Soynot Green?

Soynot Green?

As vegans, it’s easy to become frustrated or bored by hearing the same silly counter-arguments every day- “What about plants?”…“Meat developed our brains”…“heart disease is sexy.” So when someone told me I was doing environmental damage by eating soy products, I immediately perked up.

This argument I had not yet heard, but in the space of 24 hours two different people accused me of the same hypocrisy.

Soybean production has risen significantly in the last few years: production in Argentina rose 216 percent since 1995; China doubled its soy imports in 2003 after entering the World Trade Organization and relaxing trade restrictions; world demand is likely to increase 60 percent by 2025. This production destroys millions of hectares of rain forest, undermines local farmers, and displaces indigenous populations.

So, the argument goes, vegans eating soy products are advertising an eco-friendly diet with a food staple that is raping the natural world.

It is true that the increase in the production of soy crops–like an increase in the production of any crop–is decimating land, destroying habitats, making babies cry, etc. The wrinkle to this seemingly important criticism is in why production is increasing. Ninety-eight percent of soybeans produced in the US are not to accommodate the growing vegetarian population, but for animal feed, according to the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research group.

So yes, technically we are buying a crop that is linked to deforestation. But we are not supporting deforestation because the increased production is largely for animal products. Rest assured that it is not Boca burgers, but the beef industry, that is causing soy to harm the environment.

Does that mean we should eat soy products guilt free? Not necessarily. Determining whether soy is a health boon or a health bane is a debate that has been quietly fought for years, like Charlie Wilson’s war. Regardless of soy’s effects on its own, it’s similar to corn in ubiquity as an ingredient in cheap, highly processed, and probably unhealthy food.

Farming in general is often hazardous to the environment, and as such we should attempt to buy in-season & locally grown produce, and support sustainable farming practices over the unscrupulous destruction often carried out by big agribusiness. But this applies to all of our food choices.

Genetic modification, like Monsanto’s ‘Roundup Ready’ strain, was highlighted in the film Food Inc. for the Orwellian implications of patenting plants, which causes farmers to live in fear that they would be sued if the corporation’s new strain ended up, even accidentally, growing in their fields.

The operative question here though, is whether contributing to the sustainable exception, rather than the harmful rule, is ethical. By supporting the sliver of the soybean industry that is being used to power people, rather than feed farmed animals, we are encouraging responsible farming, rather than global overproduction.

4 Responses to Soynot Green?

  1. Well, I like soy products. I switched to powdered instant soymilk which is not delicious, but okay. I’m glad its not delicious because otherwise I would drink it like water. The sliced tofu cheese makes a good cheese toast for my breakfast. If some choose to destroy forests to plant more soybeans, that’s their bad..not mine. There is more than enough acreage enough for soybeans if the farmers would not feed all of the production to animals designated as future meat.
    Knives may be used to cut vegetables or kill people. In either event, the knife is not at fault ever. It seems that those who either cannot or will not connect the dots hunt for any excuse to fault veganism lest they be required to think things through.
    .-= Harry Hebert´s last blog ..Quotes – Page 146 =-.

  2. Well said, Drew. The two environmentalists accusing you of hypocrisy, what do they think the pigs are fed? air?

    No. Animals are fed soy (along with other environmentally devastating crops like corn, like u said). We grow 17 times more soy just to indulge in a carnivorous diet!

    It has to do with the 10% rule. The average adult human burns about 2,000 calories per day, just living his or her life. We use almost all the calories that we consume to move around, breathe, and do everyday tasks. The same is true of farmed animals. For every pound of food that they are fed, only 10% of the calories are returned in the form of edible flesh. This is why, it takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of edible animal flesh. It’s also why livestock is fed half the world’s grain. According to the USDA and the United Nations, using an acre of land to raise cattle for slaughter yields 20 pounds of usable protein. That same acre would yield 356 pounds of protein if soybeans were grown for human consumption only and directly-—more than 17 times as much.

    So the one sure fire way to combat soy-associated deforestation is to look at the data and stand up against the meat-industry.

    Interesting discussion in the UK Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/famine/story/0,12128,865087,00.htm

  3. Well, I live in Venezuela. Here the government doesn’t give import licenses nor $$ for imports which are not necessary.
    They grow quite an amount of soy here – with increasing tendency. They have a lot of land which was property of some ultrarich Venezuelans living in Caracas and Miami who never used it. The Ministery of Agriculture buys such lands forcibly and puts them to work with Cooperatives. It works well. No forrest suffers.

  4. I love soybeans we usually cook soybeans. My kids loves to drink soyamilk and they found it very dilicious. So stop from planting soybeans.
    .-= Vegan marketing´s last blog ..Vegan Mainstream Twitter Updates for 2009-11-05 =-.

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