Sustainable for the human body or for the environment? 🙂
It can be both, but it’s not always guaranteed.
The ways in which the plant-based food would need to utilize resources efficiently, without the use of chemicals and pesticides. The body needs complete nutrients, most of which can be obtained from plants and nuts, but in some cases, supplements would need to be provided to prevent deficiencies. Even supplements, though they may be plant-based, can be deceiving in concentration and source. Be sure to know the methods and practice behind the system.
From an ecology or ecosystem perspective, all food systems are plant-based. Meaning that plants are the primary producers–they convert energy from the sun into other forms of compounds that nourish the rest of the food chain. Without plants serving this function our current ecological system would collapse. But it would also collapse if there were not insects and birds to pollinate the plants, animals to eat and distribute the seeds, animals to add nutrients the soil, bacteria and fugus to break down organic matter into usable parts for another turn of the cycle.
However, if you are asking whether a food system that only produces plants can be maintained indefinately through time, I woud say that it is certainly not guaranteed, and likely not possible. By nature, agriculture is the process of mining the soil for nutrients, which are harvested in the form of crops and then removed from the system. This is in contrast to the cycle described above where nutrients continue to cycle just in different forms and nothing is lost to the system. So, if you just continually extract nutrients from the soil without putting anything back in, eventually the soil will become literally lifeless and will no longer be able to produce an abundance of food.
I am focusing on soil fertility because that is one of the primary roles that animals play in farming systems. Before the advent of synthetic fertilizers, which are created using natural gas in a very energy intensive process, animals were all we had to fertilize our crop fields. And they do a remarkable job of enrinching soil. What do you think that most organic vegetable growers use to fertilize their soil? The answer is manure. There are a few farming methods that grow vegetables without any animal inputs–and I would actually like to learn more about this myself–but it seems unlikely to me that this would be a viable option for a sustained period of time. Please keep in mind however, that the closed system of nutrients that I am describing for an agricultural system that includes both plants and animals is far from what is popularly practiced in the U.S. as part of the large scale monoculture and factory farming systems.
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