The following is a transcript from my interview with Nassim Nobari, director of Seed the Commons, a grassroots organization in San Francisco, CA, working to education the public on sustainable and just food systems that are independent of animal exploitation.
You can view the entire interview on my YouTube Channel: Good Food Unearthed.
A: Okay, this is Nassim Nobari, welcome to Good Food UnEarthed’s YouTube Channel.
N: Thank you.
A: And she is the director of Seed the Commons, it's a grassroots organization that works to create sustainable and just food systems that are independent of animal exploitation. You're based in San Francisco, founded in 2009, and you address the root causes of injustice, human rights abuses, and environmental degradation; and promote small-scale, decentralized, veganic alternatives to the global corporate food complex by educating the public on issues around the food system so as to empower activists to reclaim our food system. So it's really great to have you and thanks for coming on.
N: Thank you.
A: I wonder if we could start with the original name for your organization, and can you tell us what that is and the story behind that.
N: Yes, so the organization was Millahcayotl. The other founder of seed the Commons might say that I'm not pronouncing it correctly, but so essentially Millahcayotl is a Ngawac (sp?) word. Ngawac (sp?) is the language that spoken in central Mexico, the indigenous language of central
Mexico, so it was always spoken by the Aztecs, but it's still spoken today. So it puts together the plural of milpa and then yotl. And milpa is a traditional Mesoamerican agricultural system. So, sometimes people just use the term milpa today to really just mean like a field, like a field of corn. It doesn't have to necessarily mean any very specific way of doing things but traditionally a milpa is an agricultural system based on what's called the three sisters: corn, beans, and squash. And that's the way that agriculture was done for, you know, millennia in Mesoamerica. And then yotl is "the way," so basically the name is “the way of the milpa,” sort of like the Tao of the milpa or something like that.
And we chose that name because we wanted to start an organization that focused on changing our food systems at the base as the way to address broader issues, such as inequality and climate change and these things. And, as an alternative to industrial agriculture, we thought, well we need a food system, an agricultural system based on agricology, based on sustainable food practices.
And so there are many, many examples of that around the world--a milpa is not the only sort of traditional agricultural system where you have, you know, instead of having a field of corn fed with fertilizers, you have these plants that have a relationship to each other, right. So, like in the case of the corn and beans, the corn uses nitrogen and so what you would have in a cornfield in the U.S. is that you're going to be using fossil fuel-based fertilizers to get that nitrogen, but in the milpa system, the bean is going to fix the nitrogen in the soil, and then the corn uses that nitrogen, so it's sustainable over time; the squash leaves are going to protect the humidity of the soil and so on and so forth.
So there are many examples of that sort of agriculture around the world but we really liked the example of the milpa because that is a system that originally is a plant based system. It's not to say that people in Mexico never ate animal protein, but the agricultural system wasn't based on animal husbandry, as opposed to examples in Europe where maybe you would have draft animals or you would be using manure. And so we like the way of the milpa because it
expressed that vision of transitioning to an agroecological food system, but also one that doesn't require animals. So we remember that those things are not a requirement, right?
A: And that's a pretty exciting thing, because I think a lot of people associate growing your own vegetables and having your own food [as having] to include animals, but your organization talks about veganic farming. And could you go into a little bit more about what that is?
N: Yeah, and first I want to agree with you that a lot of people just automatically associate that [animals go with agroecology]. And I've spoken a lot about why that association exists, and I think that in large part it's due to your centrism (sp?): that we don't see the examples of the milpa, but we see the examples of like the cow who produces cheese and then use the manure. And so when I point out that you're centrism of this model, the the point is never to say, “If it's European, it's bad, if it's indigenous, it's good.” That's not the point. The point is to just understand why we have a certain bias, where we associate these things automatically with animal husbandry; and to show that that's not all that exists.
So "veganic," basically it's a word that just puts together “vegan” and “organic.” So [when] we use the term "veganic," we're really using it in a pretty broad way. If we're describing you know, or saying there's a hundred veganic farms in such-and-such a place, we're using it in a broad way, in the sense that these farms could be large organic farms that are buying their fertilizers and so on; or it could be really smaller scale, closed-loop systems, more like a vegan agroecological system.
So veganic farming, when Seed the Commons talks about it, it would be farming that both does not use any animal-based fertilizers-- wild animals are going to fertilize the soil... but you wouldn't buy things like manure or blood meal or bone meal or feathers or fish emulsion. So these are things that are commonly used in organic agriculture. So most organic farmers are not just...it's not just that they have a few cows and then they're using the manure back-house to fertilize their fields; that's usually the idea, but it's not the reality. Most people are buying these fertilizers from slaughterhouses, factory farms, and so you know that's a problem in many ways, but one of the ways is that we're putting money back into larger scale animal agriculture.
So veganic farming is also a type of farming, for us, that would not have farm animals being exploited on the farm. So what I mean is that if you are a farmer and you have some wheat fields and you're not using any animal fertilizers on your wheat fields, but then you also happen to have chickens that you raise and you kill--and some people do that, that does exist--for the farmers, for whatever reason, might decide that they don't want to use animal fertilizers, but they're also raising and killing or exploiting other animals...we do not consider that a veganic farm, because we consider that the "vegan", the sort of ethical aspect of it, is part of the definition. And I specify that because there's no official "veganic" label yet in the US, really, so some people would say that that wheat is "veganic."
So, you would have to ask people what exactly they mean. Some people would say that the wheat is "veganic," and technically it is. I mean it's good that, you know, there's this wheat being grown where we show that we don't need animal fertilizers, but I'm just specifying how we're sort of defining the term. So a veganic farm...people often ask, “Well, what did they use as fertilizer?” I mean, again, it's broad--like a veganic farmer could be someone with 200 acres or someone with one acre, and have very different approaches. If a big veganic farmer is buying fertilizers, what they're often buying is something based on seaweed or grain; I've heard of that fermented grain; a lot of people are making compost; I've heard of mustard meal.
But, typically in our work, when we've sort of brought on farmers to give presentations or when we've interviewed farmers, we're really interested in showing more of a closed-loop system where people aren't necessarily bringing fertility from elsewhere. They might do it a little bit, but where they're, you know, having the same approach as this idea where you're going to have a closed-loop and you're gonna have your chickens and your cows and that's going [to]...You know, we can do the same in a plant-based system. And so those farmers are really going to be focused on building the fertility of the soil as opposed to just fertilizing the plants, right.
And so, things are just going to depend from one person to the other. There's not one thing that a veganic farm would look like. Another difference that I think is not thought about very much with veganic farming--I'll just mention it briefly--is that because a lot of farmers didn't come from it from an ethical vegan perspective--not everyone did, but a lot did--one thing that you know differentiates them, maybe, or, that they try to work on, is the question of pests, so to speak. How do you deal with that? So you know that might be an issue that a farmer is thinking about, like, “How can we not set gopher traps?” or that sort of thing.
A: Yeah, yeah it sounds like, and when I go back to the original name of your organization, that plants in nature, they have an amazing way of working together to create a healthy soil. And I find personally, like we've got our backyard garden here and we don't use any animal products and it grows--where our soil is so alive, so full of earthworms--it [is] amazing. It didn't take very long for the soil to get this huge abundance of earthworms. And we just used things like seaweed and composted food--which is all fruit and vegetable scraps--but yeah, it's... what I find amazing is how little it takes, and how [if] you just leave things to nature, you get these plants and fungal systems that work together to regenerate the soil, basically. Can you address the concept of grazing animals and if having grass fed and free-range animals is essential to rewilding?
N: Yeah. That's a very popular idea these days. I don't know if people are always so much interested in the rewilding aspect so much as just having a profitable farm that also is said to have benefits to the environment. So there's been, I think, in the food movement, there's been a bit of a transition in these past years, where it used to be that, as you said at the beginning, there was this idea that if you want to have your local sustainable system, of course it's going to have animals. That was sort of the idea. And I think maybe often an unconscious idea, where that was just the image that we had of what a traditional farm would look like--it would have a few cows and goats. And these past years, regenerative grazing has become more and more popular and that's really taken over. For example, at environmental conferences, or a lot of people who are starting farms, who are in their 20s, they really believe that this is something that they need to incorporate on their farm, and that this is going to be the solution to climate change. So that's why I say I'm not sure that most people are taking this as a way to rewild so much as to create sustainable and profitable farms.
It's a bit difficult to address it because there are a lot of different arguments that one can disagree with; and then, even if one agreed with them, one could say, “Well, why does it have to be with animals?” So, what's a bit interesting is that the milpa system, as I said it's with squash and corn and beans, and when agroecology started being more talked about in the academic world, more known, studies started being made, some of the first studies were on the milpa system--which often the milpa system these days has...people do incorporate cows, but that's not sort of the basis of it.
So we have a movement that's very much for this idea of like “traditional agriculture” which is based on...like a lot of the ideas these days are embracing, are actually really based on the idea that growing annuals is inherently harmful. And that's the part that I think a lot of people sort of ignore. Because it's very comforting to think, "Well I need to graze animals and therefore I'm justified at eating my hamburger." But at the same time, with the hamburger they're eating bread and not really listening to what this ideology is. And if we agree with it, and we should actually agree with it and not be growing annuals either, a lot of the idea behind the regenerative grazing trend is that an annual agriculture has been the basis of civilization, and has been the basis of all the destruction that civilization has wrought, with social inequality, overuseof resources, and so on and so forth.
To get more specific to the environmental argument, the idea is that animals will show a certain ecological function, and we can't have healthy ecosystems, and, by extension, healthy agricultural systems, if we're not including animal systems. And so veganic is taken as being either impossible or just misguided, and eventually not something that would be good for the soil. And, specifically, the focus these days is on soil because soil is the carbon sink, potentially. And so by building soil you can help bring carbon into the soil and store it there and get it out of the atmosphere.
In the Bay Area where I live, that's a very popular idea. But when you start looking at the reality you see that there's sort f an image that isn't showing the whole picture. So, for example, north of here, Marin County is an agricultural area where there's a lot of organic dairy, and a lot of the marketing is around this idea of like, "Oh, grazing is really good for climate now, and as long as you're having local milk and organic milk, done the right way, then you're actually helping the environment.” But, where we live there are native large herbivores that are being killed, they're left to die off, because they're entering in competition with the cows over who's eating the grass.
So that's why I say there's different sort of arguments in different places where one might agree and disagree. There's this idea that we need these large grazing animals to build the soil--that's one area where we could agree or disagree. But the next one is, even if that's true, why are we killing the Bison, why are we killing the Tule Elk to make way for these animals? And then we see that it's really more of like a sort of propaganda that's kind of taken hold and people aren't really looking into the details of it and how it might apply.
So like this is an idea that started because of studies in certain very specific grassland areas in California. We didn't really have the herds of bison, for example, but the argument that these people are making is absolutely valid--like, we do need animals in our ecosystems, they do fulfill a certain function, they do help build the soil--but in California we have the Tule Elk, but we also have plenty of smaller herbivores. It's not...there's this image of the herds of bison and we need to replace them with the cows, but that's not applicable everywhere in California. We have gophers, we have ground squirrels or we have a lot of animals that do fulfill these functions. And so, it doesn't follow that because we need animals in our ecosystems that these animals are necessarily large herbivores, that large herbivores have necessarily disappeared.Often they are being killed, today in 2019, to make way for cows. [The idea is] that cows are the best alternative and so on and so forth.
Now the reason I was differentiating between a milpa system and the idea of regenerative grazing is that if someone is convinced by this idea--which most people aren't, a lot of people speak about this but don't really go into...they're not actually adopting the idea fully--but if one really thinks, "Okay, we shouldn't have annuals, and we should really build systems around perennials and have animals graze and have cows there, who would be grazed in a manner that really, as closely as possible, reflects what would happen in nature,”...that could be a version of veganic. Many people aren't really interested in that anyway--they do want to eat bread and these sorts of things. And I'm not saying whether it's correct or not, I'm just saying that there are people who, in a veganic way, are trying to follow that model, as well, and do want to limit the annuals they're growing, and focus on perennials; and [focusing on] how do you build a system around wild animals.
And then some people are thinking about, well if they have a farm sanctuary, they should learn from what the regenerative grazing people are saying, to have a farm sanctuary that is as sustainable as possible, where those animals are integrated in a system like that. And I think that raises a good question, because if the things that are said are true, it doesn't follow that animals should be exploited and killed. Often case, they're not.
In the north, in Marin County, if we do need animals raising to build the soil, what we should do is stop killing the Tule Elk to make way for cows. However, if all of a sudden all the native herbivores tomorrow died off, and they had actually disappeared, which they haven't, we could be raising cows without killing them.
So there's a lot to unpack with this idea of grazing, and often it's not really about rewilding. In Point Reyes, rewilding basically would mean--this is what local environmentalists organizations are fighting for-- rewilding would mean that you get the dairy farms out and you let the native animals live there. That's what rewilding would look like.
The dairy farms are fighting against that, and they are using the regenerative grazing discourse to say, “We're helping fight climate change.” But without getting into necessarily whether one needs an annual-based system, whether we want milpa-based system, or whether [we want] a more perennial system--a transition to veganic farming, regardless, would allow [us] to free up a lot of land that could be used to rewild.
So one question is, you know, “What are, when we're talking about like three acres, what are we doing on those three acres?” But then the other question is, “How can we just actually free up land and use less land to grow our own food?” And so by doing away with grazing animal agriculture and so on, we could just diminish the amount of space we're taking and actually rewild other spaces. And if there were, you know, in Yellowstone Park, let's say, there weren't bison--there are bison, but let's say hypothetically there weren't--why not introduce bison there and just let them graze without making it into a profitable enterprise?
A: Yeah, that's great. And I think it's interesting to know, I don't know if the numbers have changed recently, but it looks like now sixty percent of the mammals on the planet are livestock, they're bred for livestock to be killed, and thirty-six percent are human, and only four percent are wild. And right now we're in the sixth mass extinction in human history since the dinosaurs because we're killing off, like you were saying, people are killing off all of these wild species--either through habitat destruction to have grazing animals or to put the farms or to grow the feed for livestock. And it's just on a massive scale that we aren't really quite aware of.
N: Yeah, I mean, so I think what's a bit...what gets a bit difficult, where different parties are not necessarily able to see eye-to-eye in these conversations is that it's become more and more clear that animal agriculture has a host of negative impacts. It plays a strong role in climate change, you know, wildlife loss, biodiversity loss, etc, but the idea is really that you know, "Ok, like factory farming is really bad, industrial animal agriculture is really bad, but the alternative is okay."
And now the idea has become like...Some years ago [...and all] that, the idea was, well, the alternative is okay. You [cannot] buy your hamburger from a factory farm but when [it comes from an] agroecological farm, that's fine. And now, that discourse has changed again, and it's not so much that it's fine, it's actually that it's necessary, like you need to eat that hamburger and you need to graze cows to save the world, and if not, it's gonna be catastrophic.
And so, the problem is that often that data..it's sort of putting together the effects of factory farming with small-scale farming, and so we're not really able to argue because people can just say, “Well you're correct, but we're not talking about factory farming, we're talking about this other type of farming.” And I do agree that, of course, there are substantial differences; it's not the same thing. But when we're talking about wildlife loss, it's important to remember that in America these farm animals are not native animals. And so, they've come fairly recently and from the beginning they've been, both consciously through policies and so on, prioritized over wildlife. And also have had an ecological effect that wasn't really intended by anyone, but just was the result of bringing in exotic invasive species.
So people who are pro-grazing will say in response to the figures that you're talking about, they'll say, “Well you're right, but people need to understand we're farming in a way that's part of nature,that's building up biodiversity, that's building up ecology,” and comparing what they're doing to a soy monoculture. But I don't think that the comparison should be with a soy monoculture. I think it should be we should compare apples and apples, basically. Like if we're comparing, if we're talking about an industrial system let's compare plants and animal[s] in an industrial system; and if we're talking about an agroecological system, plants and animals [in an agroecological system].
And so, yes, a soy monoculture is also a problem, but this idea [that] grazing is supposedly "traditional" has been causing issues, and one of them is just that both ranchers and wildlife service's kill a lot of predators. So that's one way they're lost, but it's also through more indirect ways: competition over water, habitat, etc. And so, yes, it is different from factory farming, but this problem has actually existed before factory farming existed, before we had companies like Monsanto. It's just in the nature of bringing the animals here and making farming such a big part of the colonial project, basically.
A: I would like to talk now, like you mentioned social inequality and the bigger issues that are related to how we interact and how we develop our food systems, and I wonder if you could talk a bit more about that, like how our food systems are set up, how do they touch on bigger issues? I mean, we could talk about world poverty or world hunger or other issues like that.
N: Well, I think...so food issues, I think, are very popular these days and with good reason. You know, a lot of whether environmental organizations or whether people are local food activists, whatever--a lot of people have converged onto that, often from other areas of activism. So, maybe, social justice organizations have come to focus more on food and so on. And so, in some ways I think it's kind of obvious that this is very central, whether we're thinking about Public Health--like in the US, we have so many problems that I think could very easily be addressed through accessible food: obesity diabetes etc; these are things that really have to do directly with what people are eating. And I think, you know, for me personally, as my background is in psychology, what I started being very interested in it at some point was the relationship between nutrition and mental health.
So, you really see [how] eating, how they're growing all these things, are very central to a myriad of issues. But fundamentally I think it goes beyond just thinking about food. I mean when we speak about food systems and reclaiming our food systems, one of the important ideas in there is reclaiming the basis, really, of autonomy,and so that's land and seeds and water.
And so, speaking about food systems is really an indirect way of speaking about just reclaiming those basics. There is a focus locally on issues like food injustice and so on, but that is linked to broader global issues. And so a lot of...for example, these past few months we've been hearing about the migrant caravan, that's one thing that's been on the news. That's one thing that, for us, ultimately, the response is, "Reclaim our food systems," because we're not really talking about food in a limited manner; we're really talking about reclaiming the basis of wealth and so on. And [people in Mexico and Central America have been, really, disenfranchised through neoliberal policies. That's what has led them to lose their land, they're not being able to make a living off of their land, and being pushed into migration. And this is why I think it's the focus that the food movement has on finding an alternative to industrial farming, where they're promoting grazing, this is fundamentally a good thing. That's really great that people do have this focus and do want to find an alternative to industrial farming, because the transition to industrial agriculture has been at the root of so many issues.
And so, in the same way that 200 years ago, you would read [about how] these people went and stole the land of those people, etc., and that was the beginning of them being colonized. These days, the mechanisms through which that's happening, through which people lose their land, through which they lose the means of being wealthy and autonomous, these things, is through, largely, corporate takeover of our food systems. And it is through the push to industrialize agriculture, so people are losing their seeds, for example, and that locks them into debt cycles and so on.
And these economic issues are intrinsically linked to environmental issues, because you're locked into debt because you have to buy fertilizer from a seed company, but that's also ruining your land. So we can't really separate these kinds of issues, they're all one.
A: Yeah. I'm wondering if we could go a bit more into this, and maybe we could talk specifically about your work with food sovereignty and Mexico, because it is a fascinating subject to see how our food choices have entered into this world of global corporate food complexes that push people off of their lands and then take away their autonomy, basically, and how they can support themselves and feed their families. They're pushed--like at this point now, I believe, I was [reading] from A Well-Fed World, we're having populations of people that are being pushed to zones in the world that are affected drastically by climate change. They're moved off of their arable land and pushed into these more vulnerable areas; and then that's going to lead to more people migrating and trying to escape those lives. But if you could tell us a bit more about your work in Mexico, and what kind of issues you touched on and how you went about trying to work on getting food sovereignty back.
N: Well I haven't really done that personally. I've been to Mexico more as a researcher when I was a student, and then later independently as a researcher on the globalization of dairy consumption. And so that's not--it is related to that, but it wasn't directly working on food sovereignty. I was researching, basically, the increase of dairy consumption through food distribution programs, like the school milk programs, but also an equivalent of WIC, like a program for low-income families and mothers. That's been an interest of mine in the same way that before, [as] I was saying, corporate takeover of food is how colonization happens and how people are impoverished and how they're pushed into other industries. Sometimes that happens through less obvious channels.
So, the nonprofit world, the world of philanthropy, these governmental systems such as [the] school milk program, [the] school lunches, social aid--all of these things often contribute to this, to creating a system where people on the one hand no longer have either the land or the seeds or [are] be able to grow healthy food; or they no longer have the money to access [healthy foods, land, seeds], etc. And so this is the counterpoint where they're then given certain things that benefit the donors, that benefit dairy companies or packaging companies.So it's very linked to--basically what I was looking at was the opposite of food sovereignty in Mexico.
But as a volunteer I've done a lot of [...]for Via Campesina, which is the movement that started the concept of food sovereignty.They're a global movement that has members in many countries, and so I've gone to Mexico and elsewhere with them. And this is a movement led by farmers, landless farmers, indigenous people with this idea [that] food sovereignty is something that farmers and communities are entitled to in terms of their own health, wealth, well-being etc. But also it's something that's presented as a response to larger problems, such climate change and all that.
And so personally, I'm not a farmer, I'm not interested in living in a rural area, I'm not interested in gardening. So for me, my affinity with that project was not from, you know, oh, I necessarily want to work with farmers or, you know, it wasn't that...It was more because I saw it as something that, yes, it was the response that we need, I think, to the fact that these corporations are taking over, polluting the land, forcing people to migrate, forcing people to then work for other polluting industries. Like this is the basis of so many things, you know, the fact that we're paying taxe sto a government that's based on, you know, imperial wars, and all these things.
So food sovereignty would be the way to build up the autonomy and build up an alternative economic system that would benefit everybody, not just farmers, not just people in a community that are [talking about] sovereignty, but everybody else as well.
So, you know, some of the work that these people do is they'll work, for example, on trade because trade, free trade, is a big problem, and a big sort of--in the case of Mexico, free trade has really been what has [been] harmful to their food sovereignty. So after 1994, when NAFTA came into place between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, Mexican markets were flooded with American corn, for example. And so, that removed the capability of local farmers to be able to sell their corn. If you go to Mexico now, on every street corner there's an Oxo, which is sort of like a 7-eleven, and it's just full of sodas and chips and all that. And so, you get a lot of those foods, but less and less of local healthy foods. People will lose their land.
And, I was in Mexico researching milk, [and] there's a convergence of issues that [also] make certain foods not really available anymore. It's not so much like here; it's not so much like in the U.S. where organic fruit is just out of price, necessarily. It's more that a lot of people aren't in the countryside anymore; they have to go to the city, and so they can't be growing those things that you usually wouldn't find in a store anyway, you would just find them where you live. But they're not there anymore.
So there are all these problems that [affect] these other issues such as migration and being exploited in other industries as laborers, but also the very immediate issue of what you're eating in the day to day.
A: And I don't know if you have any work with this, but I'll ask anyway, because we talked about exploited labor. Have you done any work with people who end up working in the livestock industry? Are you familiar with some information from that?
N: Not so much. I mean, I've, you know, when I was volunteering with Via Campesina, of course, I met many ranchers or many people who were represented, like herders, for example, from other countries. But I haven't worked necessarily with people in a more...in another fashion, like through Seed the Commons.
Something that I will mention: think it's good for people to speak about Mexico because...and this was one of my ideas with choosing Mexico to study milk...is that there has been already a lot written and said over the effects of NAFTA and Mexico, and I think that's a positive thing for activists, because what happened there, and what continues to happen there, is the way that the rest of the world is going. And so, it allows us to have a good model to understand what free trade and these things are doing elsewhere, as well.
So in the case of Mexico, one result of this influx of American corn and transgenic corn has been that people have lost the ability to be farmers. But the people who can farm there have also been pushed into not having the milpa system anymore. You can't have a little plot where you have your corn and your beans and your squash and all those things, when you have to be selling not to a local store but to a large conglomerate, right. And so people who are into farming are pushed then into a different type of farming: industrial farming, monocultures.
And so a lot of the migration that has happened from Mexico, both to Mexican cities as well as to places like California, has been of people who were farmers and who just couldn't make a living. So, yes, they've become exploited labor elsewhere; but often, they're becoming exploited labor still in the food system. And so in the US, and I wish I remembered the figure,but in the US, there's a percentage of people who work in the food system; it's exceedingly high.Like when I heard that figure I was shocked. But our food system is just a huge part of our economic system, not only because it's the basis, but just in and of itself it's a huge part of our economic system; when you count in truck drivers and all that...it's just a huge part of what labor consists of.
So in the case of Mexico, when people come [to the U.S. they’re not] going off into a million random industries. They stay in the food system, and often they're becoming farmers,
restaurant workers, and often slaughterhouse workers. I think that slaughterhouse workers tend to be very invisible in a lot of this discourse, but this is something that is profoundly traumatic for most people--I mean, for everyone, I would assume, to be a slaughterhouse worker. And so most people obviously don't want to do that job, and so that becomes the job of immigrants who don't have another option. And if they are working as farm workers, then they're often part of this agriculture that is destructive to the environment; or they're working in restaurants.
And so it's interesting, sad to see, that these are the people who, one generation ago or even five years ago, were farming sustainably [in Mexico], and they're forced to be part of a food system that's entirely different, and often become party to this trauma that the animal shares if they're also working in slaughterhouses.
A: Yeah. It was amazing...there are all of these connections that we don't really see, and we don't really put together on a day to day basis [when it comes to] where the food's coming from. It's not just off of the farm, there's the people that are involved in it as well. So what could you recommend to someone here--and I know I talked to you a little bit about our place in Newfoundland and Labrador--who wants to be food secure and sustainable, and was like looking in that direction? Are there resources they can turn to, or might [there] be something to look into?
N: Do you mean somebody who would want to grow their own food or...?
A: Yes, somebody who’s interested in maybe growing their own food, just having a
sense of food security for themselves...We've got a very cold climate, but we do have better technology now, and things that we can grow here, like root vegetables and cruciferous vegetables, that can grow like any time of year; if we even put potatoes in a sack of dirt they'll grow. So, if they're looking to do some research maybe, and how they can do that, or if you have any resources to recommend [...]?
N: Yeah. Do you mind if I just go back on the point of food security versus food sovereignty? Because you were saying food secure and I just wanted to note like the difference in
in terms. So, I think it's perfectly good to speak about food security at a local level, like you're saying, I just wanted to note that the concept of food sovereignty was created in reaction to the concept of food security. So, at an international level they used to be, and it still is,
that the UN and people spoke about food security, and the goal was that in areas where there was hunger and food insecurity, that was the goal: that people should have food security. And then, what farmers and activists started saying is that food security is not really, it's not enough, it's not what we should be looking to as a goal.
Because food security can mean that, you know, if you're in Haiti, that you're just getting bags of rice from the U.S., right? That is not necessarily something that's culturally appropriate, it's not
necessarily something that's going to help build up local economies, that's going to maintain communities, etc. And so food sovereignty was created in reaction to that, because food security was sort of too limited and it left too much possibility of just, you know, as long as we have the calories were fine. When in fact your food system is so much more than having
sufficient calories--it's about maintaining certain cultural ties, it's about maintaining a community where it is, and having a certain relationship with the local ecology and building up that ecology, and having food that the community wants to have, and not being dumped [tings like] milk and
rice and these things.
But to answer your question, I think that obviously situations are going to be very different from one another. If it's a place where people already have some land, where they can just decide that they want to now start growing their food and be food secure, like you said, there are some resources in regards to the veganics. We started a website called, the URL is
www.veganic.world, and so it's a resource center that's still in the process where we're adding more information there. The choice for [...] on veganics, and the goal of it was to put out veganic farming as something that exists, because [most people believe that] either we have conventional farming or we have animal-based farming. And we wanted to show that wasn't true, and we could have small-scale farming that doesn't exploit animals. But also the goal of the resource, of the website, is to provide resources to people who are already farmers or who might want to become farmers, because what we've seen is that one of the area's that's
really sorely lacking is in education.
So people who start training now to become a farmer, they're not given any information on veganics, they're only taught to use animal by-products and there wasn't so much information among, or exchange amongst farmers either. So that was an important resource so that people can go and connect with others. So we're building that up, but there are a lot of links to YouTube videos, for example, where people talk about how they're growing food. And we're building up a repertoire of interviews with veganic farmers to see what the successes are, sort of counter certain myths, but also what the challenges are, because it's not like there aren't any
challenges, of course there are challenges. But the only way that we can start moving towards a veganic food system is if people have the resources and the connections to address those challenges. So you know certain things that farmers are now thinking about, they need to connect with other farmers to ask, “How did you address this?”, they need to have the resources, to go to conferences, etc.
So basically on that website we have a list of farms, we also have a map with veganic farms in the United States. The map is different from the list because the map was a project by Dr. Mona Seymour, and in her research, she is classifying veganic just as the absence of animal by-products, so there are farms on there that do have farm animals, so that's a bit different from our definition. [There are] resources about just growing your own food. Of course it's going to be different depending on your climate and so on, so I think what would be important to find farmers that are as local to you as possible and connect [with] those people, organize field trips to their farm, if they agree, and really ask them questions and see what they're doing. There needs to be this sort of...you know, there's not a one size fit all, right? So, creating those connections and then reading through interviews with other farmers who perhaps live in different climates that have some relevant lessons [will help].
I think, generally, there is this idea that you could do vegan food if you live in Hawaii, perhaps, or Costa Rica, but certainly not north of there, you know. But again, like in where I live, people are very attached to the local dairies and so on, but these have been here for, at most, 200 years, in many cases much less, and they're not necessarily a part of what's best for here. And it is possible to grow a lot of foods, like lentils and so on can actually pretty easily be grown in different climates.
But then if you don't have land, then we're approaching it from a different perspective. And so there, I think that the focus has to be on how do you help people get land, like how can farmers actually pay for land. And so, you know, it's never, I don't think it's necessarily enough, at a broader level, to just focus on what we're growing; there are these other issues that have to be addressed as well, depending on where you are: how can farmers actually have land, how can we, perhaps, create some subsidies that would allow people to create a local food system that would benefit both consumers and producers.
A: And I wonder if we could talk a little bit about about buying local, and in the bigger in the big scheme of things, is buying local the way to go, or should we think about other things as well?
N: Do you mean more in terms of like an environmental...?
A: Yeah, I think a lot of people's concern with that is in terms of the environment and the impact on the environment. So, the idea is, I'm gonna buy local and I'm gonna really reduce my impact on the environment by buying local versus, say, going plant-based--it's maybe viewed as
not being better than buying local.
N: So, I think that… I'm not saying like 20 years ago everybody was vegan. Of course not. But I remember that there was a visible discourse around the environmental impacts of meat production. And people were talking about, you know, in the late 90s or whatever, people were talking about the fact that producing hamburgers was a cause of razing the Amazon forests and
so on. And so, what happened after that was that there was this transition towards, “Well it's not so much,” … You know, there's even a poster [from] someone who's making a movie in response to Cowspiracy: it's not the meat, it's the "how" or something, you know. And so the response to that was like, “Well, it's not all animal agriculture, it's just some animal agriculture, and really it's about local and these other things.”
And so, the transition went from, “Well, I shouldn't be having tofu, I should be having local dairy,” for example. There are studies that showed that if you compare a locavore diet to a vegan diet that's not local, that [a] vegan [diet] is still better for the environment; that buying your, you know, if you're gonna buy local meat, you're still harming the environment more than if you were gonna buy lettuce flown in from a different country. So there is that data that shows that the miles that food has traveled is not as big of a deal as people think, and that they need to be taking into account other variables. And animal products are just a really big cost to the environment.
With that said, I don't think that vegans should sort of just dismiss the idea of local. I do think it's an important thing to be focusing on, but perhaps not dogmatically; and asking ourselves what's the point of local, because I'm not even sure exactly, to be honest, what local means in terms of my life. Is local...does that mean that it's something from the Bay Area? Does that mean that it's in California for me? Is that all of the United States? I think that sometimes that's taken on as a bit of a dogmatic thing, where perhaps it's not necessarily the idea, originally, of local.
So for me the idea of local is important because it's not just about the number of miles, and it's certainly not about this kind of this aesthetic idea of like, “Oh I'm just you know…” Sometimes it's more of this folcloric idea of like, “Oh, it's local,” but without thinking about what that means. Because if you're buying from... [if] I drive another five hours, another farmer is just as worthy of having his stuff bought as from local farmers. So I do think that local is important because ultimately the miles do count, but also because local, as in buying from actual local producers and not just Costco, that's marketing something as "local", means that I'm participating less in the corporate food system, and I think that's a really important part of it. It's not just this direct cost of how many miles did that travel, versus was it meat or versus was it plants, but what food system are you participating in.
And I do think it's important to build up local food systems, where food is not produced in large monocultures and then sold to Cargill and so on so forth. So, that's when the local thing is actually important, not only because of the direct impact, but the indirect impact of are you
building up this corporate food system or are you having a more direct exchange with a farmer, and your five dollars really did go to the cabbage, and it didn't go to packaging and to the marketing and into the lobbying, etc....
But again, in terms of actual environmental cost, there is data that shows that ultimately a vegan diet, even if it's not local, is better for the environment than a local diet; and I think it's a false dichotomy at the end of the day. We should be taking lessons from locavores and from local food movements, and applying those lessons within a context that also doesn't use animals. And so that would mean building up the veganic farmers, helping farmers transition to veganics, people who were moved to gardening and farming--helping them do it in a veganic way already.
And so, I think, for me, that would be the goal, that we would build up local food systems, but [...] without the animal component. And so for me, that has been more of an ethical perspective, but it is also the logical result of an environmental concern as well, because if we're buying local and we're building up local food systems to, first of all, participate less in the corporate food system, we shouldn't be buying byproducts from the corporate food system. And so some veganic farmers have come to it more from that perspective, of really wanting to be as independent as possible, and grow as many calories as much as possible with the amount of land that they have. And so that led them to just growing plants, because if you have two acres and you have a goat, you're gonna be getting--yes,you can use the manure, and, yes, they fulfill certain functions, sure, that's true--but if you use that space just for plants, you're going to be getting more plants, more food, more calories.
So I actually wanted to show this book: [Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening.] So this is a veganic gardening--I mean he kind of talks about is he a gardener, is he a farmer, it's not always clear what the distinction is--but this is a really good book from a veganic gardener who just goes into how to grow so many things, how to be very, very, very efficient with one's land.
What's one of the things that's great about this book is that often the local food thing--and that's why I say it's often more of an aesthetic, kind of a dogmatic saying, if I'm gonna go to the farmers market and participate in this thing--and the reason I say that is because often it's focused on like fruits and vegetables milk, those things; but really the basics of what we're eating is the pasta and the rice, and those are really problematic products. Those are the things that are really causing a lot of problems, politically, environmentally. And not a lot of people are really thinking about how are we going to get our carbs locally [...]. Not a lot of people are really transitioning from palm fat to local olive oil. So this book is really great because he does speak about growing grains, growing legumes, and I think that a serious effort to create local food security would include that.
Yeah, so basically I think that the local ideal does make sense, we can build it in a veganic way, and it I think that sometimes vegans are perhaps a little bit dismissive of that; and that's
unfortunate because it's not just about the environment, it's about so much more than the environment, and so that's worthy.
A: Yeah, no, I think it's great. It's taking the beneficial aspects of all these things that people learn and they bring from different perspectives and different experiences, and we can collate them, put them together, and end up growing new ideas from that that are even more beneficial. So, [for example], taking the locavore thing and taking what we learn about environmental impact of food and also learning things about food sovereignty and what that entails and what that would include and putting that into the big picture.
N: Yeah, on the topic of like what is local and how people sort of...It becomes these vague notions that I think are used to justify often eating meat or dairy, without really looking into things...
So, I've been a vegan for a long time, and my diet is not very soy-based, but I do consume some tofu, some soy milk. And I used to live in Switzerland, that's where I spent most of
my life, and when that discourse really started around “soy is terrible for the environment,” I was living in Switzerland; and it was interesting to me because people even farmers and others would say, “Oh, you know, people don't eat meat, but they eat soy!” But criticism of soy sort of appropriated what vegans had been saying about meat destroying the rainforests. And then as a counter to that, pro-meat advocates started saying, “Soy is destroying the rainforest.” And
so by extension, when you're buying tofu, you're buying this stuff from far away that's destroying the rainforest.
And the idea was that meat is a local product. When you're in Switzerland, I don't know if you've ever been there, but you just drive outside the city and you see cows everywhere, like it's very
much this rural reality, very pastoral type, like exactly what people want to see of like the cow and the grass...And so, the idea is, “Well, meat is local and tofu isn't because tofu is destroying the rainforest.”
But when I would buy tofu there, most of the time I bought it from the brand that was made
by a local Buddhist monastery, it was Buddhist monks who lived like 50 miles away who are making the tofu. So in that, sense it was local; and the soy was usually produced in France, and it was organic soy; so I would consider that to be pretty local to Switzerland. So again, how many miles really is local? I would have considered that to be local. It was a few hours away, in a different country, but fairly close by. On the other hand, what is often not noticed is that even if the animals are local, often the feed that they're consuming is not local, and that's being shipped in from Brazil.
And so, in the case of soy, that's the truth, the soy that is destroying the rainforest in Brazil and Paraguay is not to produce tofu. There aren't so many vegans eating tofu. That's soy that's going for cattle feed.
And so in San Francisco, this sort of vague notion of “local” and it's better and it's more natural--we see that in coffee shops. The hip coffee shops in San Francisco, there's several
of them, they in the last few years have stopped offering soy milk. So you can't get soy milk but you can get local organic milk; and the environmental costs of the local organic milk are much higher than soy; and the soy would probably not be soy from Brazil--most soy milk in the U.S. is from soy beans that are actually grown in the U.S.
A: Yeah, it is interesting if people really want to look into the issue--and there's a lot that we don't see, and then we just use a word [like “local”] and we take it for granted that it's a good thing without actually delving more deeply into it. I just wanted to mention here--and I wonder if you had a comment on it--this has to do with climate change. It's been said that climate authorities project that--and this was before 2017--projected that if greenhouse gases are not reduced significantly worldwide by 2017, or the latest by 2020, climate change is likely thereafter to become irreversible. And we know that the World Watch Institute calculated that animal agriculture overall, not just industrial, contributes to over half of greenhouse gas emissions; and that we could change, switch what we were eating [to greatly impact that]. Do youthink that we still--they said 2017 or 2020 by the latest before [climate change] became irreversible--but from your experience working with Seed the Commons, and seeing people who are interested in making movements toward veganic farming, do you think that there's a possibility that we could gather enough momentum to make a difference?
N: It's definitely... it's necessary, for sure, for us to transition both towards veganism in terms of our diet and towards veganics in terms of our agriculture. There's no doubt. Are we going to gather the momentum? I guess, maybe… From necessity perhaps. I think that a big part of it is countering this myth, and basically our goal has been to counter this false dichotomy between conventional and then small-scale animal agriculture and show that that it's not one or the other.
Often, with the climate discussion, the idea is like, “Well, yeah, factory farming [is the issue],but if there's a fishing village somewhere in India, and they've always fished, and they can fish and that's fine.” Sure, I don't think that we should… I mean there's one conversation as an animal
liberationist conversation, and I am an animal liberationist, and that's a different conversation; but when we're speaking as people who care about the environment, that's a different one. And so, in that conversation, absolutely, we can say sure, it's not necessarily about every single place in the world not having a single animal, but when we're in North America and we're speaking about large-scale solutions to climate change, it's obvious that we need to
be transitioning towards veganics and towards veganism. The fact that maybe one guy somewhere, that he has one chicken or not, that's not the issue here.
The issue is that at a large scale we need to be transitioning towards veganic farming, and that's going to be the most climate friendly way to do things because animal agriculture, whether it's free-range or factory farming, animal agriculture of all types is a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
The way to address that is to cut out animal agriculture. And so, I think that the argument of, “Well, do we really need to completely pull it out because somewhere in the world there's a…” Maybe. I don't think that argument really is all that relevant there, because at a policy level we need to be helping people transition towards vegan diets, and agriculture transition away from conventional agriculture, which is most of what agriculture is, but also away from what we have as organic right now, and away from grazing. Half the land in the U.S. is in some way connected to grazing, this is really the actual land grab that has happened.
And so, that's sort of the obvious conclusion of seeing the contribution to greenhouse gas emissions that animal agriculture of all types has. Now the answer that people give to that is, "Well, but it's not just about emissions, it's about where does the carbon go. We need to be sequestering the carbon, right?”
That's where the argument comes from that, yes, grazing some cows is actually a net benefit because there's some emissions, but you're also helping build the soil and you're helping sequester the carbon. And I think that that's an incorrect argument entirely because one of the strange things with this whole trend is that in a lot of contexts, we've forgotten completely about rainforests. Eighteen years ago, people talked about rainforests. I remember seeing this poster where the earth had lungs and then you could see the lungs were trees and it was being removed. So that was just part of the discourse, and now it's less part of the discourse as
people focus on grasslands.
So, independently of our discussion on grasslands, we need to remember that animal agriculture is a primary driver of deforestation. So regardless of what we think should happen on the grasslands, it should be a given that we need to stop deforestation and we need to be
reforesting; regardless of what you want to do with the grasslands here, the Amazon forests should not have cattle, that's just not what we should be doing with that land. So that's one thing. And then when it comes to grasslands there have been studies that showed that the amount of carbon sequestered was not enough to mitigate the effects of the emissions.
And then the question is really, “Is that [grazing cattle] the solution?” And I don't think it is. [For example] locally, in Point Reyes, the National Park where there are tule elk and also dairy farms, the local organizations that have worked on that case have shown that areas where there were not cows grazing have actually had healthier soil and so on. So the effects have been that it has been entirely helpful to remove the cows, and to just let the soil [re]build with the natural wildlife.
A: I also want to mention here, if anybody is interested who's watching, they can look at some of the work from Professor William Ripple. He's done a lot of work in Yellowstone and looking
at when the wolf population was gone, [which resulted in] an explosion of large grazing herbivores, and how that actually had a very detrimental effect on the entire ecosystem. Then, when they reintroduced the wolves and the population of the large herbivores was [controlled by the wolves], a whole bunch of species returned, a lot more of the greenery returned... But
anybody can look that up if they're interested.
N: Yeah, the assumption with this conversation, with the, “We need animals in our ecosystems,” the assumption is that animals are not in our ecosystems already and we need to put them there, and the animals need to be cows. But that's just incorrect.
Animals are there, and we should probably just let as much land as possible be rewilded and not interfere.
A: Yeah, right. And the last thing I want to ask you about, because you [mentioned] you have a background in psychology and you work with Animal Liberation, it'd be interesting to address the issue of how people perceive different animals. And maybe if you could talk a little bit about what you've learned or experienced with that, and maybe help us to...give us some pointers of how we could open our minds to another perspective.
N: Okay, well I think the first part will be easier to answer than the second part.
So, actually, the way that I've sort of organized what we do and how we do it with Seed the
Commons has been very linked to having been a vegan for a long time, and having studied psychology and having reflected on why people stopped being vegan, including myself for a period of about a year in my early 20s. I mean, during the course of that year, I had dairy products maybe less than ten times and no meat, so it wasn't like I went full on, but you
know. So that was sort of the thereflection. And within this “local” food movement and grazing and all of that, there are a lot of people who are ex-vegetarians and ex-vegans.
[...] My experience with Seed the Commons… we did a forum for three years--we're not doing it anymore, it was just difficult to get support--my experience talking about these issues with vegans, saying we need to build up veganic farmers because [...] a force against animal liberation and all that, has been either that because they're not part of that movement, they don't really see it and so they don't really believe what's going on; but the other response is usually, “I need to find all the arguments that counter what somebody is saying in regards to protein, in regards to calcium, in regards to Paleo being more healthy, in regards to grazing being better, etc., etc.”
And so we tend to want to arm ourselves with all the arguments and say, “Veganism is better for the environment and for social justice and for all the reasons.” But my thought about it has been that ultimately, the problem fundamentally is that we always see farm animals as a category unto themselves, and animals that are always potentially food.
So, a lot of people who want vegan or vegetarian and then who went back...Yes you can look at the individual cases and say, well, in this case the person read something about the Paleo diet being healthier and so it's because of the Paleo fad; and then in this case the person read
something about local food being more sustainable and that was it. But the underlying factor, in my opinion, in all of these cases was that even as they were vegan for maybe two years, they didn't actually see cows and dogs as same, they didn't see them as just as worthy of empathy; and just not food.
Fundamentally, when we talk about, "Oh, well, I don't care what people eat," or this or that, it's because we always potentially see cows and pigs and chickens as food. Maybe it's food we're not eating, perhaps for two years, perhaps for our lives, but it is food. Whereas dogs and cats are just not, in our culture, seen as food. And so it's an entirely different type of empathy and it's an entirely different type of cognitionthat's happening around this.
I had roommates, I remember, who had been vegan and then who started eating meat. In one case, as a ritualistic restarting of eating meat, he raised a pig and he slaughtered the pig himself. But I can assure you that that person would never have done that with a dog.
So, the local argument--if we were locally producing dogs, would people eat them? No. And they don't try to arm themselves with arguments as to why eating dogs is bad for the environment or why it's bad for health. It's just not food. It's just somebody that we empathize with. And so that, I think, has been really lacking in a lot of the pro-vegan argumentation.
I think that, as an ideological minority, vegans have found it difficult to do away with the way that the majority thinks. We move away from it a little bit...quite a bit, you know, we move away from it in our habits. We say, "The majority eats meat and I'm not gonna eat that," but we haven't fully internalized that by clearly seeing these animals as not food.
And so that's why I was talking about the difference between [ideas in] agricology and regenerative grazing--one of them is pro grains and beans, and the other one isn't. And in fact, it's very different kinds of ways of seeing things. So for me, as an organizer with Seed the Commons, I don't consider that I have enough knowledge at this point able to argue pro or con, you know, this idea that we shouldn't be growing cereals and legumes. I don't really know. I'm more interested in supporting, building up platforms for farmers and generally moving away from industrial farming. So, I might have a farmer one day who's totally in agreement that we need to move away from beans--legumes and grains; and somebody else who isn't [in agreement], but that's not really the point. The point is, that regardless of whether A or B is better--maybe next year somebody's going to convince me that regenerative grazing is better and we shouldn't be having corn and beans perhaps--but regardless of what it is, that should be in a vegan framework. Even if it's not obvious, at the beginning, how to do that, that should be in a vegan framework.
And so, I'm just going to take it as granted that farm animals should not be farm animals, we should not have that constructed category where there is this small number of animals that, for some reason, we don't empathize with in the same way that we empathize with other animals. I think that that's the case with broader society--but it is also the case with vegans typically, as well--where we just, it's not only that we don't empathize with them in the same way, but
our whole cognition around these issues is different with cows or with dogs.
So if you and I would have a discussion of like, "Well, you know, really ‘local’ is the answer," you would start thinking, "Aha, hamburger!" But you wouldn't start thinking like that around other animals [cats and dogs]. And I think that that really seeps into so many daily ways of thinking about food and farming and so on, and how we interact with others.
So, for me, that's been my effort of, “How would I act if I really didn't consider these animals as food; and how would I act if I really, truly saw these animals the same as Isee cats and dogs?” People are pretty surprised when I say that when we did the forum I always avoided having...I mean, this could go off into a tangent, which I'm not gonna do... but I always avoided having a speaker who would be promoting veganism on an environmental or other basis. So, we set out with veganism as our ethical framework and that's it; and then we're talking about things like agricology. But we're not really trying to argue--not that I don't think it's a good thing, but just for that specific context--to argue that veganism is the answer to environmental issues. And I think that regardless of what conference you go to, you could go to a conference on nuclear physics, your lunch is not going to have certain animals' bodies on there; and so for us it should be just as much of a given that all animals' bodies are not going to be there.
When vegans try to [make you listen] about everything, like veganism is better for social justice, and veganism is better because indigenous people did it or didn't do it, or veganism is better because you're going to be more fit and more thin... I think that it's also a reflection of the fact that it's something that's not normative to care about these animals; it really stands out. And we have to find a way to justify that instead of being strong within our own ideology.
A: Yeah. I think it's interesting, the concept of thinking of animals as food--it's just the way we grew up because everybody around us was eating this way, and you're fed this way from when
you're a child. So, it's really deeply ingrained. But what I find fascinating, and people can see with the other interviews that I've done, is how eating animals actually affects us biologically inside our own bodies: the way that animal protein on its own acts like toxin in the body. Now, it's said that we can handle a little bit of it, and animals can be an emergency food source, but
they're not the ideal because they do [cause] damage; and then you have to try to fix that. So it's interesting to see it in that way, because then you can see how it actually interacts when you ingest it, and [ask yourself] if that is really food or if it is just an emergency source of calories.
N: So, people say, “Vegans, don't see animals as food and carnists, or, mainstream society, sees animals as food and so on.” And the way I think of this, and how I approach it in my work is that that's a misrepresentation of our disagreements and our differences.The mainstream does not see all animals as food; they only see certain animals as food. And so I think that when
we get into these conversations with people, where we're trying to argue like should animals be food or not, and they say they are--our argument is not touching upon where the actual disagreement is. And so, we're not really able to speak reason to the other side.Basically when
something is normative, it's invisible; and when it's not normative it becomes visible. And so the idea is that vegans limit themselves, they have certain things that they don't eat, etc. Whereas other people eat “everything.” When I was growing up, there were always people who were very proud to be like, "Well, I eat everything, you know, I'm not fussy, I'm not dogmatic, I eat everything."
I'm not an anthropologist, but I doubt that there are any cultures, or many cultures, where
people eat everything. Everybody has limits on what they eat. And so in Western culture, we don't eat cats, we don't eat dogs, we don't eat most animals. So the argument of like, "Well should I eat animals or not," it sometimes becomes unnecessarily perhaps even philosophical. When if we actually point out that, "No, the difference between me and you is that you don't eat cats and dogs and reptiles and you don't eat bears and you don't eat cuddly koalas; and I don't eat those guys either for the same reasons as you, but I also don't eat cows and chickens and
pigs." Now we're actually showing where the real difference is between us. And I think it's easier to talk about, not getting lost into these broader philosophical things, but really say, "Well okay, now what is the difference between these animals?" Because that's--in my opinion there is no difference. And so I think that a carnist would have to show me where the difference is, if they want to be able to convince me.
A: That's a great point.Yeah, so I would just like to mention that if anybody wants to, they can go to your website, www.seedthecommons.org; and I think you're also on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, is that right?
N: Yes, we don't update Instagram very much, but yes.
A: And do you have any upcoming projects or things that you're raising funds for--anything you'd like to mention?
N: Yeah so, we're currently...we're not very active with the events and workshops and outreach around food politics generally and veganics. So, we're taking a bit of a break with our forum, precisely to raise some funds. We're focusing, however, on putting out more resources and more information. So one of our projects is building up interviews with veganic farmers and putting out that information, for the general public, for vegans, and also for other farmers and environmentalists. So that's one area where people can both help us financially but also participate as volunteers.
Building up the veganic world resource… I think it's really important, as you mentioned, at this point to help transition towards a veganic food system. So it has to leave this niche of activists and really become a proposal that's more visible to the world.
And then another area where we're active but we haven't spoken about so much now ithat we're campaigning to get milk out of school meals in San Francisco.
A: Nice! That should be a...that should be a good fight. I do know that the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine [helped to get] legislation passed in California so that every institution, I believe, but at least every hospital has to offer a whole food, plant-based meal for their patients; and they also [helped to pass] legislation that won't allow the sale products that have used animal testing. So the last year, 2018, was a big year for animal rights activists and also for the plant-based nutrition advocates in California.
So, if anybody here in Newfoundland, if you do some veganic farming, I guess they can get in touch with you to share their story, and let you [about] various successes and mistakes and things that they're working on; and to try to get in touch with other farmers.
N: Yeah, so there's the also the website, www.veganic.world , where people can find farms, there's a map there. And ideally, we want to be able to not only restart the forum, but also create more opportunities for farmers to get out there and speak at conferences and so on; and also to have more connections with each other, and create educational resources for others that are starting or others that are transitioning. So, these are all things that we want to be helping to build.
A: I think the work you're doing is fantastic, and thank you for being here, to come on to the show and to let us know about all of this great information!
N: Thank you so much.