Animals Farmers_market

Published on May 2nd, 2013 | by Justin Van Kleeck


Veganism And The Ethics Of Local Food


Image Credit: Tammy Farrugia (own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

As vegans living in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, which is in many ways centered around animal agriculture, my wife and I are constantly facing the realities of our modern food system from the point of production to the point of consumption — what many refer to as “farm to table.” Being a traditionally agricultural area, the Valley as a whole celebrates local food — whether it be produce, meat, dairy, eggs, or prepared foods.

We own a vegan baking business, Sunberry Baking Company, which is a part of the ever-growing local food movement — meaning that we produce food for a local customer base, and seek to contribute to the local community through education and other ways. But how does veganism tie into and reflect on the local food movement, for us and for everyone?

Our local connection centers on our commitment to raising awareness about veganism and providing educational opportunities for people to learn more about the joys and benefits of going vegan. As participants in the local food movement (in a variety of ways), we also want to shift the conversation to consider the ethics of local food, not just the distance that food has traveled. Many people have been primed to think in terms of food miles when thinking about the sustainability of products, and to believe that local animal products are necessarily more “humane.”

Unfortunately, neither of these really gets to the truth. While food miles are a factor in a product’s environmental impact, the production process is where the real carbon footprint happens — and animal products are the worst offenders. Imagine the impact you could make going vegan!

In addition, local animal products avoid only some of the travesties of decency and compassion that occur in industrialized animal (“factory”) farming. Whether you are looking at meat, dairy, or eggs, which are the primary animal products for locavores, there are numerous instances where animals are treated as products and commodities, not individual beings with personalities, natural desires, and rich experiences.

Ultimately, local bacon and local cheese are not the answer to the precarious situation we have created for our planet, and ourselves. Nor do these truly cultivate a culture of compassion, non-violence, and respect.

Veganism is about empowerment. It allows us to make choices based on more than ingrained tastes, cultural programming, intense corporate marketing, and incomplete answers to complicated problems. It allows us to recognize that our world’s holistic health is the starting point for our personal health, and nurturing the world means, as a first step, choosing not to use, abuse, or consume our fellow beings.

Local food seeks to give us a closer connection to our food, but veganism is about respecting the life of every living creature, locally and globally. Our goal should be to bring these two separate conversations together, so that vegans can eat much more locally, and the local foods movement can find real, good answers to the questions of sustainability and justice — by going vegan. Until then, there is little chance for real progress to be made towards sustainability.

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About the Author

I am an ethical vegan (since 1999), a writer, an educator, an activist, an organizer, and a vegan-of-all-trades. I have a PhD in English but then left academia to work on social change. I focus on veganism, animal rights, local foods, farming practices, environmentalism, and sustainability--starting from the position that humans are just one part of the biosphere, not the center of it.

  • Steven Davis

    this is my first visit to your website. i didnt notice this problem at first, but i notice ads for the Red Cross. I guess not many people know that they test on animals, and have been doing so for years…
    It would be nice to have this information on hand when you take the dollars from advertising, but i guess it wasnt. im still impressed with this site, though.
    thank you

    • Zachary Shahan

      hmm, wasn’t aware of that. in any case, the ads come through Google — we don’t have any ties to the Red Cross. i don’t recall ever seeing their ads on the site, and more likely than not, you saw them because you had recently visited their site or been identified as a potential donor for some other reason. thanks for sharing the information.

  • Steven Davis

    thank you for this

  • Jane

    Hey Justin, great article. I too get fed up with people saying they eat local when it is far more important to eat vegan to reduce your carbon footprint. Find out more at Cheers Jane

    • Justin

      Hi Jane. Thanks for the comment and the link to that great information. It is great how you bring all that together. I would only encourage you to start promoting veganism and vegan diets, rather than vegetarian, for a variety of reasons: not only does it offer the best reduction of food’s carbon footprint, but also a lot of people start eating a lot more dairy when they stop eating meat, which can mean continuing to have a very large carbon footprint from food. And of course it means not harming any animals (there is a good argument to be made that dairy actually creates more suffering than beef production).

      I know how much more appealing vegetarianism can be for people looking to change their diet…but I feel strongly that we who care about this should help people transition to veganism, with vegetarianism as a possible step through the door but not the place to stop. Every reason to go vegetarian is a better reason to go vegan, no matter which angle you look at it from–realizing that was what provided me with the motivation to go vegan. :)

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