What do we do when we become aware that everything we eat involves the death of sentient beings?
We can choose to run and hide and think happy thoughts. Or we can choose to confront that reality head-on.
I’ve tried it all — eliminating animal foods made me sick and depressed. I became overweight and anxious. For the majority of my life I was a vegetarian, with occasional forays into veganism and raw foods.
My youth was spent trying to persuade others, including my unfortunate family and friends, that it was bad to eat animals. I would always bring the Tofurky to Thanksgiving, or order the black bean burger at the cafe.
I thought I was making a big difference.
All that changed when I began to eat animal foods from local farmers.
I started to eat animal products from local farmers because I knew where the animal had come from, how it had been treated, and what it ate. I also knew that my dollars would be circulated within the community, rather then being sent off to some corporation that did not care about me, my family, or my community.
There were so many positive to eating these types of animal foods that it seemed less harmful overall to the earth to do so, so I ate meat and eggs occasionally that were purchased from farmer friends.
Then I became a farmer.
Initially, as an ardent vegetarian gardener, I was gung-ho on starting a large vegetable growing operation, but it turned out that, as much as I enjoyed growing veggies, that really wasn’t my forte. My partner at the time and I had gotten a couple of pigs, and I really enjoyed raising them, so much so that after a few years I focused on raising pigs for a living.
So I really enjoyed raising those pigs. How could I kill them for food? That’s the question that I always hear from vegetarian and vegan friends.
The answer is this: Because they are made of food. They would not exist without all of my efforts. I know where and how they lived, who raised them, and what they ate.
Many vegans have told me that I don’t need to eat animals at all.
I disagree for two reasons.
The first reason is that no matter what type of food I eat, animals are going to be harmed. After many years of work and study I have concluded that slaughtering one large animal that is raised on pasture is, most likely, the least harm that you can do to sentient beings, in the bigger picture of all the creatures that live in and on the landscape.
My second reason is that I find that animals foods are highly beneficial for my physical and mental well-being. The saturated fats and highly digestible protein of dairy products and meat are essential for me to continue to maintain a healthy body and mind, especially in the middle of a Midwestern winter.
In the prime of my life I was eating a vegetarian diet full of organic grains and beans and vegetables and feeling depressed and run down and out of energy all the time. Now in my middle age I am more healthy and I have a much more positive mental attitude that ever did, back when my liver was busy helping to process those grain-based carbohydrates, and my stomach was bloated from processing all that vegetable fiber.
I do believe, very strongly, that every being has sentience. All mammals experience the world very similarly to us. Some animals like birds, fish, and snakes experience a reality that is somewhat different than our own mammalian existence, and worms and spiders live in a world that is hardly recognizable to us evolved apes. But I acknowledge that the differences in our ways of living life doesn’t take away the reality that each vole and termite has sentience, a way of experiencing life that is clearly like our own.
My goal as warden of my property, and the goal I advocate for all farmers or homesteaders, and conservationists or naturalist, is to care for as many sentient beings as I can, in as many ways as I can, by increasing diversity and healthy habitat for as many beings in the web of life on my landscape as possible.
All the animals that I have raised on landscapes that I have managed, and all the animals that I have known on wild lands that I have traveled, have taught me innumerable lessons about what it means to be a sentient being.
All the plants that I have grown or harvested on the landscapes that I have managed, and all the plants that I have observed or harvested in the wild lands that I have moved through, have also taught me many lessons about their very different consciousnesses.
The world is full of lessons freely given. It is the wisdom of nature; the plants, animals, mountains, and rivers, that is our most precious resource of all.
All of us live in a landscape that is full of energy that moves through it. This isn’t a woo woo idea, this is a fact of the natural sciences. The energy of atoms and the energy of elements and the energy of pumping hearts and splashing water all create a mosaic of life that is infinitely complex and beautiful.
Only we humans constantly pick and choose what we believe to be good energy and what we believe to be bad energy, and we call our parsing nature “morality”. Living in complex societies we need a system of morality to keep our societies working, to keep all of us humming along in relative safety and enjoying our daily activity without living in constant fear.
If we shift our point of view just a small amount we can see that in the world of the ant or the wasp or the spider or the mouse we are the bringers of the Apocalypse. In the world of the rat and possum and deer and mosquito we are the Death Squad.
We disregard so much of sentience when it suits us.
We are moral in our own worldview, but in so many ways we act like every other animal on this planet and protect our own human habitat at the expense of all other beings.
The human-created landscapes that are created for practical purposes, the farms and factories and parks and cities and backlots and ditches, do not welcome the diversity of life that would otherwise flourish there in the absence of our meddling hands.
We manage our landscapes to exclude all sentience that is unwanted, and such is the regenerative power of nature that our jobs of exclusion never end.
Agriculture is only one branch of that vast tree.
We also harshly exclude all nature from our buildings and homes and cars. We constantly upgrade roads to crisscross the landscape so that we can use our petrol burning machines to move around without any physical effort, creating tar and steel barriers that hinders and halts the movement of wildlife and nature in general.
We do all of this while pumping carbon dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons into the air, altering the climate and thus, albeit removed by a few degrees of separation, killing off so many birds and beasts that don’t have a chance with that extra foot of snow, or that extra week of below freezing temperatures, or that flood of rain that washes away the hillside that once grew a blanket of wildflowers that housed the spiders and and insects that fed the birds that now don’t exist.
They have all been wiped out by our many hands dipping into the honey pot of Nature’s abundance of resources.
And we bicker and moan on fossil-fueled social media about this cause and that political issue and what diet is best for eachother while each computer server sucks down a ton of electrical energy created by coal and nuclear power.
We build walls and bridges and fences and dams and dikes and docks and ditches and driveways and parking lots and warehouses, all to facilitate our endless hunger for stuff.
Holy, holy stuff.
The endless acquisition of stuff is actually more harmful to all sentient beings on this planet then anything else could possible be. We know this, but we don’t want to address it, and so we bicker more and more on social media about a cause or a political issue or a diet.
There was a back-to-the-land movement in the 60s and 70s because people were getting tired of all this material stuff and obsession with the exteriors of life. Then along came the 80s and wiped that slate clean, giving us M.C. Hammer and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and all the endless stuff began to pile up in our oversized houses, and we bathed and dreamt in a soft and comfortable womb-like world that allowed us to stay inside for days on end.
Then the internet was invented and all life outside ceased to exist.
Nowadays half of the populace always stays inside. The rest of us spend, on average, about 7% of our days out in the fresh air.
To fill the gaping hole in our hearts where nature once stood, where nature once pulsed and trailed and webbed and crawled all over our human worlds for over 99% of our existence as a species, we filled up our hearts with endless stuff that kills not only our own soul but the soul of the child slave worker in Taiwan, the office worker in New York, the factory worker in Detroit, and ultimately the soul of the planet.
If we really cared about animals we would not buy any more stuff.
We wouldn’t use any more plastic bags that ultimately end up in the stomachs of the mightiest and most magnificent of all beasts, the whales.
All of us care as much as we actually care. We delineate where we think the moral high ground is is and where it isn’t.
Then we tell ourselves we live in the heights. But we all have a lot of work to do to get there — all of us.
A reason that a lot of people are turned off by militant vegans is that a lot of what they do or say is quite obviously a ton of virtue signalling stuffed into the cloak of a cult, covered in a banner with the words “We are saving the world!” printed on it in bright green letters.
I was like that. I thought I was doing good.
But I finally discovered the truth, which was that all the aspects of being alive on this planet are infinitely more complex then can be distilled down into one ideology.
What we eat has huge power, but so does everything else that we consume or buy or do. Americans barely spend any of their take-home money on food compared to most other developed countries, and we have the highest rates of obesity and heart disease.
We invest in whatever we feel has value to us, and so if we feel that food is valuable to us, that it will make our lives more enjoyable, our lives happier, we will invest in the best food that we can.
But most people don’t invest in quality food for a myriad of reasons including poverty and lack of education. I don’t find them morally reprehensible simply because they do not share my views on food.
If my views on food are true, if they bring value and health to others, then my words will resonate with people. I don’t need to yell at anybody just because they might have a different view of food.
Ultimately, our lives are a whole big complicated system. Every part is as important as any other part. The way I eat is as important as how I move. Training my mind is as important as training my body. Sharing time with friends is as important as a good night’s sleep.
So instead of pointing fingers all around, I advocate for going out there and rewilding your self — becoming more involved in the outdoors, in nature.
You will gain insight on life and death, you will begin to understand how your body and mind work, and in the end it will become clear that you are an autonomous sentient being with your own path to follow, just like all the other creatures on the planet.
We need more people like Steve Irwin, and less people like PETA.