And the angel of the lord came unto me, snatching me up from my place of slumber. And took me on high, and higher still until we moved to the spaces betwixt the air itself. And he brought me into a vast farmlands of our own midwest. And as we descended, cries of impending doom rose from the soil. One thousand, nay a million voices full of fear. And terror possesed me then. And I begged, Angel of the Lord, what are these tortured screams? And the angel said unto me, These are the cries of the carrots, the cries of the carrots! You see, Reverend Maynard, tomorrow is harvest day and to them it is the holocaust. And I sprang from my slumber drenched in sweat like the tears of one million terrified brothers and roared, Hear me now, I have seen the light! They have a consciousness, they have a life, they have a soul! Damn you! Let the rabbits wear glasses! Save our brothers! Can I get an amen? Can I get a hallelujah? Thank you Jesus.
There has been an ongoing – or perhaps repeating is more appropriate – discussion on some of the sites I visit regarding ethical veganism. When I bother to comment at all, I always take the opposing position. Not because I in any way support factory farming, deforestation, ground water contamination or any of the other horrors involved in modern meat production, but because I don’t believe that it is a healthy way for humans to live.
I wrote an article, some time back, about my preferred diet, discussing the research that led to it and the reactions I and my then partner had to the change in lifestyle. Primarily, the discussion regarded weight loss and over all health. In the years since, I have gotten off of that diet – mostly because I have been lazy and working in restaurants for the last few years, so I have not been cooking at home nearly so much. Over the last several months I have been getting myself back on track but can still not truly claim that I have fully adapted again. (As I did originally, I am not wasting my time with self-recrimination, but rather doing my best to gradually refocus my energies.)
In any case, all of the discussion has gotten me thinking about the topic once more, and I realize that the other changes I have been experiencing in my life and worldview are part and parcel of this same thing. This has become, in my mind, not simply about weight loss or healthiness but also about ethics and relationship. Our relationship with our food is one of the most fundamental aspects of our day to day lives and I have come to understand, much more deeply, how this particular relationship fits into my relationship with the world around me, as a whole.
American culture, and to a lesser degree all civilized culture, is a meat eating culture. Not because of health, not because of ethics, but simply because putting meat on the table every night is a symbol of affluence. My father’s family was very poor and he talks, sometimes, about eating beans day after day, every meal. As a result, when he began to be successful, not only did he want meat for every meal, he wanted steak. Whether he realized it or not, this was not only a function of taste or texture, but was probably a significant symbolic representation of leaving the poor farmers life behind.
In reading Derrick Jensen, recently, he has made the point a few times that if you challenge someone’s entitlement they are going to react strongly, with rising hatred, perhaps violence to that challenge. (He specifically notes that violence against blacks significantly increased first with the abolition of slavery and again with the rise of civil rights activism. It was only when the perceived entitlement of white man over black was challenged that true hatred arose.)
This weekend, Dave linked to a NYT editorial on the ethics of veganism. In that article, the writer states “By and large, meat-eaters are a self-righteous bunch.” Of course, I have always found the opposite to be true. When discussing food choices with a vegetarian, or worse, a vegan, there have been only a few occasions that I have not felt looked down upon. After all, they are making conscious choices, based on clear ethics while I, supposedly, am not. At the same time, I have seen some of the aggressiveness and rising anger delivered by meat eaters toward veg*ns. Ah ha, she says – it is that challenge on our entitlement, once again. Yes, of course there is going to be some pretty heavy rhetoric on both sides.
So let me state, for the record right here and now – I do not feel “entitled” to eat meat. I am not a superior being, with animals meant to serve me — neither because of our supposedly superior spirit, nor because of our supposedly superior intellect. I don’t hate, nor am I angry with veg*ns for challenging the ethics of my choices, and in fact, we have had some very useful and enlightening discussions regarding food choices. (I have also had some really horrible such conversations, because the assumption is made, by the people I am talking to, that I am following the standard entitlement response, whether the understand the mechanics or not). Further, my dietary choices are not being made blindly, but are, in fact, part of my total ethical view of the world.
And that is exactly what I want to talk about today.
When I began using the paleo diet it appealed to me on a couple levels. First, as a big proponent of evolutionary theory, I approved of the fact that it was based on how our bodies evolved. I have seen plenty of arguments from the veg*n set that our bodies are fundamentally designed as herbivores. The argument is that because our GT tract is more similar to a herbivore than a carnivore, then we must be herbivores ourselves. Without getting into specific details, using well chosen examples, one can “prove” anything about any animals dietary choices. Particularly when discussing omnivores. Because evolution is not linear, adaptation to changing conditions takes on different forms. Pandas have the GI tract of a carnivore, yet they eat bambo – their adaptation to their diet took a completely different path from other herbivores. We evolved from insectivores turned omnivores (primarily frugivore(fruit)/insectivore. (And I have never heard a veg*n address insectivores at all. I would be interested to see that discussion). In any case, we can and do digest animal products with reasonable efficiency, we can and do digest fruit, nuts and vegetables with reasonable efficiency, we do NOT digest grass or fiberous plants efficiently, at all.
The other reason it appealed to me: I had already embarked on a process of learning how our ancestors lived sustainably in the world before the coming of civilization. I was very much interested in what worked and using that as a basis for developing sustainable cultures in the future. So looking at how those same ancestors ate and using that as a model seemed quite appropriate to me. It still does, as far as that goes.
Once I embarked on the paleo diet I had another reason to become a proponent: it worked for me. As I discussed in the other article, between weight reduction (which I needed), muscle mass increases, and overall healthfulness, I was convinced.
So far, everything I have spoken of has been purely physical. But there is more.
I have been an “animist” all of my life, even before I had any clue what that meant. (I was duped into the civilized definition, which is a pale representation of what it really means). As I read about traditional cultures and spoke with others that had looked even further, I began to grasp what it was really about. Over the last six months I have begun to discover, of my own experience what it really is. First and foremost, and hardest for most people to grasp, animism is a monist worldview. I wrote of this, in three parts (part 1, part 2, part 3) a while back, but at its core, all it really means is that there is no other. When I speak of physical, or I speak of spiritual these are different perspectives of the same thing. Like describing the top of my table, and then changing my view and describing the underside. In fact, very much like that. The easily seen vs the sometimes hidden. But still very much there, very much real and simply waiting to be attended to.
Second, animism is about relationship. And relationship, above all else, requires attention. If you have a friend whom you never pay attention to, then that is really not a friend – the relationship is hollow and meaningless. The same is true of our relationship with the world around us. Most of us have no relationship at all because we do not attend to the world, and its myriad individuals, except in the most superficial ways. But when we begin to pay attention (and this is more difficult than it sounds), we begin to find the world and its myriad individuals paying attention right back, and this is when relationship begins to develop.
So what does this have to do with paleo diet or veg*ism? An ethical veg*n will give all sorts of reasons why one should not use animal products, yet vegetable products are all right. Many of these arguments are well thought out and supported. Yet they always ignore one key point (or dismiss it, or find a way to divert to discussing land usage etc): plants, too, are alive. We do not eat without another dying. Period. So while they might choose to eat off a lower trophic level, they are still engaging in the fundamentally civilized act of taking life without giving anything back.
As an animist, my goal is to accept the responsibility of eating fully. Someone must die that I can live. (Or, someone must never achieve life so that I may eat – eggs and fruit). In accepting that responsibility, I am accepting my part in the circle of life – the debt I owe to the living community I am part of, the responsibility I bear to maintain its health and vigor, and my responsibility to give back.
Of course, intellectually and morally accepting these things is only the first part of the process. Because once this responsibility is assumed, one must still act. For me, that means that my goal is to eventually procure all of my food directly from my community – I don’t mean the town I live in, but the community of life I am part of. It means that I need to reconcile my actions within and toward the civilization that is destroying that community. (Thus, my recent reading of and thoughts on Jensen) It means expanding those relationships to their fullest (my continuing self study of animism). It means discovering more ways to give back: rewilding the land around me, humanure, water purification, mico-remediation, the list goes on. And ultimately, it means giving my life that others may feast of it. (Whether eaten by another carnivore [unlikely], or planted beneath a sapling to be feasted on by microbes, fungi, and eventually the tree itself.)
So please, continue the discussion of food, of ethics, and the damage we are doing to our home, but remember, that those of us that do choose to eat meat are not all lazy, blind, cruel or unethical. There is a valid place for omnivorous human animals. The question is in how it all fits together, not merely what “it” is on its face.