Veganism and Permaculture?

Maddy Harland
Thursday, 13th November 2014

Maddy Harland explains why she asked Graham Burnett to write 'Vegan Book of Permaculture' and why a diet that omits foods derived from animals has a place in permaculture, whether you are a vegan or not.

In 2014, Permanent Publications published The Vegan Book of Permaculture by permaculture teacher, author and our good friend, Graham Burnett. As publishers of Meat by Simon Fairlie and supporters and promoters of Regenerative Agriculture you are would be justified in asking: Why are we promoting veganism? This is why.

I believe strongly that animals, both wild and farmed, have a place in ecological land restoration. We have therefore published many posts here on this subject and I have written about how regenerative techniques like mob grazing are an effective way of regnerating over-grazed pastures. There is also a growing body of evidence that Regenerative Agriculture can actually lock up carbon in the soil.

Let's be clear here. These techniques are not industrial scale agriculture. This is not about feeding animals GM grain to produce protein that humans consume in vast 'lots'. These pastures do not require the use of herbicides and chemical fertilisers and they do favour smaller-scale farms. In addition, these farms generally advocate the use of local or on-site slaughter, not mass transportation. This is a very different model from huge, commercial beef and dairy farms, and bears no relation to the practice of overgrazing fragile upland landscapes with sheep. Because they are small-scale, they necessarily do not flood the market with cheap meat.

But that isn't the only answer.

We in the developed world eat far too much meat. What was a luxury for our grandparents has become a daily requirement for many people and the developing world is fast taking our example. Meat has become high status food. Cheap factory produced meat is a disaster, both ecologically and from a perspective of animal welfare.

Whether you are a vegan, vegetarian or meat eater, we all know that excess meat acidifies the body and can bung up the intestinal tract. It isn't good for the cholesterol, let alone the waist line, and eating meat every day shipped in from far away isn't good for the environment. This kind of product has a high carbon footprint.

I was a vegetarian for many years and I even ran a wholefood shop years ago promoting natural, meat-free living. Now I am omnivorous locavore, i.e. I eat seasonally, grow as much of my own food as I can, prefer natural, unadulterated food, and rarely eat pre-prepared meals if I can help it. I favour organic food. I support my farmer friends who rear their own meat as naturally and regeneratively as possible and are personally present when their sheep are slaughtered. I avoid factory produced meat.

I also think if you are going to eat meat, you should be prepared to kill and butcher it yourself. And I do. I am not saying I particularly enjoy skinning and gutting a rabbit but I am not keen on them debarking the trees in my forest garden and I believe that if you kill an animal, you shouldn't just discard it but respect its life (even sacrifice) by eating and using as much of it as you can.

When we hunt and then take the animal into our bodies as food, we become more closely in relationship with our ecosystem. We understand the animal's behaviour at different times of the day and night, the effect of the tides on fish and predatory birds. We become more able to read the signs, why the hawk hovers in a certain area, why the heron appears at specific times of day on the margins of the shoreline...

I may sound like I am romanticising this but it has been my personal experience. However, I know that what I have written will be unacceptable to some of my readers. Yet the intimacy of predator and prey is a traditional view shared by many cultures. In order to live, we all take life, even if we only eat fruit, vegetables and grains. To quote the Buddhist philosopher and mythologist, Joseph Campbell:

"One of the main problems of mythology is reconciling the mind to [the] brutal preconditions of all life, which lives by the killing and eating of lives. You don't kid yourself by eating only vegetables either, for they too are alive. So the essence of life is this eating of itself! Life lives on lives, and the reconciliation of the human mind and sensibilities to that fundamental fact is one of the functions of some of those very brutal ritiuals..." 


Recognise this image symbolism the cycles of life?

My other concern is the conservation of woodlands. In many parts of the UK we are overrun by rabbits, grey squirrel and deer. They strip woodlands bare and kill trees. Rather than poisoning squirrels, leaving rabbits to the revolting scourge of myxomatosis and allowing deer to starve in winter due to over-population, the majority of the population shop in supermarkets because this kind of mass produced food is cheap. It is  packaged and presented in such a way that removes it from what is really is: a dead animal. It would be better to bring populations of animals like rabbit, deer and squirrel into greater balance rather than popping out to a supermarket and buying intensely farmed animal protein.

I also think that domesticated animals are an integral part of our landscape and our ecosystems. Imagine life without honey bees, for example. We need them. Our lives depend on them as pollinators. We need more bee keepers tending hives as naturallly as possible, not less. In the same way, we need more farmers who understand the regnerative agriculture working with their animals to restore our landscapes. Ancient human beings understood the deep interconnection of this relationship. It is modern, urban human beings who have lost touch with it.

But let's also eat far less meat. If we eat it let's make it local, organically reared, and slaughtered locally too. And if it is your choice to eat none at all, let's also look at eating far less industrially produced and packaged non-meat foods. That means less imported grains, (GM) soya, imported fruit and vergetables and pre-packed, processed veggie fast foods from supermarkets.

Make Compost Not War

What we at Permanent Publications really respect and love about Graham Burnett, the author of the Vegan Book of Permaculture, is his enabling approach. He inspires people in a positive way to eat more vegan and vegetarian dishes rather than shaking angry sticks at them. Let's encourage people to question where their food is coming from and to save lots of money by following Graham's suggestions: Eating more vegan food, growing our own, community gardening, buying from wholefood co-ops, shopping locally, sharing the harvest and generally taking positive and pro-active steps towards living more lightly on our planet.

And if you then decided to be vegan, that is a personal choice and is reflective of how you chose to live. But let's wage peace, not war, and not beat each other up for not subscribing to our individual worldviews.

For all these reasons and more we are publishing the Vegan Book of Permaculture. We love Graham's attitude of showing by doing. We love his funky drawings and we enjoy his recipes! We want to reduce the amount of meat eaten in the world, especially on an industrial scale. 

We are asking you to support the positive message of this book, buy copies direct from us and tell your friends about it. Please make The Vegan Book of Permaculture the success it deserves to be.

You can buy The Vegan Book of Permaculture direct from us at Permaculture Market.

Maddy Harland is the editor and co-founder of Permaculture Magazine and Permanent Publications.


Jennifer Richardson |
Fri, 14/11/2014 - 20:30
I'm all for anyone/everyone participating in permaculture, including vegans, although I don't entirely agree with your comments re: health/weight and meat-eating (I'm substantially healthier and leaner now that I eat a fair amount of meat than I ever was as a vegan, and I wasn't a junk-food & seitan vegan, either). I think those who incorporate animal systems will have a substantial advantage when it comes to managing and rehabilitating land and providing themselves with a complete diet with reasonable labor inputs, especially on broadacre properties, but everyone should do what's appropriate for their land, situation, and lifestyle. Vegan permaculturists can really focus on attracting and supporting native wildlife without the distraction or resource competition of domestic animals, or could even incorporate rehab animals into their properties, and will be extra motivated to find plant-based alternatives for many things (not just food) which will increase everyone's options and redundancy/resiliency. In addition, vegans who are motivated by environmental concerns have a lot of options to further reduce their impact by growing their own food with minimal inputs and shifting consumption away from annual grain agriculture and toward perennial crops. Small-scale food harvesting & processing and the elimination of pesticides & herbicides also drastically reduces incidental animal deaths, which is great. Personally, most of my meat comes from hunting, rather than livestock, and I try to focus on taking those animals which are 1) destructive invasive species and/or 2) overpopulated prey species whose natural predators have been eliminated from our ecosystems. I am also looking at rewilding portions of our pasture land and phasing out our cattle in favor of native bison--unfortunately that requires familial cooperation and large upfront costs, but I'm working on it (I inherited a conventional cattle ranch, which provides the family a living, so it's not always easy to just switch things up right away). I also keep chickens, which are a great management tool as well as a very low-maintenance, reliable source of delicious, nutritious food. For me personally, with only me & minimal help from family managing a fairly large property, eating meat & animal products is far more efficient, less labor-intensive, more ecologically friendly, and more nutritious than what I can provide for myself in terms of a purely plant-based diet, but everyone's mileage will vary.
Jon Kean |
Sun, 16/11/2014 - 17:25
We have kept grazing animals as part of our Permaculture holding for 15 years and never eaten one. They convert grass and other herbage to manure which is then converted to soil and grows veg, fruit and nuts. Suns energy converted to food. It is not necessary to eat animals - it is a choice, but with the scientists telling us that we need 3 planets if all the world's population is to eat like a westerner, but we can all eat well if we only eat meat once a week, then there is a fair shares imperative to move towards a vegetarian/vegan diet.
Grahamburnett |
Wed, 19/11/2014 - 20:43
Readers might be interested in checking out this interview with Graham Burnett, author of The Vegan Book of Permaculture conducted by James Taylor for the 21st Century Permaculture Radio Show on Shoreditch radio;
Charlotte Ashwanden |
Sun, 23/07/2017 - 13:27
Hi Maddy, Just wanted to let you know I used this article as inspiration in my recent article for Permaculture News, 'Permaculture and Diet'. I have been a fan of Joseph Campbell for many years and often quote him in my articles but this is teh first time I have found someone else who relates Campbell's work to permaculture. Please feel free to check out my article if you like :) ...Keep following your bliss!