite of those ideals. The same is true of veganism.
Quorn, one of the biggest meat-free brands, is owned by the Monde Nissin Corporation which is headquartered in the Philippines. It took Monde Nissin three years to even begin to negotiate with a trade union over worker’s concerns over contractorisation of the workforce. Previous to this the corporation dismissed an astonishing one hundred and three workers who protested outside one of their premises. In addition to this they refused to let inspectors see the actual production line and were only allowed to interview individuals who were selected by management.
Within Quorn itself, courts have had to enforce putting in place reasonable adjustments for an employee with a disability and found Quorn to have unfairly dismissed an employee (Train v Marlow Foods Limited 2018). It is clear that buying Quorn is not a revolutionary act. Veganism is an ideology that promotes equality, as correctly identified in “Veganism and the Revolution,” however the way in which this company has conducted itself regarding workers’ rights is far from those values.
In addition to this seasonal migrant labour is often used in the harvest of fruit and vegetables, these people often do not see beyond the farm and are housed in horrendous conditions sometimes in barely converted barns. This makes it nigh-on impossible to unionise these workers, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of a corporation that only seeks to produce profit.
Comrade Swanson makes the assertion that without the need to feed animals we would be able to feed the twenty million malnourished people. This is not solely the fault of the animal producing industry, however. We already produce enough to feed one and a half times the population of the earth, it is the murderous economic system which allows bankers vast banquets of which they barely eat a bite and it is this deeply flawed system which encourages buying for the sake of buying. We need to build a system where these resources can be put where they are needed.
The next issue the article deals with is the environmental impact of meat eating. I find this to be one of the strongest arguments in favour of veganism. However, most of the studies which make this point have taken the average emissions of beef, which takes into account intensive farming.
Intensive farming, which is producing high quantities as quick as possible, has a much larger carbon footprint than extensive, grass-fed methods of farming. With some studies suggesting that through carbon sequestration in the soil these methods could even be carbon negative before the product leaves the farm. It also takes into account the changing of the land from forests to cattle rearing, which I will deal with below, however this is not a large issue in Britain where most cattle are reared on permanent pasture.
Cattle ranching is the reason for 80% of deforestation in the Amazon, releasing three hundred and forty million tons of carbon into our atmosphere, accounting for 3.4% of global emissions. While the rate is a lot lower, a further 10% of deforestation in Brazil was to make way for growing soya, a common substitute for cows’ milk. Therefore, the demand should be to stop deforestation of the rainforest for any reason, a simple boycott would only make way for deforestation for different reasons.
A widescale switch to plant-based diets could even harm the environment. Increased use of monocultures would be bad for biodiversity and can lead to increased use of harmful pesticides due to monocultures often draining nutrients from the soil. There would also still be the issue with transporting produce halfway across the world to be consumed here.
With a lot of environmental issues, the answers actually come from the past, be it using traditional methods of farming such as crop rotation or old Communist Party of Great Britain pamphlets such as the 1976 Farming to Feed Britain. This outlined a programme for rural development. It is focused on feeding the nation and ensuring low prices for the consumer, while having high wages for agricultural workers. However, many of the things it suggests can be applied in aid of the environment.
It calls for a localisation of production, with large farms nationalised and smaller ones forming cooperatives and working closely with consumer cooperatives in their nearest town. This would mean that the farms would only have to produce what is needed to feed the nation or the town, while reducing the food miles that a product would have to travel. It could also mean that farms could experiment with environmentally friendly crops and livestock as they would not have to worry about not returning a profit. It is clear that cooperatives don’t exist in the same fashion that they did when the movement was stronger, however that is replicated throughout society and it’s the job of communists to rebuild those institutions.
We believe in a broad, democratic, anti-monopoly front. This includes both small business owners and the vegan movement. This may sound contradictory in the sense that small business owners includes local butchers and farmers. However, both these groups and vegans can be united in their opposition to monopoly capitalism and we must work with both to combat this. A small farmer or local business owner is opposed to monopoly capitalism in the sense that it is big business that sets the prices of produce which farmers and business owners must either compete with or find a sector which is not yet monopolised, such as high quality food where the profit margins are often low, whereas a vegan opposes monopoly capitalism for many of the same reasons a socialist is, as outlined in Comrade Swanson’s article.
This is where the need for a united left comes into play. We cannot alienate farmers any more than we cannot alienate the vegan movement. We need to engage both groups on the issues that matter to them, and I believe that there is more overlap in the interests of both groups than is immediately clear.
This is part of the socialist answer. While we are still living under capitalism, intensive forms of farming will always be rampant. Lobbyists from farming corporations will do their upmost to ensure governments do not take the radical action needed to protect our planet from destruction. We cannot expect individuals to switch to less environmentally harmful sources of meat, nor can we expect them to research every bottle of soya milk they buy.
What we can do is make sure the government knows that we are not going to accept the status quo while we work to change it. Once we do, we can implement incentives for farms to start considering the environment. We can put subsidies on home grown animal feed and give farms which adhere to strict guidelines grants so they can sell their product at a price which working class people can afford.
We can push for a socialist Britain where equality and environmentalism are at the heart of everything we do, involving all parts of our communities at every step. I believe this is where the arguments that “Veganism and the Revolution” and this piece intersect.
Both veganism and meat eating are different beasts under socialism. Once we create revolutionary change then I look forward to the ethical and moral debates which will surround the topic. However, until then we must unite to defeat the true enemy, the amoral enemy which degrades humans and animals alike and puts profit at the top of the food chain – Capitalism.