Dear Catholic Vegetarians: Eating fake meat is not going to save the planet.

Dear Catholic Vegetarians: Eating fake meat is not going to save the planet.

My family has farms on five acres in Northwest Louisiana (at least we try), and we buy any meat that we don’t produce ourselves from small local producers within a 90 minute radius. John W. Miller’s critique of factory farming (see “Is it time for Catholics to stop eating meat?”) Resonated strongly with me because our family’s food choices reflect a moral framework rooted in the desire for justice. environmental and social. Vegetarianism (or veganism) is a way of expressing this desire for justice, and I respect the noble intentions of those who choose this option. But I have come to a different conclusion, especially when vegetarianism means embracing “fake meat.”

Simply put, the multi-billion dollar fake meat industry relies on an unfair commodity-driven grain market in which prices are determined by investor speculation, similar to what the market drives. of values. Additionally, the industry relies on a planet-destroying diesel fuel-based transportation system. Fake meat is not a true alternative to animals raised in confinement, but rather part of the very system it is intended to replace. The production of fake meat requires a specific range of crops and materials, including soybeans, pea protein, and beets. These crops, often referred to as “inputs,” are often grown in a monoculture system that, over time, depletes the soil’s nutrients. Ironically, many of these same crops are also used to feed animals raised in the confinement systems preferred by industrial agriculture.

Fake meat is not a true alternative to animals raised in confinement, but rather part of the very system it is intended to replace.

Vegetarianism, if it depends on supporting the fake meat industry, simply cannot present itself as a higher ethical or moral stance. We don’t need another excuse for maintaining the status quo: a food world ruled by large corporations that engage in the worst excesses of our current economic system, such as monopolies, price fixing, and the reduction of human beings to assets and debts in a ledger.

As Catholics who have been vindicated for the truth and dedicated to justice, we must insist on a better way, a way that respects the human person and focuses on justice. In this way it is already among us on farms around the world dedicated to regenerative agriculture.

Family farms offer not only physical food but also spiritual food.

Many of these farms are built around the family unit, which Pope Saint John XXIII upheld in the 1961 encyclical “Mater et Magistra” as “the ideal type of farm.” They are dedicated to raising animals in a way that respects their animality, using grass-based systems that allow each animal’s traits to flourish. Unlike factory farm animals, pigs raised from birth on these smaller farms spend their lives searching, exploring, and bathing in the mud. A pig is simply allowed to be a pig. And these small farms have as their greatest treasure the soil itself, because they recognize that the greatest legacy we can pass on to our children is the regeneration of the land through sustainable agricultural practices that unite the inputs of humans and animals.

These smaller regenerative farms are also deeply rooted in their local communities, something that cannot be said for industrial agriculture or factory-produced fake meat. Faced with the erosion of rural life through population decline, lack of economic opportunities, and even spiritual malaise (a decline that is intimately linked to the erosion of the soil itself), these small farms stand as a beacon of hope. They offer not only physical food, but also spiritual food in the form of a community that is focused on the higher purposes of sustainability, resilience, and integrity.

If these farms flourished and multiplied, they could not only defeat the current status quo of industrial agriculture, but could make the vision of John XXIII come true, who continued in “Mater et Magistra” to comment:

In working on the farm, the human personality finds every incentive for self-expression, self-development, and spiritual growth. It is a work, therefore, that must be thought of as a vocation, a mission given by God, a response to God’s call to carry out his providential and salvific plan in history. It must finally be thought of as a noble task, undertaken in order to elevate oneself and others to a higher degree of civilization.

Choosing vegetarianism or veganism certainly does not preclude this noble task and, in fact, one can make this decision in conjunction with the intention of supporting local producers. But if such a choice involves the adoption of the fake meat industry with the accompanying problems, one must wonder if it really is a choice rooted in the desire for all of God’s creation to prosper together in a community of righteousness. The regenerative agriculture movement, focused on local economies, certainly meets this standard.

[Related: Cities get our attention, but rural America has many of the same challenges]

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