Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Marta Zaraska’s naïvette

In today’s Time, Marta Zaraska argues that vegetarianism and veganism did not catch on until recently because of two factors:
  1. the failure of the first vegan community, ‘Fruitlands’, to survive a New England winter
  2. the status symbolism of meat, especially during periods of scarcity like the World Wars
In my view, Time is being completely naïve.

Even if exceedingly rare in the Enriched World, vegetarianism and veganism, whether
  1. de jure, whereby there were rigid taboos against consumption of meat or all animal foods, or
  2. de facto , whereby animal foods or meat were available in insignificant quantities
    1. the two forms of vegetarianism or veganism are totally distinct
    2. de jure vegetarianism or veganism does not imply its de facto equivalent; nor does de facto vegetarianism or veganism imply its de jure equivalent
    3. the hot and wet climates of the Tropical World allow for longer periods of plant food availbility, as do the very poor soils of the Unenriched World, which select for longer-lived plants
    4. paradoxically, the high soil fertility in Mesoamerica and Andean South America may have encouraged de facto veganism by making plant proteins more abundant and selecting against the hierarchical social structures essential for animal domestication
has been normal in the Tropical and Unenriched Worlds throughout most of human history. The low productivity of the oceans and low nitrogen, phosphorus and chalcophile element concentrations in the majority of Tropical World and all Unenriched World soils has severely limited the availability of animal protein compared to rich Enriched World oceans:
Soil fertility (measured as total exchangeable bases, which owing to their lithophile geochemistry overstates real fertility of all Australian and most African soils) and marine chlorophyll concentration (which likewise overstates genuine secondary productivity in low-productivity zones)
It is for this reason that taboos against animal foods – found to varying degrees in all “moralising” religions – are concentrated in the arid outer tropics and subtropics, as I noted earlier (reproduced from ‘A “negative-negative” relationship between religion and animal cooperation?’:
Societies with moralising high Gods in blue (top; from ‘The Ecology of Religious Beliefs’) versus percentage of avian cooperative breeders (middle; broadly defined from Dustin Rubinstein’s ‘Environmental Uncertainty and the Global Biogeography of Cooperative Breeding in Birds’) versus coefficient of variation of annual runoff (bottom; from Thomas Aquinas McMahon’s ‘Global Hydrology Part 3: Country and Climate Studies’)
In Enriched environments, vegetarianism, let alone veganism, is deeply counterintuitive. In preagricultural and coastal societies animal protein is always too abundant for ordinary people to even consider its potential sacrifice when vegetable protein takes much more labour to utilise. In most Enriched agricultural societies, considerable wild game remains on terrain too steep to farm, whilst in cooler-climate farming societies (except for Andean South America) there is invariably major reliance upon milk and milk derivatives. Where meat was scarce it was scarce only for the lower classes – sports like falconry are illustrative of what the ruling classes enjoyed in medieval Europe.

By contrast, even as foragers, Tropical and Unenriched World peoples were largely vegetarian before modern fertilisers increased nitrogen, phosphorus and chalcophile element availability. Amongst farmers, conservation required (near)-vegetarianism or veganism as disciplines to ensure societal growth and ecological protection – although whether any of these societies was absolutely vegan remains uncertain.

It’s paradoxical that the greater greenhouse efficiency of vegetarianism and veganism may have negligible environmental effects if it reduces animal food production merely over the Enriched World. In contrast to the Tropical and Unenriched Worlds, meat and fish production in Enriched lands is entirely “natural” and has never had the impacts on so many native mammals that the pastoral industry in Australia has had. Moreover, their risk-aversion, along with the status symbolism of meat in agricultural societies, has meant vegetarianism and veganism have not caught on in those regions where they are most intuitive and natural as they have in the Enriched World.

No comments: