Food Industry

Published on June 28th, 2010 | by Rachel Shulman


Are your veggies truly vegan?

My vegan friends depend upon farmers markets and CSAs for most of their food supply. When you’re trying to make ethical food choices, it makes sense to get your produce directly from local farmers.

But recently I’ve noticed that many small, organic farms use fertilizers based on animal products. Fish emulsion and fish meal from the commercial fishing industry, as well as manure, blood, bone, and feathers from factory-farmed animals are often used in lieu of chemicals.

Although vegan, plant-based fertilizers do exist and a few farms specialize in vegan growing practices, it’s not the norm. If you’re vegan (or simply concerned with animal treatment), what do make of this moral quandary?

Do you seek out growers that use only vegan fertilizers? Or perhaps you accept that you can’t control every facet of your diet? Are you surprised that organic farms use by-products of the meat industry to avoid chemical inputs? Post your thoughts as a comment!

For more information on plant-based versus animal-based fertilizers, visit Fertilizing Your Organic Garden.

For more information on plant-based, vegan farming, visit the Veganic Agriculture Network and the Vegan Organic Network.

Image courtesy of Kaustav Bhattacharya via a Creative Commons license.

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About the Author

I'm an ecologist turned journalist turned farmer-in-training. I'm currently working on an organic farm and creamery in Illinois. Follow me on twitter (, friend me on Facebook (!/profile.php?id=3105709), or follow me on StumbleUpon (

8 Responses to Are your veggies truly vegan?

  1. Kris says:

    I do not concern myself too much about how a farmer goes about producing produce. Indeed, I am not really not too particular about organic product, I eat conventional still the say. I believe that if the world was as vegan as I am. Then it would be impractical for a farmer to use animal products for producing produce.

    I have what I call a sanity line, I believe each vegan defines one for oneself. Meaning I don’t worry about certain products veganness if it is impractical to do so. For example, the tires on my car are not vegan nor could I get vegan tires if I wanted to. Am to give up driving? Practically impossible.

    As far as produce, I am even more clueless about how the veggie in question was produce. Did a field mice die in the field that the veggie was gotten from? How many mexicos immigrants were exploited to get me that food? All sort of troublesomeness exist in my world simply by the way it is structure. I can only make best choices I can based on what I know of the world.

    As a vegan, I feel I doing better than most. I believe being vegan does impact the world in a positive way, be it in a very small way.

  2. Allen says:

    By definition, veganism is “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment.”

    If it is possible and practical for someone to find food that wasn’t grown using animal based fertilizers, then they should. If not, don’t sweat it. By removing our support from animal agriculture as much as possible, we hasten the end of factory farming practices that make animal products cheap, abundant and unavoidable.

  3. Sam says:

    If I eat mostly vegan food I think that I could use my B.M. to fertilize my uber-biovegan produce. Would this still qualify for USDA organic scertification. If so, would Whole Foods or Trader Joe want to work a contract for my extra “produce”? Thanks and kind regards.

  4. Rachel Shulman says:

    My feeling is that, if the meat industry creates waste that’s a great source of nutrition for plants, then why not use it? It’s better to use these waste products than to see them get dumped in a landfill. That being said, I recognize that this strategy is probably indirectly supporting industrial meat production.

  5. Greg says:

    @Kris, Don’t concede to driving being required so easily.In many parts of the world driving is the exception rather than the rule.

    Giving up driving is the best thing we ever did for our lives. We are happier, healthier, have A LOT more money, and yes, no longer personally consume oil on a daily basis. It’s time people get serious about wanting to boycott BP and stop driving so many cars.

    Isn’t the main ingredient in tires rubber from a tree?

  6. Good questions, Rachel.

    However they get answered, asking them is helpful. One benefit, I think, is getting vegans and vegetarians to see the various impacts of agriculture more clearly. When I was vegan, I did not see (or want to see) them.

    • Rachel Shulman says:

      I agree! I think you need to understand agriculture to make smart food choices.

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