|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.
CHAPTER EIGHT THE MODERN PERIOD
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ECOLOGY AND NATURE:
Ecological concern, though not perhaps under that name, has been part of the vegetarian milieu at least since the 1920s. Richard St Barbe Baker with his Men of the Trees had led the way in the interwar years in reafforestation and desert reclamation through tree planting, and his activities and arguments were enthusiastically reported in the post-war vegetarian magazines, and especially the Vegan (Baker is himself a vegan) (1) it was not, however, until the 1960s that ecology itself developed, emerging as a popular movement in the seventies. Its appeal was broad, though led by groups) such as Friends of the Earth, whose British section was founded in 1970, (2) it attracted in particular young people, often with a. generally 'alternative' approach to life and influenced by the values of the counter culture. As we have noted, there are links between ecology and the left, though the environmental lobby has associations also with the Liberals and with community politics, and developed in the mid-seventies its own political party, The Ecology Party.
Part of the background to the development of ecological concern was a general change in mood in the seventies towards a greater appreciation of and interest in the English countryside. It was essentially a response out of urban consciousness. The popular appeal of the countryside had grown in the post-war period - the era of the first national parks - and it was aided by the spread of car ownership. It was essentially nature experienced as leisure. Now in the 1970s, the slightly strident pursuit of urban sophistication that marked the sixties gave way to a more muted concern with nature and the countryside. A minor publishing industry developed to cater for the demand for florals, nature guides, flower paintings and accounts of rural ways. There was a shift towards natural fibres and substances such as wood which were described in almost vitalist ways in comparison to the bleak sterility of plastic and concrete. It was part of the same cultural shift that produced concern with exercise and natural health. Despite this connection, the mood was softer than that of the thirties with its athleticism and sense of the vigour of nature, and indeed had more in common with the nineties and the approach of the poet-naturalists, some of whom, like Hudson and Jeffries, enjoyed a new vogue. Then was a heavily nostalgic aspect, looking back to lost rural ways and certainties, though that was a world that for England, had been lost long ago; and the romanticisation of rural life went hand in hand with the advance of mechanisation and corporate finance in the countryside. In terms of the counter culture the feeling was most directly expressed in the movement toward small-holdings or farms in the Welsh hills, or in attempts to bring rural life into the cities through urban farms.
Central to the idea of ecology is the concept of balance. Ecology as a discipline rests upon the perception of the way in which plants, animals, micro-organisms and man himself, interact upon each other to form a complex ecological system. But balance here involves more than just the implications of a biological specialism; strictly speaking in ecology there are as many balances as there are dispositions of forces, and when a writer like the vegetarian ecologist Jon Wynne Tyson calls for us to 'recognise our obligation to observe the first law of ecology - that our species is responsible as any other for achieving a balanced and symbiotic relationship with its total environment', (3) he is drawing upon concepts of balance that are fundamentally moral and aesthetic. What gives ecology its powerful appeal is the knowledge of the ever-expanding destruction of the natural world, whether produced unintentionally through ignorance of the complex consequences of actions or with knowledge but with wanton disregard. The clearing of the vast Amazonian rain forests, the pollution of the seas and waterways that has turned the Great Lakes into dead areas, the engulfing tide of non-degradable rubbish, whether plastic containers, or nuclear waste, and the destruction of natural habitats, whether the African bush or the English hedgerow: all of these threaten us with a 'treeless, neon-lit, profit geared environment' (4) and revulsion from that is at the heart of ecology. Added to these moral and aesthetic feelings, was the 'doomwatch' aspect; the western economies were based on ever expanding production and an assumption of limitless resources. By the seventies however, most vividly through the oil crisis, these assumptions were seriously in doubt. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful was widely influential in this context. Schumacher argued that our true capital resources in nature were being squandered, and that nature was fast reaching a point where her capacity for self recovery could no longer be relied on. What was wrong, Schumacher and others argued, was western man's fundamental relations with nature: ‘modern man does not experience himself as part of nature, but as an outside force destined to dominate and conquer it, He even talks of a battle with nature, forgetting that if he won the battle, he would find himself on the losing side', (5) but in doing so they run against the conundrum of man's ambiguous status. Man is perceived here as part of nature - ecology's insights focus very much on interactions that include man - and at a moral level, the ecology movement seeks to reintegrate man in nature; and yet at the same time the power of ecology derives from the revulsion from man' s works in the world: the world of man is artificial and not natural. We shall return to this in part three.
With its concern for nature and its revulsion from the artificiality of the modern environment; with its emphasis on self-reliance and simplicity; and with its desire for a harmonic relationship between man and nature, ecology strikes deep chords within the vegetarian tradition. (Though it should be noted that not all in the ecology movement favour vegetarianism). (6) Three areas in particular attracted vegetarian concern; these were wild life protection, third-world food supplies and. organic husbandry.
The ecological movement has been concerned with the protection of endangered species, most notably the whale, and with the prevention of the hunting of animals like seals and dolphins - Greenpeace has been particularly active here. The approach of ecology derives from a combination of a general feeling for animals and wild life, and. a specific conservational concern; this latter aspects marks an important difference with vegetarianism which is always more concerned with the animals themselves than with the survival of a particular species.
Vegetarianism had always pointed to the wastefulness of feeding grain or roots to animals rather than humans, though until the post-war period this was largely presented in a local economic context, however, after the Second World War, there grew a new realisation, encouraged by, among others, Boyd Orr and by the Hot Springs Conference (7) of the problems of world hunger.
In the 1960s this reached public consciousness, and concern with third-world hunger and underdevelopment became one of the hallmarks of the liberal conscience. The problem is largely political, rooted in the exploitative world economy that has left the third world increasingly falling behind, unable to afford the food that is available, and in the internal political and social structures that ensure that direct food aid or the fruits of economic development do not reach those most in need; though the actual food produced also has some relevance. The growth in meat consumption in the west, resting on factory methods, has led to a population explosion in animals and to more and more land being turned over to intensive arable, with all the destruction of life and plants that goes with such development: 'ninety per cent of Britain's 46 million acres of agricultural land is devoted directly or indirectly to livestock'. (8) In addition to this home production, 'millions of tons of feeding stuff are imported annually, nn1ich of it from under-developed countries- 'Then we consume a large steak, we are eating something that may have used enough grain to keep a family in drought-stricken areas of Africa for a week'. (9) It is meat for the rich, they argue) at the expense of the poor; and economic development only threatens to spread to the new middle classes of the third world the extravagant consumption patterns of the west. (10) Only by a shift towards a greater use of plant protein, it is argued, can we hope to feed the populations of the future. (11) It is in this context that the vegetarian, and especially the vegan, diets have assumed a new significance, and vegans find a new sympathy and interest among nutritionists, agronomists and experts in development. Many argue that this is a message for Britain also, and in 1976 the Vegetarian Society launched its Greenplan whereby Britain could be made self-sufficient in food. (12) The logic of the ecological argument tends more to the heavy reduction in the use of meat than to its total avoidance, and some writers like Dr Kenneth Mellanby in his Can Britain Feed Itself, (13) allow for meat us an acceptable luxury. However these ecological factors have been influential in recruiting individuals to vegetarianism, and have helped to create a favourable climate of opinion. Groups like Friends of the Earth, and the Ecology Party while not explicitly vegetarian, favour the diet strongly and include many vegetarians among their numbers.
Lastly there is the link with organic husbandry, represented by the Soil Association, which while not vegetarian includes a number of vegetarians among its members and supporters. The Soil Association emerged out of the interwar environmental health tradition - Dr Innes Pearse and Aubrey Westlake have been among its supporters, and the literature cites the work of McCarrison, Dr Leionel Picton and Sir Albert Howard (14) - and it is concerned with the growing 'artificiality of the biological conditions under which we live', (15) and with the need for 'vital foods', by which they mean fresh, whole foods, compost grown on healthy soil. (16) The views of the Soil Association have been strongly reflected in vegetarianism. 'The whole future of our species', declared the New Vegetarian, 'is linked to our ability to keep the soil in good condition'. (17) Organic farming argues that we must put back into the soil what we take out and that a reliance on chemical fertilisers will destroy the complex structure of living creatures that exists within it and ultimately will exhaust the soil. This sense of the soil as a living thing is partly a biological conception: 'the soil is not an inert substance but a system of delicately balanced organic processes'; (18) though it shades also into more mystical vitalist perceptions of the land. Organic farming is seen as part of the restoration of man to his true place within nature, re-engaging him in the natural cycle and restoring his co-operative role as nourisher and carer for the earth. (19) Organic gardening too has some of this sense, as Nina Hosali, the founder of the Nature Cure Clinic, recently explained: