Vegaculture is descriptive of the vegan journey. It is not a fundamentalist position, (not an ISM), rather a framework for a social setting where change and growth occur harmoniously, with compassion, health and awareness for the earth and all its creatures, with a common respect for each other in a global community. In this way, Vegaculture can be seen as one of the paths towards a more compassionate way of living, providing an easily identified and accessible lifestyle, for all those who choose to tread, irrespective of class, creed, colour, race and culture.
Numerous books and articles refer to the problems of diminishing species, eco-diversity and inadequate animal welfare in all regions of the globe. The predominance of farm animals being the largest contributor to inbalances in agriculture; sustainable land and water resource use. The science for a vegetarian diet from a health perspective is widely recognised as sound. Research and documentation of over consumption and inappropriate food choices, is forcing governments to seriously re-evaluate thier own nutritional advice to citizens, in favour of a move toward a vegetarian eating regime.
Vegaculture grows naturally out of Permaculture, whose principles and applications provide the setting for this particular path. The landscape of traditional culture, as expressed in an historical context of sustainable living, has been well documented in Permaculture literature. This continues in an invigorated format today, with numerous examples of appropriate design procedures being integrated with modern intent to assist in all manner of projects. Vegaculture also, is a work in progress.
Permaculture is at the forefront of identifying sustainable living solutions to the predicaments of peak oil and climate change, the dual challenges of our present generation. (See http://www.futurescenarios.org) The insight which comes from perusing the historical context has long indicated the follies of waste and greed which surround the decision making (or lack thereof), of unsustainable living practices.
Vegaculture expands the cultural base; exposing the taboo of silent neglect for voiceless creatures, and recognising the significance of animal welfare and rights. This unspoken taboo, necessary for continuance of animal consumption raises an ethical and moral challenge; previously claimed as a cultural and/or survival necessity, it is becoming more easily recognised as either plain ignorance, or a mental and spiritual disconnection. The action of taking animals for food, whilst claiming an elevated moral status for humans, illustrates a perverse form of specism and a lack of respect for the interconnectedness of all life. While animals were traditionally seen to be ours for the taking, a higher awareness has always been promulgated, and at last this voice is becoming relevant to a much wider spectrum of people.
The traditional respect for other creatures diminished in the flood of new forms of wealth that accompanied the emerging industrial revolution in the late 18th and 19th centuries, and has largely continued unabated until today. Where as small populations lived in harmony with care of resources, the growth of wealth and human population placed large burdens on the food supply chain, consequently, previously balanced eco-food systems became unhinged. The history of food supply and its move to globalisation is but one example of many social systems which have developed in parallel at unsustainable rates of growth.
The result of this chaotic and unmanaged growth is what we see today. Yes, we have in many ways an enormous infrastructure which operates with amazing efficiency, a result of competitive social market places, but we can also see now, as we uncover the legacy of this growth, that sustainable production was not given the impetus or regulation which it needed to survive in the market place.
This legacy is becoming widely exposed at a dramatic pace due to the new awareness and desirability of stabilising the earths’ resources to meet the needs of immanent population increases and social structure growth. In the most populous countries of China and India, the potential “middle class” numbers seeking new materialist wealth, is creating a massive input, which has to materialise from existing known resources. Combined with a refinement of the already materialist western lifestyle, what we are realizing is the complexity of resource management and its’ cause / effect nature for life on earth. Projections for a stable economic future, shows the means to wealth in the old paradigm, to be inadequate to source the means of wealth and supply in a sustainable new world. This notion precipitates the necessity of an introduction of modern living concepts.
Vegaculture is one way to assist, this alone an adequate reason for serious consideration of its’ aims and application in the context of a global dilemna. Permaculture provides a magnificent data-base of methods and intents, as a means towards sustainable living; the two central tenets being welfare of humans and the environment. Vegaculture however expands this scope, by further identifying our need to focus more directly on the welfare of all animals. Thus Vegaculture purports to promote the welfare of humans, other animals and the earth. The voice for those who cannot speak for themselves finally included at the helm of our social obligations and support for a sustainable community.
Vegaculture promotes a Vegan philosophy, which may be simply stated as ‘seeking to avoid the use of animal products in ones’ food and lifestyle’.
Right knowledge, right living
Vegaculture as a system of values, recognises the relationships between food, clothing and shelter, with the rights and welfare of people, animals and the environment. Promotion of respect for all life, and a belief in doing one’s best, are considered central tenets. The application of right knowledge, wisdom and compassion in decision-making is believed to lead to the adoption of an equitable and just community for all beings; broadening the potential for a sustainable environment.
Healthy Inputs-healthy outputs
Vegaculture in the garden incorporates a willingness to utilise techniques where the principal methods of production do not rely on the use of animal inputs. Transition from present methods towards complementary crop planting for insect control; green food and plant manuring for composting and mulch and retention of on site nutrient for soil improvement; water recycling, herb and plant based sprays are to be encouraged. Farmer lobbying is needed, however support for vegan-organic gardening is envisaged as a preferred consumer choice, especially as the broader approach to sustainable methods become more widely understood and publicly accepted.
Healthy farms-healthy food
Vegaculture on the farm recognises the need to change from animal to plant based food production. The movement away from the current paradigm of animal exploitation presents a great challenge within our community, obviously requiring the provision of viable alternatives for farmers. Presently, market forces rather than legislation are responsible for the rate of change. Permaculture models of various scales, similar to ‘Hobby farm settings’ can be expected to provide the most likely path for transition; the setting fostering a place where ‘companion farm animals’ will be able to exist in a mutual interest relationship with carers, as the movement away from animal production into plant based agriculture expands.
Right thoughts-right actions
Vegaculture utilises Vegan Awareness at every opportunity; this essential ingredient is developed through practice. The process of developing Vegan Awareness does not need to be a dramatic upheaval in ones’ normal activities, nor does it require the adoption of any other authority or dogma, and neither does one necessarily need to be a vegetarian or vegan to participate. Increasing our awareness to the plight of other animals, questioning old beliefs and habits, viewing our own and others actions from different perspectives, are straightforward, simple means for improving living conditions. By carefully considering the consequences of our actions, the rights and welfare of all living creatures may be more justly manifested.
Vegaculture is assisted by the pursuit of our own personal truth, to grow as people creating a community, which reflects the essential values we hold as citizens. All decision we make, where we select by choice, by acting in accordance with our own truth, both the quality and the effectiveness of our actions are increased, providing better outcomes for us all.
Freedom and Sharing
Vegaculture may be readily manifested in a sharing community environment, where one can:
value sensitivity and compassion,
actively practice and engage in co-operation and decision making,
support scrutiny and negotiation in dialogue,
recognise both current and traditional social and cultural influences,
introduce a broader awareness of the ramifications of individual choice and action,
celebrate harmony and diversity,
introduce life enhancing solutions,
seek justice in relationships.
Food comes from farms where the grower determines the farming methods practiced and thereby the quality of our food. Generally, organic (O) and biodynamic, (BD) farming utilise animal products in soil preparation and during the growing and subsequent phases prior to harvest. Organic and Biodynamic farming are said to concentrates on feeding the soil, whilst ‘Conventional’ farming practices are said to feed the crop and make use of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. In basic terms, the 4 principal elements of soil sustainability are: Soil’s physical protection against erosion: plant nutrient maintenance: organic matter build-up and control of accumulation of toxins. Some criticisms of farm practice suggest that “goodness” has become a less important ingredient as crops are “pumped with water” to increase size but not nutrient content, and varieties maybe selected for shelf appearance, often with a less pronounced taste. Although some restrictions on manure sources and handling are published by the organic organisations, manure used during soil preparation can carry over antibiotics and pathogens from animal stock, Spraying with a variety of products may take place during growing, flowering and fruiting with further applications prior to finishing and packing. This is a fact of life.
Compared with ‘conventional’, the OBD lobby would like us to believe that their methods of agriculture are more sustainable, hence better for the environment and people. Improvement of soil quality is fundamental, particularly so in the case of Australian soils. Any agriculture, (soil-culture) which is known to be unsustainable, should be continually modified. The nutrient value retention of all animal wastes, including human, and the environmental effects associated with their use is a major issue for the whole of society, not just vegans. Bio-diversity of seed stocks is also dwindling. One of the exciting challenges is the further development of organic and biodynamic farming practices so that a symbiotic relationship with all animals, including humans, in a mutually respectful manner can be advanced.
Ethical farming techniques need to be introduced on a broader scale. A couple of comments taken from ‘Acres’ Issue No 4 1991: “The integration of animals may assist, however, the animal factor is not a necessary element of sustainable agriculture, provided soil nutrient and organic matter are maintained by alternative means”. “There is sometimes a vague assumption that the very presence of animals ensures fertility maintenance- this is simply not true as animals do not add to the total nutrient pool, they simply redistribute those nutrients already present within the boundaries of the farm.”
Unfortunately farm animals have no way of washing or cleaning the chemical residues from their foods. “Concentrations become 10 to 20 times that found in the original plant food and stored in fat.” “A nursing human baby receives the highest pesticide dose of all when it nurses from milk produced by a mother who eats animal products.“ “No one really knows what the long term effects will be of eating these chemical residues at the lower doses experienced by vegetarians.” (Source- Health Science magazine, Jan/Feb 2000).
The EPA publishes a pesticide monitoring journal and numerous studies supporting the finding state: ‘Foods of animal origin are the major source of pesticide residues in the common western diet, 90-95% comes from meat, fish, dairy products and eggs. If you want a diet rich in pesticides, select these foods. Organically grown fresh fruits and vegetables which are lower in the food chain are relatively free. ” (Source-Lifestyle newsletter Australian Natural Hygiene Society-ANHS).
Major buyers such as supermarkets carry out chemical residue and base metal testing, taste testing of conventional produce; and have in place specialised quality assurance procedures to ensure freshness. Stocks may be held for weeks or more before being available to the consumer from the wholesaler, fruit and vegetable market or storeroom. The tendency to pick produce ‘green’ is always a consideration because of potential wastage when allowing for food transport and distribution. Full ground or tree ripening is thereby restricted, which also effects nutrient content. Cool and cold room storage are an integral extension of the farming practice.
Veganic Organic Gardening
Veganic-organic gardening is similar to organic gardening without the exploitation of animals. Animal manure, ‘by-products’ and synthetic additives are dispensed with, (and presumably a large portion of anti-biotic residues), whilst seaweed, vegetable and plant compost, rock dusts, crop rotation and green manuring are used. A commitment to ‘real’ sustainable practices, as opposed to the ‘imagined, quasi-sustainable’ organic practices which actually still exploit animals and hence the natural environment, is possible with veganic-organic gardening / farming. Worms and other naturally occurring soil enhancers are welcomed. Small amounts of vegan produce are deliberately farmed, people are experimenting with vegan composts and many individuals are gardening vegan-organically, however commercial quantities are generally not available or identified. Some conventional farmed produce may be vegan farmed but Not Necessarily.
A system of Conversion identification is needed for transition to “Veganic-organic” and this will eventually be introduced. Guidelines and a Logo are now in place in the UK thanks to the Vegan Organic Network. In October 2004 the “Stockfree Organic Standards” were introduced to commercial growers. Recently, the Welsh College of Horticulture has adopted the Standards and is now selling organic vegetables through a box scheme and instigating a training program. VON publishes Growing Green International, a magazine with cruelty free growing and ethical techniques.
Conventional and Organic Food
From a vegan perspective this issue is particularly delicate. The organic lobby, which offers an alternative to conventional farming practise, are generally unaware of the unsustainable practices, which they themselves engage in as a result of their attitude and/or ignorance surrounding the lack of recognition of the suppressed voice of non-human animals. Farm animals and their wastes are seen as a resource, this being very much a dominant cultural view. Organic use of animal products is in wide use. Hot composting of animal matter is required to retain certification, supposedly to render antibiotics and hormones harmless. The conventional farmer may well be producing ‘vegan food’ but often at a cost to our health, mother earth and eventually all life forms.
In an article in Acres No 4 1991 entitled “Are Australian agricultural systems sustainable?” Dr Roberts stated ‘Thus, apart from some serious differences of opinion on the adequacy of phosphate supply, the use of synthetic chemicals for pest and weed control remains the only major difference in approach between organic and conventional farmers. Every effort should be made to reduce the quantity of persistent synthetic pest and weed control chemicals being added to the soil/plant complex.’ Good advice, which many protection groups including Australian Consumers Association are still desirous to see instituted.
A strong united voice for Veganic-organic farming practise is what is needed. Write to your Poli now and tell them you want to know what you are eating, that it should be produced with ethical and sustainable practices and that a conversion process to Veganic-organic is what is actually necessary! The US FDA was forced to rethink their definition of ‘Organic,’ which is good news for most of us and a win for common sense. UK supermarket chain, CO-Op, banned over 20 pesticides used for food production worldwide (Natural Life Review Aug/Sep 2001) . The Co-Op, also Britain’s biggest farmer, made a plea to adopt a ‘cautionary principle’ putting public health as the overriding priority. Definitely an advantage in having an organic farming lobby, however Vegan Awareness needs to permeate the decision making process, as ultimately it must.
Vegan Gardening References
VEGANIC GARDENING, 1986, Kenneth Dalziel O’Brien, Thorsons Publishing Group, UK
THE NEW ORGANIC GARDENING, 1989, Eliot Coleman, Chelsea Green Publishing, USA
THE GOOD LIFE, 1989, Helen and Scott Nearing, Schochen Books, New York
COMPOST FOR GARDEN PLOT ON 1000 ACRE FARM, F H Billington (Out of print)
FOREST GARDENING, 1991, Robert A de J. Hart, Intermediate Technology Publishing Co
FOREST FARMING, 1993, Robert Hart, Green Books UK
VEGAN ORGANIC NETWORK, 58 High Lane, Chorlton, Manchester, M21 9DZ, UK
Discussions and musings
Vegaculture and Veganism
For some time now I have been thinking of the term Vegaculture as being more appropriate to describe my relationship to Vegan philosophy and principles.
I agree that the original definition relates to ”a way of eating, without the use of animal or animal products in ones diet.” This has often been re stated as ‘ a way of living without the use of animals or animal products in ones diet OR LIFESTYLE”. I don’t mean to redefine Vegan per se, the original definition still stands. However, in order to describe adequately the social context and views held by many vegans, in addition to the common dietary, I believe there are similarities which when seen in a social context, are also descriptive of aspects of the manner in which vegans approach various social justice issues. Perhaps even a sense of freedom and democracy in decision-making processes, and certainly a convergence of common understanding of the plight of animals due to their lack of identity and rights. It could be said that there is just as much diversity of opinion in the ‘vegan community’ as in any other group of people. So although a ‘vegan community’ does not physically exist in a single identifiable location, there are certain features which are generally exhibited, based on my observation at least, which require another means of description, other than “Followers of Veganism’. I therefore utilise the term Vegaculture.
I have never been comfortable with the ‘ISM’. To me this conjures a fixed dogma with religious connotations, possibly even a framework for service, ritual and subservience. That situation is a long way from the position I see Vegans adopting in the community, and I therefore believe the term Veganism to be misleading as a collective social term for a disparate number of peoples following a vegan way, or vegan lifestyle. It is misleading to vegans and misleading others who are forming opinions as to ‘Who are Vegans? Where are Vegans? and What are Vegans?
Vegaculture conversely recognises the sense of community and similarity between some-what like-minded individuals, but also signifies a framework of developed social patterns, beyond a strict set of rules or dogma. Thus I see Vegaculture in a social context, as representing the extension of basic eating or dietary guidelines, to becoming a recognisable social entity. AND THAT can be described as “Lifestyle”. Due to the diverse nature of backgrounds and interests, together with the small numbers of vegans in the general population there is no discernible community centre or location that is identifiable with vegans as a group.
Arguably, there is a common regard for anarchy in some form, certainly with respect to food issues and the current lack of recognition for the proper treatment and respect for other animals.
I would increase this aspect of like-mindedness, as a generalisation, to also include a majority of the following beliefs;
a. an irreverence for political systems
b. a common empathy with ethical personal practice and ‘living ones philosophy’ in social and cultural relationships
c. a respect for life and desire to do ones best in personal endeavours
d. an interest in science and the science of health in particular
e. an acceptance of Alternative or Complementary Healing techniques
f. a willingness to stand up for ones own belief systems and a readiness to assist others; with both the understanding of vegan philosophy; and the positive influence which this awareness provides
g. identifying and understanding significant features of the effects of ones own actions and the potential for change which exists, when an active rather than a passive social role is adopted
h. a relaxed attitude to many of life’s trials and tribulations, due to a deep-based knowledge gained during their personal search for truth and understanding which has been exercised in the decision to become ‘a vegan’.
i. a desire to work towards the retention and enhancement of the ‘natural environment’ with a place reserved for other species within that environment
j. to pursue a personal spiritual path with recognition of others to exercise their own individual preferences
k. to set an example to others by their own behaviour and to act non-violently
l. to raise the awareness of animal rights and justice in the general community
m. to bring their families up with a similar respect for all animal life as they themselves perceive and to educate and raise their children in a vegan way
n. with respect to farming practice, the adoption of vegan-organic, or just ’vegan’ gardening techniques, where the use of animal products is dispensed with.
o. a determination to continue to see the positive aspects of change brought about by a vigilance of the vegan aspirations and influence in the wider community
p. Highly Internet motivated, sharers of knowledge and opinions relating to vegan viewpoints
So for vegans, there is no church, there is no ritual, there is no meeting place, there is virtually no mutual support, (here in Australia at least), for businesses or individuals in any formalised sense.
Although there are examples of Vegan ‘groups’, the membership and functions tend to be low in comparison to the estimates of vegan numbers in the broader society. A result of anarchic action?
The UK Example
Having lived in the UK at various times since 1971, I have briefly observed the depth of support there for social issues such as animal rights; examined the extent of vegan specialist foods and animal free products in the daily market place; followed social issues such as fox hunting, Mac Libels and the recurring animal health problems with BSE and Foot and Mouth Disease; transport of live animals to Europe; standardisation of Treatment of Animal Laws and Regulations for Common Market needs.
The integration of a vegan way appears quite extensive within the UK. Estimations are very difficult. Based on British data, in 1993, there were thought to be between 125,000 and 160,000 vegans in Britain. By 1998, I heard this had been revised to between 250,000 to 450,000 people. Not particularly large as a group and compared to say 65 Million Britains, only say 350,000/65,000,000 as a fraction or say 1 in 200 people. Of course repercussions from the Foot and Mouth outbreak a few years ago would have boosted these figures.
In Australian terms, this would equate to 19,000,000/200 or 85,000 people. I would probably reduce this to a guesstimate of 10,000 to 30,000 people, with some confidence, based on my local knowledge and my experience of visiting and living in Britain; comparing the extent of facilities and activities, which take place. This is really a pretty wild guess, but lacking any more definitive evidence, is my best guesstimate. I would be pleased to see some more accurate figures.
The commonly held concept, that there is A Vegan Diet’ may well be a misconception. The strength of a ‘vegan dietary’ probably in part comes from the diversity and desire for vegans to eat what they want, ungoverned by traditional combinations. In fact the Natural Hygiene approach of recognising ‘individual needs’ is really brought to the fore when one goes through the process of individual selection. This necessarily takes place, as vegans reject a substantial part of the cultural dietary, and search for their own satisfaction. It could be argued this will lead to trouble. In fact the process is really an essential part of knowing ourselves and being consciously aware of our bodies choices. Thus a settled vegan dietary is strong because of the process, not in spite of it!!
Vegetarians in a like way, appear to be spread throughout the wider community, and are generally not recognisable in a group context. The exception to this being perhaps, the followers of the 7th Day Adventist Church, mainly in the West, and the adherents of traditional Hindu and Buddhist teachings, in Asia and elsewhere. The 7th Day Adventists do congregate and worship in Churches of their own denomination, and also provide schools and community support groups and social networks. This actually extends to mutual support in business; and with separate Church ownership of holiday camps, health retreats and Universities (in USA) in addition to other facilities.