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Revisiting Veganism

I’ve been vegan for over a year now. This week it was my birthday, and as a gift, I got a little pack with certificates saying that I’m now Shirley the cow’s and Hamish the pig’s ‘best buddy‘.

These guys live at Edgar’s Mission, and Shirley’s story was the catalyst to my becoming vegan. I wanted to sponsor him since he was the one that set me on the path.

Hamish is just super cute!

Anyway, it reminded me of when I first read Shirley’s story, so I thought I’d revisit the post I wrote at the time. What do you think? Was I on the right track?

I think going vegan was one of the best decisions I ever made. 🙂

In my pack from Edgar’s Mission, I got a booklet entitled Eating Up The World: the environmental consequences of human food choices. It’s produced by various vegetarian/vegan societies in Australia, so you could get a copy through any of them if you wanted one. It’s also available online at that link. I thought it might be biased considering the producers, but they cite all their sources. Anyway, the booklet really confirmed my decision for me, from an environmental standpoint. It clearly outlines how choosing not to eat animal products is pretty much the single greatest individual activity you can take to help reduce climate change. I think that’s pretty awesome.

Here are some of the main points (I didn’t know a bunch of these before I read the booklet!):

  • It takes 50,000L to 100,000L of water to produce 1kg of beef, but only 2500L to produce 1kg of white rice and much less for most other grains, fruits and vegetables. (This totally makes me think of how I was often told to eat less rice during the drought, because it was such a water-intensive crop and not suited to the Australian climate – which it’s not – but no-one ever told me to eat less beef.)
  • Over 67% of water in Australia is used for agriculture (as compared to 9% for household use), so we should concentrate our water saving efforts on what we eat/wear etc. About 90% of household water consumption comes from food consumption. People eating an omnivorous diet use approximately 3.5 times as much water for food than people eating plant-based diets. Are you seeing a connection here?
  • Australia’s livestock will produce more warming over the next 20 years (via methane) than all our coal-fired power stations combined.
  • 60% of Australia’s land is used for grazing.
  • The UN identified ‘…animal agriculture and food consumption as one of the most significant drivers of environmental pressures and climate change, stating that “a substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products”…’
  • 92% of land disturbance in Australia, which includes clearing forests and bushland, increased erosion, changes to the water table, acidifying and compacting soils, spreading weeds, unsustainable levels of manure and climate change, is caused by animal agriculture (55% beef, 36% sheep/wool, 1% dairy). The remaining 8% is all other industries. That’s EVERYTHING ELSE.
  • 5kg of wild fish is needed to produce 1kg of farmed fish.
  • Fish is one of the most contaminated foods on the planet.
  • Some parts of the ocean have been so over-fished that they are now ‘dead zones’ covering tens of thousands of square kilometres.
  • Australia now imports 30% of our oil (we used to drill our own, but it’s been dropping since 2000 – Australia has already reached peak oil). Animal agriculture uses considerably more energy than plant agriculture, considering transport of feed and livestock, operation of farm facilities including heating, cooling, lighting and slaughter facilities and the constant refrigeration required for storage of the animal products.
  • 27,000 children under the age of 5 die of poverty and starvation every day around the world – and we grow 50% more edible grain worldwide than is required to feed every person on the globe. That extra food plus more is given to farm animals.
  • The world’s cattle (so not including anything but cow type animals) eat enough food to feed more than the whole world’s population.
This has actually put a bit of a different spin on things for me. For a long time I’ve been thinking beef production is one of the better types of animal agriculture, because from an animal rights perspective, the animals live better lives than many other species. However, from this booklet, it sounds like beef is the worst environmentally. I was actually surprised that poultry and eggs didn’t show up on the graphs – I know the animals are smaller but they’re so extensively farmed…
Guess it’s a good thing I’m vegan so I don’t have to make any tough decisions. I just don’t eat any of it. Easy.
Thanks Shirley. 🙂

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Christmas Ham: Just Say No

I’ve just had a mini perfect storm of incidents that have gotten me thinking about factory farming again.

Yesterday, I was talking with a colleague about being vegan. He’d just found out that I am vegan and was telling me he sometimes thinks about it. Sometimes he’ll be eating a steak and he’ll stop and think: ‘This used to be a cow’. Then he’s sickened and can’t continue eating it. But the next day he’ll be back to eating meat – except any goat products. He had a pet goat as a kid and can’t stomach anything from goats; meat, cheese, milk… nothing. I wondered aloud if Mr Teeny-bop would go the same way once we move to our own house (we’re looking at the market at the moment) and get some backyard chickens. Would he stop eating chicken altogether? (Even if he doesn’t, at least I will know his eggs are cruelty-free.) I told my colleague that my son is old enough to make up his own mind. I also was careful not to denigrate my colleagues choices about eating meat. I’m always careful that way. Sometimes it annoys me that I’m so non-boat-rocky (this has been a challenge for me before). I want to tell everyone off and try to convince them what bad choices they are making but then I remember I have to work with them.

Anyway, the second thing in my perfect storm is that a friend of mine sent me a link to the Slow Food Sunshine Coast Hinterland group (I grew up on the Sunny Coast), and I was looking around on their Facebook page and found a link to the Factory Farm Map. A quick look at the site really appalled* me but as always, I thought: that’s in the USA. I know we don’t farm our cattle like that in Australia (almost all beef cattle are grazed), and I know we do factory farm chicken but that’s getting an increasing amount of attention (particularly cage eggs; Coles has recently agreed to reduce prices on free range eggs and phase out cage eggs, and Woolworths and MacDonald’s have pledged to increase the use of free-range eggs in their stores since last year). Not that that’s an excuse, but I guess I already had knowledge about those industries, so it didn’t get me thinking in the same way.

What the site did get me wondering about was the other kinds of animals ‘produced’ in Australia. A ex-colleague of mine had dairy-farming family in the Darling Downs and insisted that the cows weren’t factory farmed, and that the family farm was typical of the industry. She claimed that many of the horror stories came from the US and didn’t apply in Australia. I know from previous research that even the friendliest dairy farms still routinely impregnate cows and remove the babies from their mothers. And what about the pigs? I love pigs! So I thought I’d put my google-fu to work.

The sheer amount of information out there is so phenomenal that today I just limited myself to pig research. (That doesn’t mean I don’t care about other animals; I just started with pigs and got a bit overwhelmed.) I found that nearly 400,000 pigs are factory farmed in Queensland alone (5.7 million Australia-wide). The conditions in which they live are so horrible it’s hard to believe that people actually put them into those situations^.

Look at this video from Animals Australia Unleashed to learn more about the conditions in Australian piggeries.

pig in sow stall from unleashsed.com.au

Pigs get so stressed in their little stalls they begin obsessively biting the bars.

It’s well documented that many sociopaths first start out by being cruel to animals. A look at the pictures from piggeries makes me wonder if many Australians are supporting a ghetto of violent offenders (aka factory farm workers) with their pork, ham and bacon purchases… because there’s no way to look at those pictures and not see animal cruelty. Those pigs didn’t put themselves into tiny cages sow stalls. People put them there. How anyone could do that is beyond me. It made me cry (and I’m not one of those people who bursts into tears at the drop of a hat).

Then I listened to the latest radio ad from SaveBabe.com, aimed at getting people to think about factory farmed pigs right before the peak meat season (aka Christmas). It’s predicated on the fact that pigs have the intelligence of a 3-year old. The ad is from the perspective of a mother pig in a sow stall, describing how she feels… spoken by a little (presumably 3-year old) girl. It’s a very emotionally evocative ad. I had another little cry and then decided to do something about it.

So as a result of my perfect storm (thinking about factory farms + feeling disgruntled that I am so moderate in expressing my views to other people) I decided to take my new-found knowledge and share a little of it with my friends via Facebook, talk about it with people at work in a non-threatening (but firm and decisive) way, maybe mention it to my family at Christmas. The vast majority of the people I know are omnivorous, although generally open-minded about alternative dietary options… but I think after looking at some of those pictures, floating along with their open-mindedness is not enough. I need to try to do something. So I shall share here and elsewhere and commit to being more vocal, and see what comes of it. Do I think people will give up their Christmas ham because of my actions? I don’t know. It feels like such a small thing to do to help those poor pigs and other animals, but when I think that the average vegetarian saves approximately 100 animal lives per year, it gives me the hope that raising awareness can really make an impact. All I can do is try.

I hope videos like this one will help some of my friends and family think about the choices they are making with their food. Why harm other creatures if you can live without doing that, right? I hope they think that too.

Go here to watch a longer version of the video.

*I’ve written before about why factory farms are bad. Alternatively, click each part of the ‘Find out how factory farms affect all of us’ section at the top of the Factory Farms Map page or look at the Factory Farming – The Facts page from Brightside Farm Sanctuary.

^If you’re concerned that some of the sites included in this post may present a biased view since they are animal welfare sites, try looking into intensive pig farming on Wikipedia (I know it’s not necessarily unbiased either, but I think it’s closer to a middle ground).

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Teenage Boys Are Not Eco-Friendly

The title of this post says it all really. I can be as eco-friendly as I want. My son is not. This is a juxtaposition, ja?

teeny-bop emo

Mr Teeny-bop is emo, with coffee and crossword. (I got a snap of him smiling after this... emo defeated!)

Sometimes, it’s not his fault. Sometimes it is… sort of. Here are the top 10 reasons why, in no particular order.

1. Teenage boys grow, seemingly exponentially. Buying lots of clothes is not eco-friendly, and of course, teenage boys are too fashionable to want second-hand clothes. Ooh la la.

2. Teenage boys eat a lot. Normally, this wouldn’t bother me so much, but my teenage boy is a picky, picky eater. He likes processed foods, like Kraft’s Mac&Cheese (the kind in the blue box), when he could just as easily eat the fresh, homemade kind his mother (not me, the other mother) makes. Pretty much the only non-processed nutrition he consumes comes from fruit, veges and soy milk. Ok, and cheese and meat and cereal and pasta and bread. But that’s it. And I don’t mean lots of kinds of these things. There are two kinds of cheese (one wrapped in plastic), several kinds of meat and cereal, two kinds of pasta (including Mac&Cheese) and white, low GI bread. Oh, and pierogi.  No other non-processed food. Does coffee count as processed or non-processed? He drinks that too now (one cup a day only; he’s the only person in the house who likes it.) You might think I’m a terrible mother for letting him eat like this, but remember – when you’re a teenage boy, you know it all, and that includes what food you like. Besides, compared to what he used to eat, we are having victories every day. He tried sushi recently. He didn’t love it, but he tried it, and apparently it’s better than baked beans (another recent attempt). It seems resistance is futile after all.

3. Teenage boys break headphones. Sometimes I wonder if teenage boys realise there are actually a finite number of headphones in the world. And what do you do with broken headphones? There’s really no use for them. Can anyone think of a use for them? Mr Teeny-bop has just gone through three pairs in a month. I shudder when I think of the plastic-y, metal-y waste. I think I had one pair of headphones in all my teenage years. Then again, people didn’t walk around with their own personal soundtrack to life playing constantly inside their head (or from their iPod – however you’d like to describe it.) Maybe the next eco-unfriendly thing is increased hearing aid waste due to iPod-induced deafness. (I say waste, because I know teenage boys wearing hearing aids will lose or break the aids as quickly as they destroy headphones.)

4. Teenage boys do half-arsed chores around the house and call it done. For example, teenage boys mow the lawn and leave the cut grass out as green manure… on the concrete driveway. Call me sceptical, but I don’t think it’s going to enrich the soil too much there. Teenage boys don’t take as much care as they could when choosing which bin to tip the recycling into, because they are too busy thinking about lame Facebook applications and text messaging. Teenage boys don’t turn off the lights when they leave rooms. Teenage boys forget to turn the iron off (when they bother to iron). You may be sensing a pattern here. Yes, it’s the pattern of my irritation. Mothers of teenage boys have their own issues.

5. Teenage boys are even rougher on their shoes than pre-teen boys. I did not think this was possible, but apparently it is. Like broken headphones, what do you do with worn out shoes, I ask you? We have to buy new ones every term (roughly 12 weeks).

6. Teenage boys like lots of screen time. Wii, GameCube, YouTube, Facebook, MSN, text messaging, TV, DVD, camcorders, email… (I am looking at a screen a lot too, to be fair, but a lot of that is for my job.) Screen time takes electricity, and more of it means more electricity. Teenage boys also forget to turn appliances off. Before bed every night I do a round of the house, turning off computers, consoles, DVD players, TVs…

7. Teenage boys wear bigger clothes. This is fine, except it means I wash the same number of items, but I need to run more loads of laundry to fit everything in. I also run out of room on the clothes line. Trust me when I say that you should not try to circumvent this by overstuffing the washing machine. Teenage boys also smell, and if you don’t leave enough room for the clothes to get well scrubbed, the smell is going to linger. Even front loaders (which I have, and which apparently are supposed to be full during use as the agitation action is caused by the clothes rubbing together) do not do well being overstuffed.

8. As previously mentioned, teenage boys smell. Self-aware teenage boys (like my dear Mr Teeny-bop), try to circumvent this with deodorant. Unfortunately, mass marketing and peer pressure means Lynx body spray (not anti-perspirant), in a pressurised can, is the deodorant of choice. At least BO smells a little better when mixed with Lynx… even if it is sprayed so thickly I can taste it if I go into the bathroom after Mr Teeny-bop in the morning. Does anyone know what happens to spray cans when they are thrown away?

9. Teenage boys have a social life, which I am all for. Fortunately, living in a city permits a social life via bus, most of the time. However, the car trips we make to drop off/pick up are still considerably more than those made in pre-teen days. There’s just no way around the car and its links to suburbia unless there is dramatic social, demographic and economic change.

10. Teenage boys are rough on clothes. Socks wear out fast. The hems of shorts come down ‘by accident’. Shirts get stained. Jeans get ripped. Jumpers get covered in dog and cat fur. Hats get lost. Undies… well, ok. Undies wear pretty normally. But this brings us back to the first point – buying more clothes. Again. For a different reason. It’s a race to see whether he outgrows them or trashes them first.

Sometimes I think my efforts towards eco-consciousness are circumvented by my son. Sometimes my pattern of irritation feels ready to erupt into firey temper tantrums. (Yes, mothers have temper tantrums, they just look a lot different to kids’ temper tantrums.) Then my teenage  boy does something sweet, like invent an imaginary Italian bed and breakfast, complete with hand-written menu and fake accent, just so he can wear a manly apron and cook pancakes for me as Mother’s Day breakfast in bed, instead of adding to the consumer culture and buying me a gift I don’t really need.

Most days, he’s grumpy and self-absorbed, but sometimes I get a glimpse of who he used to be, and who he’ll become, and I know it’ll be worth these angsty teenage years in the end. No-one who can be that loving and gentle with an aging ginger cat can stay angsty forever.

At least, I hope so!

mr teeny-bop and fatso

Mr Teeny-bop and that aging ginger cat, Old Man Fatso, sleeping on the couch.

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Piggies.

Completely random, unrelated to the environment, except based on previous posts I’ve made on pigs, farm animals, rescue, compassion and veg*nism. Go look ’em up. You wanna.

Hamish the pig from Edgar's Mission.

Hamish the pig from Edgar's Mission.

Meanwhile, I want a pig.

Hamish is so cute!

Hamish is so cute!

Specifically, I want a pig like Hamish from Edgar’s Mission.

How could anyone want to eat Hamish?

How could anyone want to eat Hamish?

This guy is the cutest EVER.

Check out Edgar’s Mission! Pics from the Facebook page. Alternatively, go have a look at SaveBabe.com.

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Compassionate Dairy? Nah.

You all know I’m a vegetarian for environmental reasons, but you’ve probably figured out I’m also all for animal rights and compassion. Just search my blog under the tag ‘veg*nism’. To be fair, I don’t necessarily believe this means having one strict, stringent set of rules that apply universally to all. I’m not that kind of thinker in any arena of my life. For example, I believe you could eat a compassionate diet that included chicken eggs, if the chickens lived as your lovely little pets and the eggs were a by-product. However, I don’t think it’s possible to compassionately eat eggs if they were produced in a battery run.

I’ve been an aspiring vegan for ages – I use soy milk rather than dairy, but haven’t kicked most of the other dairy products yet. In fact, I feel I’ve been slipping. I used to be stringently anti-(dairy)yoghurt and over the last few months it has crept back into my diet after years without it. I can’t even claim that it happened without my knowing it, because I did know it, and I deliberately chose to not think about it. I have real trouble seeing a time for me without dairy cheese and I think I just got to a point where I was like… ‘Why bother? I’m not a real vegan anyway.’ I kinda gave up for a bit.

Well, that’s just slack and not cool and all ‘head in the sand’ style.

I guess the yoghurt thing has been lurking in my mind after all though, because as part of my dreaming on about living on an eco-friendly property with my strawbale house and rescue animals, I started to wonder about keeping a cow or two. I knew there’d be egg-laying chickens (dunno if I’d eat the eggs cos I don’t really like eggs anymore, but regardless), and I started wondering if it would be possible to eat compassionate dairy. Unlike eggs, milk production is stimulated by pregnancy, but I wondered if it would be possible for a cow to have a baby once a year, and to rear it naturally at the same time as me taking just a wee bit of milk for my own devices. I wouldn’t even use it to drink – just for stuff like cheese – so I really would need such a tiny bit. After some research I discovered this was possible, although very few people do it as it’s a bit of a chore to get the milk with a frisky calf around and you end up with less milk.

I started to wonder what would happen to the cows though. I’m not into artificial breeding – all my pets are desexed, there are enough unwanted animals in the world – so it seemed I would be artificially increasing the herd. I mean, the alternative is to kill them off and I wasn’t thinking of doing that. Er, no. Vegetarian herd-culler, I think not. I thought maybe each cow could have just one baby so really all they did was replace themselves, like Zero Population Growth (ZPG), which I’ve talked about before in human terms. I figured male calves would just luck out and get to hang around getting fat and happy, and the females would have one baby each. If a boy calf was born then lucky for his mum, she’d get to have a second one after all.

Then I started to think that I must be a bit naive, and all this seemed like hard work and I knew I was really not grasping all the complexities. Plus the Internet seemed so adamant you should separate the cow and calf ASAP for the calf’s protection (immunity etc). This didn’t seem so natural to me. Then there was the question of whether they could live on grass alone or if they need supplementary food (ultimately – grass is possible, if there is enough of it year round). And how to milk them. Are those milking machines really humane?

So I kept reading.

Then I came across Edgar’s Mission, and a little story by Shirley the calf. Now I think I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and give up milk entirely.

Hansel - one of the newest 'bobby' calves at Edgar's Mission; his life now saved.

Hansel - one of the newest 'bobby' calves at Edgar's Mission; his life now saved.

Go have a read, and take your tissues. Go have a read of Sadie’s story too, if you are a glutton for punishment.

I know it’s sentimental, and from a human perspective and probably cows don’t think that way really cos they’re cows and don’t have the kind of higher cognitive functions we humans do – but another thing I learned in my research tonight (and on other nights) is that they do have feelings and they do think. Maybe not like us, but they do. Those baby cows miss their mummies and the mummies miss them. Separating them buggers up their health, they don’t socialise quite right, the boys are unceremoniously killed, the girls raised as lactation machines and ultimately, when it comes right down to it, it’s mean!

Rosa - another calf (now a cow) from Edgar's Mission.

Rosa - another calf (now a cow) from Edgar's Mission.

So. My plan is to give it all up, one thing at a time down the list below. I know I’ve tried to do this before, ages ago, but I didn’t have a list, and unlike giving up meat and eggs which I wasn’t that big on in the first place, getting past milk and yoghurt were so daunting that I kinda burned out before I got anywhere else. This time, I’ve already started, so it will be easier I hope. There’s a bit of me that wonders ‘why bother, not many other people are doing this, what difference will it make?’, but I’ve unexpectedly read about the story of the old man with the starfish (or little girl, depending on the version) about five times in relation to this very decision tonight, so maybe the compassionate zen God of the universe is trying to tell me something. Besides, that never stopped me making a stand before. Every little bit counts, right?

Most items have replacements, although lots of those things I eat more of now that I will of the replacements, cos I just don’t like the substitutes as much (such as ice-cream – soy icecream just doesn’t really do it for me), or eating that much soy isn’t good for anyone. The first two should be easy as I’ve mostly done them, and the third I just have to remember. Plus, for the fourth, I was eating too much ice-cream so I already gave it up for the month… now I just need to keep going.

  1. Milk = non-dairy milk (eg: soy, oat, chickpea or almond, as rice milk isn’t good for me and hemp milk is NASTY – sorry hemp-lovers)
  2. Sour Cream = avocado, guacamole etc
  3. Yoghurt = non-dairy yoghurt (eg: soy)
  4. Ice-cream = non-dairy ice-cream (eg: soy, coconut etc, and sorbets like Weis yum yum yum)
  5. Butter = non-dairy margarine, oil
  6. Custard = non-dairy custard (eg: homemade soy)
  7. Cream = some soy substitute for cooking, otherwise probably nothing
  8. Chocolate = non-dairy chocolate (eg: dark chocolate, soy chocolate etc)
  9. Cheese = depends on the type of cheese (eg: tofu for paneer, tofutti better than cream cheese for cream cheese, no idea what for haloumi, ricotta or feta, maybe I’ll try some of the Uncheese Cookbook attempts for melty cheese cos I dislike all the commercial fake cheeses).

Cheese is definitely going to be the tough one. Like, real tough. I eat cheese in a lot of meals, and Yankee Elv loves it and probably won’t want to give it up (which is entirely her choice, of course – no pressure!!). All the rest I’ve lived without for certain periods in my life before, but cheese has always been a constant friend. However… I’m thinking of Shirley and Sadie and all the other cows like them. It’s time to bite the bullet and make a real commitment.

Interestingly enough, this hasn’t solved my question about whether it’s possible to consume compassionate dairy. Maybe it will be something I look into again one day. However, maybe when the time comes that it would be feasible for me to do that, I won’t be interested in eating dairy anymore anyway. After all, regardless of compassionate reasons, not consuming dairy is better for the environment and my health too.

Giant Edgar Alan Pig and a little lambie friend.

Edgar Alan Pig (the first rescue and namesake of Edgar's Mission) with a little lambie friend, enjoying the sunshine together.

Edgar’s Mission is a farm animal sanctuary in Victoria. I wish it was closer so I could go there and have a look myself! Next time I’m in Victoria with access to a car, I’ll be there, for sure. I’m wildly envious of the owner, Pam, and would love to know how she manages to live on, run and fund the place. The idea of doing something similar is not unfamiliar to me – hence the thoughts about my eco-friendly rescue farm that started this whole thing off. I’ve become a Facebook fan. Go check out the Facebook page, and especially the photos in the Around the Farm album; some are just beautiful. The photos in this post are taken from the page.

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Reduce: Pig Poo Pollution

Treehugger reported today that a Taiwanese farmer has successfully trained his pigs to use litter trays rather than defecating all over their pen. He’s reduced his water usage by 50%, reduced pollution and is easily able to capture the manure for use in fertilisers. The Taiwanese government is advocating other farmers follow in his footsteps. Apparently pigs are easy to train due to their intelligence and the fact that they like to live in a clean environment anyway. (Yes, you often see them covered in mud, but this is only to cool down. Contrary to popular belief, pigs don’t sweat.)

Pigs are clean, intelligent animals... that can use their own toilet.

Pigs are clean, intelligent animals... that can use their own toilet.*

This development is, in a way, great. Surely it’s a more humane way to farm pigs, not to have them living in their own excrement. Also, the cleaner the environment, the fewer diseases there’ll be and thus the fewer anti-biotics are required – which is great for the pigs, the humans and the environment.

However, what I wanna know is – if you get friendly enough with piglets to toilet train them, how can you then raise them for slaughter? How can you have that kind of relationship with an animal – as smart as a dog, as smart as a 3 year old child – and then kill and eat it, and sell whatever you don’t eat?

I don’t understand.

While this advancement is definitely great news, wouldn’t it be so much greater (from a humanity and an environmental perspective) if people just stopped eating pigs?

*Pig picture from My Crazy Fat Piggy Site.

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In Vitro Meat

In Vitro Meat (IVM): bring it on.

Check out this article from H+ magazine (ok, number 6 is gross and sensationalist, but otherwise…).

It’s cheaper, healthier, better for the animals, better for the planet… I think we should go for it. I also think governments of nations highly dependent on agriculture (like Australia) need to start diversifying, stat. Build an IVM factory, start farming hemp, build some solar or wind farms, something… cos those huge cattle stations are going to dry up with the drought.

Yikes. Creepy but cool.

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