Ok so this may be a trivial personal dilemma but my girlfriend and I frequently debate this inconclusively and I’d like to know what yall think. I’m a decently wealthy individual in school taking classes in development and agriculture and spend a good amount of time volunteering at farms in an area that has a very prevalent local food scene. Many small-scale, intensive, organic farms surround the town.
Most if not all of the farms integrate animals on the farm. The farm animals typically provide many benefits to these farms. First, meat tends to be a huge portion of their income. Second, the animals provide a valuable resource – fertilizer. Rather than importing fertilizers (which requires fuel for transportation, and most often is composed of animal manure to some extent, from somewhere), the manure from these animals is composted into fertilizer. Third, different animals serve different purposes but all usually contribute to farm services that may include; eating pests (reduces the need for pesticides) or clearing cover-crops for a no-till operation.
Most animals on these farms are treated well as far as livestock treatment goes – often free-range, low-stress slaughter, ect. Certainly, there are steps that can be taken to create a more ethical situation, but all things considered they have it pretty well and thats another conversation.
I recognize that animal agriculture is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, but have found that most of that data is in regards to how meat is typically produced (in large scale CAFO’s). I haven’t found any data that deals with this issue specifically, but this integrated animal/vegetable production farm model seems very sustainable as it has a cyclical cradle to cradle approach. Additionally, I recognize that buying local has some economic benefits (keeping money in the local economy rather than losing that money to middlemen and corporations that typically exploit producers), as well as creates more resilient and healthier communities.
Ok annnnyyyyways, Ive been vegetarian for 3 years for environmental reasons and am debating if it would be more sustainable (looking beyond only the environment, also economic and social sustainability) to eat some locally produced meat (specifically lower impact animals such as poultry). Would the benefit of supporting these farms outweigh the benefit of a vegetarian diet? I know its not one or the other like I would have to eat a chicken a day…. Hopefully this question resonates to a wide range of ideas rather than my existential question of whether I should be eating chicken.
tldr; Whats more sustainable when economic and social factors are included; Vegetarian diets or supporting local farmers by buying their animal products?
Some sources, far from comprehensive: https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2012/09/04/how-green-is-local-food/