carrots [cropped]

Non-vegan vegetables

I have a vegan friend, who I like the challenge of cooking for. I like to make dishes that are intrinsically vegan, rather than just the side dishes plus a stuffed mushroom instead of the meat. The dishes I prefer to make are either vegan to start with or can be easily modified. I have therefore taken an interest in what is vegan and what is not.

On their website, the Vegan Society defines veganism thus:

Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

So, as far as possible, without going to extremes, we’re looking for products that don’t require causing suffering to or taking advantage of animals. It’s more than just a diet, it’s a whole lifestyle choice. Sounds straightforward, right? Not necessarily.

Non-vegan vegetables

I was reading my Big Book of Gardening, aka Alan Titchmarsh’s The complete how to be a gardener, the other day. In it, Titchmarsh talks about soil improvers and fertilisers. Horse manure, apparently, is the best soil improver. General purpose fertiliser is good if you want to buy only one kind. There are two types of the general purpose stuff: inorganic and organic. The inorganic kind includes brands such as Growmore, apparently, whereas the organic kind is blood, fish and bone.

This means that if you use organic methods, your vegetables aren’t even vegetarian, never mind vegan. There’s a crazy concept.

The internet’s verdict

I asked the internet about non-vegan vegetables; it had plenty to say on the matter. A non-vegan, non-vegetarian posed the question about the use of horse manure making non-vegan carrots. The same non-vegan, non-vegetarian asked the question about blood, fish and bone making non-vegetarian vegetables. Both questions were seen as insulting or ridiculous. I think this comment illustrates well:

Seriously? As a vegan, I’m annoyed by this question. … If someone has to worry about whether the soil their vegetables are grown in is vegetarian/vegan, why bother even trying [to be vegan/vegetarian]?

I think some commenters miss the point. Far a start, it’s too easy to become bogged down by the vegan-versus-vegetarian-versus-omnivore question. That’s not what’s being asked here. Secondly, some commenters describe the constituents of soil. This is irrelevant too: yes, there’s animal matter in the soil, but that gets there by natural, non-human means. This animal matter is by no means practicable to remove.

The question is whether the deliberate addition by humans of fertiliser made of bone, blood and fish makes the soil, and hence the vegetables grown therein, non-vegan or not. Remember, the Vegan Society states two criteria for veganness: cruelty-free and non-exploitative. If the blood, bond and fish fertiliser was obtained as a by-product of typical farming methods, then it is indeed non-vegan — show me a vegan who is comfortable eating farmed meat. If it was obtained non-cruelly, say by using animals that died a natural death, then we’re left with the question of whether those animals are being exploited or not.

The horse manure soil improver is slightly different. Producing manure is just something that horses do. Collecting it doesn’t harm the animal in the slightest. Assuming the horse is kept in cruelty-free conditions, is it being exploited if we use its manure?

What does organic mean?

Organic food is meant to be the best, the healthiest, the most eco-friendly food. But what does the word organic mean?

Periodic Table by Brian Cantoni
Periodic Table by Brian Cantoni
In chemistry, the original definition of an organic compound was one that occurs in nature, with no distinction between compounds found in plants and compounds found in animals. A modern basic definition of organic chemistry is the study of carbon compounds, such as hydrocarbons, carbohydrates, vitamins, steroids and so on. The corresponding basic definition of inorganic chemistry is the study of compounds made from the rest of the periodic table, including salts and minerals. Naturally occurring compounds are now known as natural products. Compounds that are made — or synthesised — in the lab are known as synthetic compounds.

In the shops, organic vegetables are those grown without the use of synthetic compounds. The compounds themselves could be organic or inorganic in the chemical sense. The manure used is green manure, which is plant-based, therefore should be ok — depending on the fertiliser used. Organic fertiliser is more likely to be bone, blood and fish than something like the inorganic Growmore, mentioned above. So, by my reckoning, vegans should avoid organic produce, just in case.

Vegan or vegetarian vegetables

As far as my vegetable garden is concerned, I’ll use whatever compost the shop sells, preferably peat-free. If it doesn’t say “farmyard” on it, I should imagine it will be fine. I plan to make make a compost heap using plant matter, and I intend growing legumes, so I’ll be using green manure, too.

I’m squeamish about using bone, blood and fish fertiliser. You might say this is hypocritical, but that’s a negative, discouraging view, and you can keep it to yourself. I will use an inorganic fertiliser. It may not be organic, but at least my vegan friend will be able to eat my veg.

Over to you

What do you use to improve and fertilise your soil?

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