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.