A Vegetarian Homestead?

It doesn’t seem like those two words even belong together in the same sentence, does it?

I mean, when you envision a homestead you naturally picture a farmhouse with a backyard garden, maybe a small orchard off to the side, plenty of chickens running around and maybe a few goats or cows in the pasture.

potatoes growing in raised garden bed
potatoes growing in raised garden bed

You envision food production: fruits, veggies, and meat.

Can you even call it a homestead without farm animals? You gotta have at least one chicken, right?

I guess I’ve always assumed a homestead had to have animals on it. That’s all I’ve ever known.

A Background: The Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing

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Recently I’ve been reading a book called The Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing, in which they chronicle their 60 years of homesteading off the grid… as vegetarians.

They lived self-sufficiently for sixty years without eating any meat whatsoever.

A vegetarian homestead? Is it possible?

Not that I’m considering becoming a vegetarian any time soon, but Helen Nearing makes some convincing arguments against having animals on a homestead.

Arguments I’m tempted to consider, especially seeing as our chickens are costing us more to feed than it costs to buy eggs at the store right now.

Although they did eat some animal byproducts at times, the Nearings were staunchly opposed to eating flesh of any sort. As Helen put it in her cookbook Simple Food for The Good Life,

Nature has provided man with an abundance of food for full nourishment instead of putrefying corpses, which repugnant diet decent folk would abhor if generation upon generation had not, through use and custom, habituated themselves to the ghoulish practice of making their stomachs the burial ground for dead bodies.

A lovely image of carnivorism.

No. It wasn’t really her way with words that got me thinking twice about whether or not we should be raising animals for meat, but rather it was her observation that animal husbandry is costly and extremely time consuming.

Here is a portion of what Helen writes regarding the matter,

Animal husbandry on a New England farm involves building and maintaining not only sheds but barns and the necessary fences, and also the cutting or buying of hay. Into this enterprise goes a large slice of the farmer’s time. Farm draft animals work occasionally but eat regularly. Many of them eat more than they produce and thus are involuntary parasites. All animals stray at times, even with the best of fences, and like all runaway slaves, must be followed and brought back to servitude. The owners of horses, cattle, pigs, and chickens wait on them regularly, as agrarian chamber maids, feeding, tending them and cleaning up after them. Bernard Shaw has said: “Millions of men, from the shepherd to the butcher, become mere valets of animals while the animals live, and their executioners afterwards.”

By not having animals, Helen states: “We thus escape the servitude and dependence which tie both farmer and animal together. The old proverb “No man is free who has a servant” could well read “No man is free who has an animal.””

Anyone who has ever owned farm animals… or any animals for that matter… cannot argue these points.

They require housing, fencing or some form of security, food, veterinary care, cleaning up after, tending, etc. It is true that a homesteader can spend a great amount of time tending to the care of his or her animals.

Does it have to be that way? Isn’t that what homesteaders are supposed to do?

Here are some of the benefits of operating a homestead that is vegetarian – or even vegan – as well as some tips to help you get started.

Benefits of a Vegetarian Homestead

1. Added Freedom – and Less Work

One of the things that appeals to us about homesteading is a certain amount of freedom we gain from it. Freedom to do what we want with our lives instead of feeling like we’re rotating around somebody else’s clock.

Do I really want to spend so much of my time feeding chickens, letting chickens out to graze, counting chickens daily to see if any are missing or lost, shutting chickens up for the night, fighting off predators, shoveling manure, applying fresh bedding, separating sick or injured birds, culling the flock, shooing chickens out of the garden, bemoaning plants they’ve dug up, cleaning chicken poop off the steps, brooding chicks, etc. etc…

And that’s just the chickens!

Truth be told, animals are a lot of work.

Is this how I want to spend my time? Don’t get me wrong, there are definite advantages to raising livestock. Not only do we benefit from their products, but animals are enjoyable at times, and are certainly entertaining and educational.  But is it worth the tradeoff?

I don’t know. There’s some upkeep requited in a garden, but not nearly as much. If you use organic, no-till methods of garden, you won’t have to fertilize it that often.

You don’t have to bring your garden to the vet, and if you compost (which requires virtually no work besides dumping the bin and turning the pile every once in a while) you won’t need to do much to improve your soil, either.

2. The Health Benefits

There’s no arguing that the traditional “American” diet is filled with oil, fat, grease, sugar, and processed ingredients. This leads to a whole host of health problems, including heart attack, heart disease, diabetes, dementia, high cholesterol, obesity, and cancer.

The closer you can get to a plant-based diet, the better. You will weight less, carry less fat, and be easier on your joints. You will also stay more mobile.

While many homesteaders would argue that you need protein to survive and therefore can’t go without animals – the first part, of course, being true – there are plenty of other ways you can consume protein besides animal products.

3. You Don’t Have to Go Whole-Hog

The irony of that statement kind of sticks out, doesn’t it?

I’m kidding, of course. But know that in making the transition to a vegetarian homestead, you don’t have to become totally vegan overnight, cutting out major parts of your diet in order to commit to the larger goal.

No, you can experiment, taking out certain portions of your diet (like red meat) at a time before making the complete transition.

And if you wanted to, you could keep some animals around for their products without necessarily butchering them, too.

I mean, you’ll do almost the same amount of work raising chickens for eggs, but once you leave out the extra time and expenses involved with butchering them (if you were raising them for meat), you do end up saving a bit of time and money.

So if you’re not ready to make the complete switch yet, don’t despair – you don’t have to do it all at once.

4. You’ll Have More Space

Without animals to trample the grass or get into your vegetable garden, you’ll have much more room to grow the vegetables you care about- along with the time to tend to them as well.

You can plant orchards and other largescale growing operations. Instead of taking up space with a barn, you could put up a greenhouse or hoop house so that you can have fresh vegetables throughout the entire year.

5. You’ll Have More Money

I’ve already mentioned this, but animals are expensive. Whether you’re buying your meat and eggs from the store or producing them at home, they are going to cost you.

It is simply less efficient to feed greens to an animal and then eat that animal than it is to just eat the greens (nutritional benefits aside).

However, there are other expenses you might not even consider besides the cost of feed. Animals require fencing. They need shelter.

They need regular medical care, which can be expensive even if you go the all-natural route and avoid antibiotics and chemical dewormers. Long story short, going without the animals on a homestead can save some serious cash.

What would a homestead look like without animals?

There would definitely be much less to worry about, and less money being spent.

The big question for us would be: Could we handle being vegetarian? Could we live without meat, and eggs, and milk, and butter… and yogurt… and ice cream…?

I think I probably would be fine. The kids would definitely miss certain things. My husband… I’m not sure how easily he’d be convinced.

Maybe we could just fish and hunt. We would still get our meat without the time and money invested in it. Maybe barter for eggs and milk? Seems like the best of both worlds, no?

It’s something to think about at least. Meat and animal products are expensive. There’s no way around it. If you raise it or buy it, it’s gonna cost you.

I think of how much money we would save if we didn’t buy meat or other animal products (we just stocked our freezer with a quarter of a cow, at a $500 price tag). If we could live off of our garden produce and a few purchased staples, our grocery budget would plummet.

If the Nearings could live a lifetime without meat (I think Scott Nearing was a hundred when he died), is it really as necessary as we think to our diets? They seem to have gotten along just fine on the fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and grains they grew.

I dunno. This is just something I’ve been pondering over the past few days.

(By the way, I should add that I don’t agree with many of the philosophies or political views the Nearings held. However, their books are fascinating accounts of how they homesteaded off the grid for so many years, with valuable lessons to be gleaned.)

But What Would You Eat?

Naturally any carnivore would come to wonder what the heck you would eat on a vegetarian homestead. I grabbed a copy of Helen’s cookbook, Simple Food for the Good Life to find out what their meals looked like.

Helen’s cookbook is probably my all time favorite. Over the years I’ve collected many old-timey cookbooks, seeking out those which focus mainly on ingredients which can be grown at hand. The only other cookbooks that come close to this one in that regard are the The Little House Cookbook and the More-With-Less Cookbook.

What I love the most about the Simple Food cookbook is that Helen focuses on dishes which can be prepared with minimal effort and mess. A woman after my own heart, she despised the drudgery of cooking and washing dishes.

I staunchly determined, and tried to stick to it, that any recipes included in my book would be straight from the garden where possible, cooked slightly if at all, at low temperatures to kill fewer vitamins and enzymes, with little added flavoring and the fewest possible dishes, pans and utensils used. The simpler the food, the better, I think;

I’ve often told my husband that I wished we could just forage for all of our food so I’d have no cooking or dishes to do! I’d much rather be out in the garden or working with my hands building something. Helen shares my sentiments,

I don’t mind hard work, but I want it to be for a more long-lived purpose and intent. Why go to a lot of trouble, and use a lot of time and energy, just feeding the body? By keeping foods and meals simple and easy, the tasks may be so shortened that there is little labor involved. Keep frills and fanciness to a minimum. Keep fundamentals in the foreground. Try to get the most nourishment for the least effort.

I believe the work of feeding people could be simplified to such a point that it would take less time to prepare a meal than to eat it, whereas now it is usually the other way around.

The Nearing’s mostly raw diet with minimal prep work appeals to me greatly. When dinner guests arrived, Helen was known to plop a big bowl of freshly washed produce from the garden on the table for everyone to choose from and enjoy raw.

Soup and a few vegetables (potatoes, winter squash, etc) were the only things she ever cooked. No bread. No pastries. No casseroles. Nada.

Think of all the time and dishes that could be saved by eating a meatless, mostly raw diet straight from the garden or cellar! It would definitely be a change from the typical Western diet.

Every day they ate the same basic dishes, with different ingredients according to season and availability.

Breakfast: fruit and herbal tea

Lunch: soup and soaked grains

Dinner: a big salad and cooked vegetables

She talks about using leftover salad in the following day’s soup. Their desserts were fruit or grains, perhaps yogurt at times, sweetened with honey or maple syrup.

I could totally eat like that. Once I got past my chocolate cravings.

Here are some other foods you can base your diet around if you decided to have a vegetarian homestead:

Vegetables: Consider growing nutrient-dense veggies that are also full of fiber. They will fill you up faster and make better use of limited garden space. Another good option is to consider growing veggies that store well without needing to be canned, frozen, or processed in any other ways.

This list might include root vegetables such as:

  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Legumes
  • Winter Squash

Fruits: A vegetarian homestead needs plenty of fruit. The side-bonus of getting rid of the animals is that you will now have more space for fruit trees and plants. Consider planting an orchard filled with fruits such as:

  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries
  • Apples
  • Figs
  • Dates

Nuts and Seeds: You can grow trees for their nuts, which make an excellent source of protein. Some to consider include pecans, which can be grown in more areas than you might think, along with almonds, walnuts, and more.

Nuts and seeds (which could include sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or flaxseed) offer just as much protein as meat products and are also easy to grow. Plus, they can be stored without refrigeration.

Healthy Fats: If your growing zone permits, you can grow olives or avocadoes, both of which supply you with healthy fats and can be used to make oil. You can also grow these in containers indoors, which will give you a steady supply of fats year-round without relying on animal fat like tallow or lard.

vegetable garden with raised beds
vegetable garden with raised beds

Tips for Transitioning to a Vegan or Vegetarian Homestead

1. Make up for nutritional deficiencies

One word of advice is that if you are transitioning to a completely vegetarian or vegan homestead cold-turkey, it might be worth it to invest in a multivitamin.

While you’re preparing for the transition, you will likely be missing out on some nutrients that your body is used to receiving from meat and other animal products. A vitamin can help fill in the gap in the meantime.

2. Plan ahead – and plan accordingly

Remember that not all of your plants will be ready for harvest immediately. While most plants mature in a season, your fruit trees and nut producers will take more time – they could take several years in order for them to produce edible fruits.

3. Know that you might not necessarily save money right away

If you already have animals and can’t bear to part with them quite yet – particularly if you still plan on raising chickens for eggs or sheep for wool production, for example, and not the meat – you will still be spending just as much money and expending just as much energy as you would if you were still eating meat.

You can certainly wean yourself into a vegetarian homestead over time, but you won’t necessarily see major cost savings if you retain your animals.

4. Consider your homestead goals

Are you homesteading for pleasure or profit? If you only homestead for pleasure and don’t necessarily care about saving or making money, then the last point I mentioned probably won’t matter much to you.

However, if you are planning on a homestead that will be profitable, know that you will probably need to raise animals.

While there are plenty of profitable vegetable farmers out there, they are generally producing products on a large scale – you would need to sell a lot of carrots in order to make up the costs of selling a hog.

5. Know what to grow

You can obviously start with your favorite vegetables, but you’ll also want to include some nutrient-dense options that will make up for what you are now missing in your diet from the meat, eggs, and milk.

Grow strategically and consider the size of your property and how many people you need to feed. You should also consider your climate and soil type and pick the plants that work best for your zone – without a reliable protein source to count on, you will really want to get your plantings right and have no room for failure.

The idea that running a vegetarian homestead could save us money and time by not having animals, and could save me time in the kitchen cooking and cleaning, is highly intriguing to me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Could you do it? Do you think having a vegetarian homestead would make life a little easier? Would you rather spend your time enjoying other pursuits, or is the food you get from animals worth the exchange?

62 thoughts on “A Vegetarian Homestead?”

  1. Wow. There were so many replies to your blog that I had to fast-forward to find the comments section. You certainly opened a can of worms, and I’m glad for it.

    People who shudder at Helen Nearing’s disdain (?) for housework probably haven’t read her book(s). She was not the simple housewife with only homemaking chores to do. She was directly involved in carrying stone for the foundations, lumber for the walls, cement for the mortar, etc. of building her homestead. As someone who recently gutted an 1850’s house to remodel, after the sheetrocking, the woodwork, the laying of the hardwood floor, etc., as well as the garden from scratch, there isn’t always a whole lot of energy left to spend on something that takes one hour to make and 15 minutes to eat. Just the thought can be depressing. And it seemed like Helen and Scott were always building, or sugaring, or putting up with people ‘dropping by’ (freeloaders). She might have gotten more creative if she were able to relax more.

    On your topic of eating meat, please search out The China Study by T. Collin Campbell and his son. The science can’t be ignored … animal protein has been proven to be not just unhealthy, but dangerous in the vein of cancer-causing. This book was in my amazon cart forever, since I didn’t want to spend the money, but then found it in a NH Goodwill for $ 1.00. Shop around ! You will never look at a Thanksgiving turkey the same way again.

    Thank you for the great post. I will be checking in frequently.


  2. Hello, I am a vegetarian but I just wanted to point out I eat ice cream and eggs and cheese and all the stuff. I just dont eat meat! what you describe above not eating any animal products is vegan. different.

    • Raising livestock is almost always inherently non-vegetarian when you consider that roosters have to go somewhere (you don’t want them all) and most male baby cows and goats aren’t used for breeding. Unless those male animals are used for meat or breeding, a typical agricultural system views them as money pits. Now if you plan to raise all the male animals as pets then I suppose you could call it a vegetarian homestead and still have livestock. But keep in mind, those will be some expensive pets!

  3. This is a great article! We have a vegetarian homestead, although we do have different motivations for doing so. We LOVE having farm animals around as pets, they just provide a lot of joy in our lives; however, other than the eggs from the chickens, our farm animals do not provide any food for us. Instead, we focus our food production on fruits and vegetables.

  4. I am a homesteading vegetarian. My husband is not vegetarian in any sense of the word. We’ve learned to compromise. We have 2 cats and a dog, and we will start beekeeping next spring. Those are the only living creatures we have – or ever will have on our homestead. We buy meat at the grocery store for DH, along with any dairy products we need. On Sundays, I spend an hour or two in the kitchen and cook all of the meat dishes he will eat for the week. Then, each day I cook up fresh vegetables from the garden, or the vegetables we have preserved from the previous season. We grow many, many vegetables, berries, herbs, and fruits. We are looking in to getting several nut producing trees. So I consider my homestead to be somewhat vegetarian, since we do not raise any livestock.

  5. Great article, though I would take it all the way and do an organic & vegan homestead with renewable energy of all kinds, horizontal and vertical organic gardens, definitely in my future at some point..! You can go vegan like I did March 1, 2015: Start making a protein packed smoothie and get a slow juicer like the Omega 8006 or similar! Haunt your local farmers markets (best deals at end of day,ask all sellers about their water source, don’t buy if they use city water!) Best thing I ever did for myself (improved health statistics, no more ethical crises, etc), the animals (no more sickness, and death) and the planet (animal agriculture causes over half of all greenhouse gases!)..!

    • Hey Matt! Where are you located. I too am interested in a vegan homestead and would love a friend with the same vision. How is it coming along??

  6. I really like the thought of eating and using the garden as a go out grab and basically dinner is served. Sadly my husband would not be up for this at all. I have to say my grandchildren wouldn’t be to thrilled either! lol I on the other hand would love to have that kind of “freedom” and hopefully make the better food choices by doing it this way. Living in the northern part of the country, I would also have to invest in a green house for longer growing periods. Blessings

  7. I think it’s a great idea to have a vegetarian homestead…to a certain extent! I find great joy in having my chickens around and I love to bake, so for us, the chickens are a worthy investment. My hens are my ladies and are by no means meant for eating, just their eggs. Feeding them costs 15$ for 1.5 months, a little less over the summer when they forage a lot. Not only do I enjoy having them around and using their eggs, but their manure makes great fertilizer.
    We do not own any large animals and we do not eat our animals, not only because of the work and cost, but also because I get far too attached to my animals 😛 I still think a goat for milk, cheese, butter and yogurt would also be a worthy investment though..eventually.

    • Sounds like you’re doing very well with your chickens, Shannon. 🙂 You’ve gotta be careful with the costs of raising milk goats as well. We were shocked by the cost of our goat’s milk after keeping track of our expenses for a year. I’m sure it’s the same with any kind of animal you raise. You’ve just gotta stay on top of things and be diligent in your habits. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  8. Kendra, our family moved to our 11 acre homestead 4 years ago. In that time, we have raised dairy goats, ducks, guineas and chickens. We have enjoyed them as pets and also for meat, eggs and milk. This summer, we decided to sell all of our goats and will be selling or giving away all of our birds. Like you, we thought homesteading meant having the livestock as well as growing our own fruit and vegetables. We have spent THOUSANDS of dollars in fencing, shelters and supplemental feed for all the animals, not to mention the time spent caring for them. While it has been a wonderful experience for our family and we wouldn’t trade it for anything, we are changing course. We recently went vegetarian and are in our 5th week. We feel great and don’t see ourselves going back to eating meat and dairy. Our family has been fully on board as well. We still have 4 of our kids at home and they all have been quite happy with the change. We will now be putting energy toward growing more produce and building a greenhouse to extend the harvest.

      • nutritionfacts.org for information regarding a healthy life as a vegan, you’ll find many resources there. Also search for Dr. Neal Bernard, and Dr. Klapper, and Dr. McDougall for additional sources. Also watch Cowspiracy for inspiration if you haven’t alread.. 🙂 My husband and I are very interested in what you are doing, we have been vegan for 8 years and have had our own vegetable garden for many more. We hope to some day find land to homestead and live as close to off-grid as we can… Kudos to you and your family

  9. P.S.
    I must add that a vegetarian diet can be hearty, warm, filling, interesting, flavorful, and beautiful…it does not have to be raw and simple unless that is what you prefer.

    • Oh my gosh….yes!!! I think Helen Nearing’s version of feeding her family sounds awful. As a decades’s long vegetarian–and, more recently, vegan, I can assure everyone that a veg’n diet can be, as you said, “hearty, warm, filling, interesting, flavorful, and beautiful…it does not have to be raw and simple unless that is what you prefer.”

  10. Hello. Just found your blog. I am a lifetime (as an adult) vegetarian but have zero experience in homesteading. I make all of our dinners from scratch, and have two tomato plants growing at the moment, but that is all.

    Aside from a quick comment on the health aspect (yes, you can indeed get plenty of protein from “grains, greens, and beans”) I want to add that I certainly don’t find homemaking drudgery. We all have to spend our time on something…whether that is something beneficial such as growing food, caring for animals, carpentry, handicrafts, making our homes warm and beautiful, providing delicious food and having regular family meals…. or the far less worthy occupations of watching tv, shopping, and playing video games. I’m sorry Mrs. Nearing didn’t enjoy homemaking, but I don’t imagine all feel this way.

    I’ve hear the word homesteading bandied about so often that I finally looked up the definition and that has brought me to this (and other) blogs. From what I gather, it has more to do with increasing your level of self-sufficiency and becoming aware of, and firmly forming, one’s relationship to the environment….to be consciously participating in one’s own life and actively deciding how one’s family will be fed and clothed. It’s also about (as one commentor above suggested)deciding how we will spend our time.

    I don’t see how it really matters if one has livestock or not. If you ever get to the point where you are truly growing most of your food, you’re probably still not going to be wearing clothing only out of the wool you’ve spun or the cotton (???) you’ve grown and weaved…that’s why there has always been trade. If I ever get our 1/4 acre to the point where I’m growing tons of veggies that I can and/or freeze but I am buying bulk grains, legumes, and spices to add nutrition and variety to our diets…I’ll be okay with that.

    Thanks for a great topic.

  11. Thanks for this post! I’ll definitely check out these books. My husband and I are both vegetarians and dream of the homesteading lifestyle… but when we read up on it, we cringe when we inevitably get to the livestock chapters. We don’t want to raise too many animals (maybe some sheep, though… I’m a knitter), and we *certainly* don’t want to butcher any, or have to sell calves or lambs to someone who *would* eventually slaughter them.

  12. Last summer we moved to our land (120 acres). A few months ago we went on a whole foods plant based(no processed vegan) diet to help heal issues with my husbands health.
    This summer we are attempting a vegan homestead. I think it will be an interesting chapter in our lives.

  13. Thank you for sharing this book! This is exactly what I have been feeling. We homestead on an urban homestead and I do raise chickens for meat and eggs for my meat eaters but I myself am a vegetarian feel like I can’t an oddball in the homestead world. I like chickens and rabbits for manure and waste removal but I greatly dislike raising animals for food. Thanks for the suggestions!

  14. I switched to a vegan diet 3.5 years ago. I have never been healthier. I love it! (The Happy Herbivore cookbooks are my favorite). Anyway, we kept our chickens and goats as pets. 🙂

    • I realize this is an old comment but Anna what do you do with your chicken’s eggs? Are they wasted? I am working to go vegan but life in a busy city like area is very tough.

      The dream? House in the country, gardens, greenhouse and nothing purchased from stores. I loathe most people so never seeing them would be nice. 🙂

      • From what I hear, vegan chicken owners often give away the eggs or feed them back to the chickens. Apparently it’s very beneficial as it replenishes the nutrients lost in producing the eggs and the chickens eat them happily.

  15. I could see myself being a full-on urban homesteader one day, but I seriously doubt I’ll ever raise animals. Primarily because I can’t see myself handling/processing animals who are sick or dead (even if I’m only raising chickens for the eggs). However, I hope to have bees one day.

  16. Really thought provoking article. We are not homesteaders (just gardeners) so it got me thinking about the amount of time it takes to actually homestead. I would love if someday you if you did a “day in the life” post with what it takes to run your family and homestead.

    • Robin,

      Every day is different, with different tasks and chores according to season and need. Some days are extremely laid back where I spend maybe an hour or less on homesteading “stuff”, and some days are sunup to sundown. I can’t say there are any typical days. It would be fun to do a “day in the life” type of post, though.

  17. Have you read much by Joel Salatin? He contends that agriculture tends to strip the land (slowly or quickly depending on our practices) and that animals are a necessary part of building soil. So in essence vegetarian homesteading is not sustainable, because eventually you will have stripped all the nutrients from the soil and are not able to replace enough as you use each year.

    Another realization that I have come to (at least in the growing conditions of the house we lived in the last 7 years) is that we have actually been more successful in our animal rearing, than our gardening. My daily eggs were my most consistent harvest by far, and much less frustrating than many of the vegetable plants I was trying to convince to grow in my back yard! So in terms of trying to be more self-sufficient, if we took our animals out of the picture, we’d loose most of that. Also, the occasional chicken we slaughter has taught me a lot about making the most of a bird, and importantly, good bone broth that is the basis of all those veggie soups. Also, providing the fat necessary to make fat-soluble vitamins (like Vit D) available. Fat is a necessary nutrient and most vegetarian fat sources could never be provided on a small homestead.

    The argument about effort required is valid, but I think it extends into the realm of even the gardening for food production we do was well-it’s work and frustration. And as others mentioned, none of us choose homesteading for its life of ease! And we can never keep wild animals out of the picture either.

    We only eat meat once or twice a week, and I’m always looking for great vegetable-based cooking. But, to me, it seems like cutting animals out of the picture would create a major imbalance, of one sort or another. Great discussion you started!

    • I respect some of Salatins work and I appreciate his dedication, however many of his claims are unfounded and or embellished. If you put little value on the Animal products he produces than, his whole system is stressful, time consuming and extremely laborious. With little mercy for the sick, weak or less productive animals. His system while elegant in a way. Views animals as a biological machine to produce work. As with all machines they have atrophy and create waste.

      In effect, If you do not value the animal products Salatin produces than he is a terrible vegetable farmer! Which is a funny way of saying he spends a whole of time and land to produce not much.

      Working in extreme generalities, You can expect to use roughly 2 acres of pasture land, for one full pastured beef cow. Netting you perhaps 400lbs of boneless trimmed beef.

      Thats 2 acres of land, in roughly a year for 400lbs of product. You can get 50,000lbs of sweet potato, or many many thousands of pounds of a whole slew of various root and grain crops. Many of which can be stored and preserved much easier than Meat. And many of which can combine into complete proteins with complete amino acid profiles.

      You get tens to hundreds of times less ‘food’ per unit of land when animals foods are the objective. The illusion that “they just work on they’re own, and I can benefit from they’re labor” is a complete myth. A huge amount of work and care needs to be put into any livestock. Much more than tending large vegetable and root crops.

      Salatins biggest claim in my opinion is how much ‘top soil’ he produces and sequesters carbon. This is a half-truth. His livestock produce methane which is 70+ times more harmful as a greenhouse gas emission. His ‘carbon sequestration’ is likely of zero benefit due to his methane production alone.

      Animals are in No way required to build soil and maintain an ecosystem. If all soil organic matter needed to pass through the gut of a large herbivore before becoming soil earth would be hotter than venus with a run-away greenhouse effect taking place millions of years ago.

      Infact to further make this point, Exactly how much of a forest floor is rendered by mammals of any kind? As a percentage, Near zero. Forests are our most productive and climate-protecting ecosystems. Trees are essentially made of carbon, and they can grow a 100 feet or more! Then when they die, much of that carbon builds up on the forest floor as organic matter. All happening without animals.

      So, Salatins claim that his method is the best way to build topsoil and capture carbon is perhaps only partially true if you put a high value on those animal products he produces. Otherwise you could create much much more food, in less area if it is plant crops and you can let all the remainder of the land return to forests. This method of plant-eating and reforestation bests Salatins methods by orders of magnitude. However you do not read about this in the press, because much of Salatins work has been promoted by the local-meat crowd, and the Paleo diet enthusiasts who publish articles with titles such as “Eat more meat and slow climate change?” It is completely false, and irresponsible. And really nothing more than advertising.

      Conservation of energy fails the larger the ‘system’ becomes. You are literally loosing 90-99% of the suns energy by using any type of animal-machines to process it. Perhaps you and others can find simple ways that do not appear to be that costly in dollars or labor hours to manage livestock, however you are literally squandering 90% or more of the total energy you are ‘tending’ through your efforts.

      When I see cattle in a field, all I imagine is 1/30th of the acreage put into intense vegetable farming and the other 29/30ths of the land returned to native forests or the native landscape.

    • Sorry, but this makes no sense. How are nutrients “stripped” from the soil? You eat the plants that grow in it and then flush the results down your non-composting toilet, that’s how. You could return them to the soil in the form of humanure but you choose not to. That’s fine, but to pretend that keeping livestock is necessary to have healthy soil is nonsense. Soil gets depleted when nutrients are taken from it and not returned. Your livestock returns (some) nutrients to the land; you could but you don’t.

    • an ‘edible forest’ is how humans were truly meant to live (Eden style). Google it. No. we don’t need to enslave animals to further dig humans deeper in to the Agriculture lie. It was a clumsy idea 12,000 years ago and it is worse now. And YEAH you can get plant-based fats – nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut…

  18. I’m a huge sucker for any discussion that gets at the intersection of vegetarianism and homesteading!

    I share a lot of your feelings about the hassles and commitments of animals, especially chickens. They seem to always go out of their way to scratch and poop and peck in all the most obnoxious places.

    Of course, outsourcing animal products makes sense if you’re just looking at dollars, but then outsourcing pretty much everything homesteaders do for themselves makes sense if you’re just looking at dollars. If homegrown animal products seem relatively even less efficient than homegrown non-animal foods, I suspect it’s because you’re overlooking all the cheap store-bought non-animal products you’re so accustomed to.

    I’d also note that chickens have gotten to be such a common homestead animal in large part because they’ve lent themselves especially well to industrialization: no other animal converts grain into food more efficiently than chickens, and cheap grain is the foundation of industrial agriculture. On a small scale if you want to go to the store, buy feed, and feed it to a farm animal (that you also buy instead of breeding and raising yourself), chickens are super easy, but those aren’t the traits that make an animal efficient on a self-sufficient homestead. Traditional animals like domestic geese or goats have gone out of favor because they’re less advantageous in a feedlot situation but such animals were popular before the industrialization of agriculture because they were efficient at making use of forages or waste products (like the hulls of peas, overgrown bitter lettuce, various windfalls, spilled grain, etc.) that make animals more efficient on a self-sufficient homestead.

    So what kind of potential forages and waste product feeds you have will make a big difference in the relative efficiency of different animals, but there are plenty of plant foods that are every bit as inefficient for homesteaders, and that’s why I suspect you (and the Nearings) are overlooking (in the Nearings’ case perhaps intentionally misleadingly) all the cheap store-bought non-animal products you’re so accustomed to. Have you tried growing your own lentils? Chickpeas? Rice? Wheat? Peanuts? Sunflowers? Growing these crops is simple enough, but growing them in enough quantity to use as everyday staples and then threshing and de-hulling and pressing and grinding, etc. them into usable rice, peanut butter, sunflower oil, etc. is a huge feat, and I’ll bet you anything the Nearings ate plenty of these types of store-bought things (in addition to purchased animal products like yogurt…)

    Basically the idea that eating a vegetarian diet simplifies homesteading is nonsense. Sure, if you buy all the things I just discussed above (or the things in Becca’s list in the comments above, not to mention most of the the common fruits (peaches, bananas, oranges, conventional-type seedless bunch grapes, sweet cherries, plums…) that people in our area practically never succeed in growing in homegrown organic ways), then vegetarianism is easy. If you buy all your animal products, then that’s easy, too. If you want more than token self-sufficiency, then there’s basically no easy homegrown organic diet.

    Hunting/trapping/fishing sounds potentially promising. I think those things can be super efficient at the margins, but to get a lot of food from hunting/trapping/fishing I suspect it takes substantial skill, and access to the best game/fishing areas can be limiting.

    Have you ever heard of the book Meanwhile, Nextdoor to the Good Life? I haven’t read it (or any of the Nearings’ books), but it seemed at least as interesting.

    • You make some excellent points, Eric. Especially on the difficulty of being able to raise all of your own food even if you consume a vegetarian diet.
      Somebody else mentioned that book as well. It would be interesting to read about the Nearings from an outside point to view. I’ll have to follow up if I get a chance to read it.

  19. This is WAY off base from what you’re discussing but I’ve looked everywhere and can’t find an answer to my brining questions. My family loves cornedbeef but I refuse to buy it at the store and want to brine my own. I’ve come across a recipe that looks good and easy enough EXCEPT for the saltpeter. I would like to know what healthy substitute I can use to get the same results….just course sea salt perhaps? Any ideas would be appreciated.

  20. We raise animals on our farm, but not the way described in the excerpts. Although we do have barns and pens, we are creating a permaculture design in which the animals can live more natural lives. Our chickens do not cost us much to feed or to keep clean, because they roam the gardens and the goat pens all day long, searching for their own food. As our food forest matures, we will be able to let the goats forage, as well. Currently, they eat a mixture of hay, weeds and garden cuttings (which we would have to manage, even if our homestead was a vegetarian operation.) Yes, we have to have someone to manage them if we want to leave. But this has provided us with an opportunity to develop relationships and interdependence with other farmers and with folks in need who can stay on our property in exchange for assistance on the farm.

    Finally, the author does not consider that veggies severed from the vine are rotting corpses, just like meat, if not eaten quickly and handled properly. And the more we know about plants, the more we understand that they are not so different from animals, interacting with their world, exhibiting self protection and awareness, similarly to animals. One way or another, we have to ‘kill’ something in order to eat, and I would have to grow fava beans across my entire property to get enough protein to meet our needs. This would require much more water than I am willing to use, since I live in a desert environment. Interesting take on the subject, however. Thanks for sharing this.

  21. I think it depends on the person/family.

    We have zero animals we raise. We still have robins in the nest above our patio door, grackles in the eve above the master bathroom (don’t even get me started), at one point we had an annoying neighborhood woodpecker, tons of worms, Jumpy the squirrel, and random quail that visit us. Along with the neighborhood moose and family of deer every so often (the flocks of wild turkeys don’t come too close to our neighborhood, they stay a little ways away). We live in a neighborhood though, not acreage. So legally, we cannot have animals, and it’s not something I’m in a place to fight right now.

    So I have fruits and veggies in the yard, along with herbs and such. I source out the meat to a few farmers and such. Friend of a friend get a truckload of happy chickens from Hutterites a few times a year. I have a guy I get a grass-fed cow from (they butcher when the snow starts flying, no need for grain/hay!). I have a guy I get a pastured pig and pastured eggs from. I have a milk guy.
    Been working on getting the hubby to go catch me some trout in season, and at one point we may get an elk or deer tag, but that bit’s a few years off.

    But the big thing for us, and why we’ll always be carnivores? Our family’s bodies need it. I get even loopier and lightheaded after two days of no animal protein (milk has protein, but not meat like protein for us), and I refuse to use overtly soy products because of family thyroid issues. My kids have really bad days if they have zero protein – acting out, extra cranky, sleep at night gets thrown off, their concentration falls apart… it’s not pretty. For them to have a successful day, I have to get some sort of protein in most of them in the morning.

    • It sounds like you’ve got an awesome system in place, Lanna. I find it interesting to read your observations of how no- or low- protein affects your moods. I don’t think we’ve ever gone long enough without it to know how a diet change would affect us. Thanks for sharing your experience.

      • I wish I could say we learned that protein in my family thing on purpose, but not so much. For a bit it tended to be after the fact with an “oh yeah!” kind of moment (usually chatting with friends about our struggles), then I tried a few days, and yup.

  22. I would have to say I am more of a vegetarian than my husband.He is a meat eater. As far as farm animals the point is having TIME to take care of them,most people have other priorities to their time.I have ordered several vegetarian cookbooks and am practicing how to eat like one.We are always as humans have the choice of how we want to eat and I trying to lose weight by becoming a vegetarian.

  23. I think about this too, Kendra. Most of us are meat lovers here ( I LOVE me some steak), but we get our chicken and beef from nearby farms. I don’t think we would ever raise cattle, but we do consider chickens, and then most often dismiss the notion more than anything because we love animals and I know we couldn’t slaughter them when they were done laying, because we’d get attached to them. Hypocritical, I know. For this reason, I think that if, for some reason we couldn’t buy beef or chicken from our neighbors, we’d likely become vegetarians. Interesting to see what the future might bring in terms of meat consumption for both of our families. 🙂

  24. I read this article with great interest, Kendra. I have wanted to read the Nearings’ book, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Knowing some of the truths that came to light later about them, I’ll enjoy reading it with a grain of salt when my son picks it up from the library for me tomorrow. 🙂

    As for the vegetarian lifestyle, I completely agree with Becca that (vegetarian) protein should still play a large factor in each and every meal, and would add that research should be done into which food combinations are the best. The vegetarian lifestyle is one that greatly appeals to me, but last time I tried it I wasn’t well-informed as to what is a balanced vegetarian lifestyle. I am educating myself now before I go to it again. A book that could possible explain why some people (me!) crave the vegetarian lifestyle and others (my DH) perish at the mere thought of giving up meat is ‘Eat Right For Your Type.’ I have found it fascinating that our blood types could be so pivotal to our relationships with food. I will say that everything that was written about my blood type (Type A) is true for me. It was an enlightening read. Just one more medical theory out there amongst so many others, but one that I really connected with.

    Have a lovely day!

    • Very interesting, Shani! It never occurred to me that our blood types could possibly affect our dietary cravings. Thank you for sharing. I’d love to know what you think of the book after you read it!

    • Indians have been veg for millenia and the standard plate home meal is Roti/rice-Dal-Subji (Flatbread/rice-lentils-veg curry)… We have ALL types of blood type and it works fine. N need to overthink this.

  25. I got the name of the book wrong, it’s
    This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone. Sorry I can’t seem to edit my previous comment.

  26. The idea of running a vegetarian farm is not unusual, I know many vegetarian farmers. You can certainly have a vegetarian farm that is not vegan. Dairy and eggs can make all the difference in having a balanced diet without a huge amount of additional work to assure good nutrition. My chickens are my greatest asset when it comes to my garden.

    That being said, the Nearing’s information needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The movement they tried to start was one that was later shown that they didn’t completely follow themselves. There are a number of books about the families that lived nearby that tried to live the lifestyle they supported and it was with very mixed results. Melissa Coleman wrote a book called A Life Undone about her family’s experience which was tragic. That being said, her father, Eliot Coleman lives on that original land, is a well respected farmer and author, but is no longer a vegetarian.

    After researching the Nearings after studying Eliot Coleman’s winter gardening techniques, I lost my respect for the Nearings.

    • No need for meat & eggs for a ‘balanced diet’. Indians have been veg for atleast 2000 years and typical meal is rice/flatbread-lentils-veg. It’s doable; just a matter of priorities.

  27. I agree that keeping animals has been costly and it does take time, but for me it is well worth it. I also love how our animals help to improve my garden. I don’t think I could ever be a vegetarian. There are so many health benefits to eating meat and other foods made by animals. And I love that my children get to grow up around them – it has been such a joy to me to see them with our bunnies, cats, dogs and chickens. I’m very thankful that we have access to good farm raised meat, perhaps if all I had was factory raised meat I might reconsider and give it up!

    • I agree, Miranda, that it is enjoyable to watch the children playing with and even tending to the animals. There is value in the character building they gain from these experiences.

  28. Every time I make a vegetarian or vegan meal, my husband comments that it needs sausage… I could totally be a vegetarian but the rest of my family – probably not so much!

    Some great ideas shared and I have had that book on my list for quite some time as a book I want to read! Now I want to even more!

  29. I have thought of this extensively too.
    At first read, I would HIGHLY recommend making sure you could grow/eat enough protein. Having been vegetarian, that is something that most vegetarian diets are lacking, and there are bad side effects of having lack of protein in your diet. I used to read the ohsheglows blog a lot for high protein recipes, with a more vegan flair.
    Also eating complete proteins, I would recommend research on that as well.

    There are lots of protein alternatives:
    Peas are high in protein!
    Quinoa, an edible seed.
    Nuts, seeds & nut/seed butter, although high in fat.
    Tempeh, edamame, tofu -made of soy- although not sure you could grow those too well in zone 7.
    Leafy greens, like spinach, has protein. Protein has more protein when cooked, by the way.
    Chia seeds- a good super food.
    Seitan – which is just wheat gluten.
    non-dairy milk, easy to make by soaking the almonds, cashews, rice, etc. and blending and then straining through cheesecloth.
    & more.

    As long as we eat a balanced diet, with a focus on nutrition, I don’t know why we can’t eat less meat. I know that’s what I strive for!
    I love knowing I’m not the only one to have thought of this!

  30. I could eat like that everyday. I would like to keep eggs, honey, and butter. 🙂 I love meat but love veggies and beans and grains too. I’m flexible. The rest of my family would probably be ok. It would take some getting used to. My husband might thing he is dying. I am trying to teach him that there is good protein in most of what we eat. He thinks he is starving if he doesn’t get meat. 🙂


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