A whale will never understand the concept of being Vegan, but she will most definitely understand that she is dying because her stomach is full of 88 pounds of plastic waste, including 16 empty sacks of rice.
She is full, but she is starving. Her stomach acid cannot break down the plastic, so it has begun to break down the lining of her stomach.
Soon she will die in misery.
Is this what compassion toward animals looks like now?
If we decide to become a raw food vegan, we may end up increasing organized crime in south American countries because we cannot live without our avocados.
If we attempt to eat only fruits and vegetables as our main source of calories, we may end up importing them from all around the world, from countries that have lax or nonexistent laws about the use of pesticides on plants and around the humans who work with the crops.
We burn up tons of jet fuel to bring these fruits and vegetable to our casual Sunday morning brunches, releasing millions of pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere so that we can enjoy fresh fruit in the middle of winter with our friends. One ton of burned jet fuel emits over three tons of that greenhouse gas.
At some point we may end up throwing up our hands and giving up on a specific diet, and choosing to eat whatever feels right to us at that moment.
“If I just eat potatoes and carrots for the month of December, I am being kind to animals and to the planet.”
We make up stuff to justify whatever food choices we think might cause less suffering according to our own ideas about how the planet works.
But what is the reality?
For decades I’ve researched factory farming, the vegetarian diet, permaculture design, and regenerative agriculture. I’ve read read thousands of books and papers on agriculture and food issues and land planning and biology.
I’ve spent a decade farming on pasture and talking with other regenerative farmers who farm organically, who use permaculture methods or regenerative principles.
For decades I’ve been fascinated by this one question that many of us end up asking ourselves: What the hell can I eat that will also save the planet and cause less suffering to animals?
There are many other issues that we all ponder as well:
What do I eat, and how do I live my life, to remain free from cancer?
Why do all the diet experts out there put out conflicting opinions on what the research says? Is all the research biased?
Is butter okay, is salt going to kill me, does bacon cause cancer?
I’ve come to my own understanding about these issues, one that is not popular with vegetarians or vegans, and only slightly popular with a percentage of carnivores and omnivores.
It has to do with responsibility.
We all know that factory farms are not ideal in any way. They generally increase suffering in the livestock that is held there.
Some factory farmers will take issue with this concept.
“My animals are fed well, content and clean, and live a safe life until they are slaughtered in a USDA inspected facility.”
That is a mild way of saying that my animals live dull lives without the ability to express their animal nature.
USDA certification doesn't necessarily mean that these animals don’t end up suffering on the slaughterhouse floor. The fact that we have large factory slaughterhouses that need to process a certain amount of deaths per hour is what inadvertently causes suffering.
To be honest I don’t think anybody likes this system. The rich and powerful keep pushing for deregulation of this industry so that they become more rich and powerful, while the average worker gets paid less for more work, and has to contend with a more hazardous environment.
Nobody wants this scenario, except the rich and powerful.
What we really need to do is to support the revival of the small family-owned slaughterhouse in order to curb this endless trail of suffering.
What we really need to do is to support the unionization of this industry to protect a worker’s right to a safe environment, and to reinforce our ethical obligation to an animal to have a swift and humane slaughter.
But that won’t happen anytime soon, UNLESS people take heed of what I have to say here, which is simply this:
The ONLY ethical way to eat is to EAT LOCALLY.
We must eat from our own foodshed, for numerous reasons.
Many people, including myself at one point, assume that going vegan eliminates the suffering of all animals. While it may limit the suffering of animals in a factory farm, which is where the majority of so-called “conventional” meat comes from, it does not limit the number of deaths and suffering that other types of fauna living in this world experience.
The wildlife of this planet is suffering at an immense scale.
A healthy population of wildlife is arguably more important to the health of this planet than almost any other factor.
Wildlife includes the birds, rodents, many bee species, the butterflies, as well as the millions of tons of soil life that live in a typical hundred acre swath of property.
And of course it include the 440,000 pound blue whales as well.
As a beginning vegan or vegetarian, we generally don’t understand the complexity of this intertwined web of life that keeps us all alive.
It’s been said that a few inches of topsoil is all that keep us alive as a species — without the food, fiber, medicine, and building materials that the topsoil supports, we would not have been such a successful species, and we would not continue to be a healthy species.
Just look at the Dust Bowl for an example of what the loss of our topsoil can do, both to our environment and to our economy.
Without a healthy topsoil, we would not be able to produce our Impossible Burgers from soy and wheat protein.
We need the topsoil, and the topsoil is created through an endless interconnected dance between the wild flora and fauna that has existed on this planet in balance for hundreds of thousands of years before our intervention.
Now there doesn’t seem to be a square centimeter of land that humans haven’t impacted in one way or another.
My main belief, after decades of research on this topic, is that the impact of our consumption habits is what drives the majority of suffering on this planet, not just our food choices, but every other choice that we make on a daily basis.
And not just for our planet, but also for our fellow human being.
When we purchase plastic shoes, clothes, luggage, cups, towels, and so on we are creating, through our momentary desire, a piece of detritus that will last hundreds of year. And yet we don’t think about those things nearly as much as we think about what we eat.
I think that is because we are vain, self-centered animals.
We want to to look good even if it means ignoring the suffering of the planet.
This, ultimately, is what needs to stop for any type of balance to return to the planet— the endless stuffing of our closets and garages with crap that we think makes us look or feel better.
All of this garbage is what is killing the landscape and the seascape of the planet. The sea turtles, birds, and whales are all choking to death on the plastic that we can’t stop producing, we can’t stop buying, we can’t stop throwing away.
How can we stop all this suffering with our food choices, though?
We need to support the wild landscape. We cannot do that by planting endless field of soybeans and corn and peas for Impossible Burgers and Quorn Nuggets and all the rest of the processed stuff that absolutely has to be wrapped in plastic and contained in cardboard and shrink-wrapped once again to be flash frozen and delivered to our freezers so that we can eat these food-like substance, all the while thinking that we are saving the Earth.
Well, we’re not.
Anything that is processed is a far cry from sustainable. Anything that is processed does not reduce the suffering of our fellow animals— if you include the whole of the planet instead of just one little parcel of land.
The whales don’t know why they suffer and die because we can’t stop wrapping our Impossible Burgers in plastic.
The sea birds don’t know why they suffer and die because we causally toss our Burger King wrappers in the garbage cans.
Our plastic garbage never disappears, and it clogs the throat and intestines of our planet.
Only we can make a difference by the choices that we choose on a daily basis, and that choice must include eating local foods, and especially locally raised animals — their meat, milk, eggs, and dairy.
Why “especially locally raised animals”?
Because unlike every cultivated field of corn and soy and peas, a pastured livestock operation can actually increase the health and diversity of the planet’s landscape.
Supporting that engine of planetary regeneration means consuming those animal products to financially support those ranchers and farmers.
Not only can we support those regenerative farmers, but we can also support our own health in the process, by consuming these healthy and easily digestible fats and proteins from sustainably raised animals, with the absence of processing and sugars that cause obesity related illness, including diabetes, heart disease, and many cancers.
Not only that (but possibly even more importantly) locally-raised foods need far less packaging then any processed food shipped in from around the world.
The less packaging we use, the less we throw away. The less we throw away, the more whales will live.
This Holiday season, as we run around consuming soon-to-be-garbage left and right, the least we can do is support our local regenerative farmers in order to offset some of the damage that we are causing in the name of the Christmas spirit.
And it might be good to reflect on who benefits from this orgy of consumption, and what, ultimately, is harmed.
Because it’s not just about what we eat and how it affects us or a few other mammals: it’s about how every one of our choices effects every living being on this planet.
In the end, in order to cultivate a beneficial presence on the landscape, we must begin to think in terms of ecosystems, and not dietary preference.