When we garden we kill indiscriminately and with joy in our hearts.
Ripping the heads off defenseless plants and slicing our blades through the torsos of tubers, we wreak havoc and mayhem upon the green and immobile life forms that we call plants.
One shovel blade shoved into the ground also causes pain and suffering and death by the hundreds if not thousands of those creatures that we call invertebrates. The sharp metal also severs root appendages and filaments of mushroom mycelium, all of which create a dense interwoven network of the underground that we take for granted but feeds a million minute mouths every day.
We take this incredible complexity for granted, but every desert is a clear example of how easy it is to shift an ecosystem only a few degrees from fruit trees and a thousand beating hearts into sand and lizard tails baking in the sun.
But we don’t talk about that. We chat around our tables full of freshly shucked organic corn on the cob and mashed new red potatoes with no thought about the carnage that was reaped in order for each and every one of us to enjoy our healthy hipster meals.
Those of the newly bourgeois love to wear outdoor gear originally created for use on mountaintops redesigned into apparel worn for a fashion statement on the concrete coldness of the city street. Are these clothes so innocent, are these shoes so benign, and of course we all know the toll that each of our electronic devices takes on both the environment and humanity itself in the form of slender brown children’s fingers worn to the bone.
But we say, to ourselves and to our friends, that all that is fine, we must do what we must do so that we can be comfortable, so that we can be happy and our authentic selves: Everyone else is doing it so why can’t we?
I ask a vegan: What is it that you do that no one else does?
They reply: I try to minimize suffering to the best of my ability.
The key words of course being “To the best of my ability.”
It is not a stretch of the imagination to conclude that most humans, who are not psychopaths, are acting within those same parameters, the all-encompassing auspices of “Doing the best that they can.”
Food is our most effective ethical practice du jour. Food is where we can make a tremendous impact three or more times each and every day. When we minimize the ethical importance of our food choices, our environments will be plundered for the sake of flavor alone until only sand and lizard tails remain.
We are human — we are made to eat everything that is edible. We are also animal — we are made to be myopically focused on our own comfort.
These are survival mechanisms that have proven to be successful, and wildly so to the point where our planet is having a hard time dealing with our selfishness. We are selfish beasts devouring the whole of the globe.
But is the Impossible Burger the answer to our selfishness? Of course not.
To take one simple food, a slab of cold red beef, muscle fibers differentiated by layers of translucent marbled fat, and say that it is a bad thing is wholly and uniquely human. We create elaborate structures in our minds to either prove that beef is bad or that beef is good and then we live in those structures and defend against anyone trying to invade them.
We never think simply that beef is beef. It is what it is. It isn’t good or bad.
So on one hand we have those who call themselves Vegan who profess to do the best that they can — calling the GMO soy creations called the Impossible Burger the pinnacle of compassion, and on the other hand we have die hard carnivores who scoff at this weird factory product and point out that, once again, we have created a “Health Food” the likes of which Kellog would have been proud of — taking a machined product and turning it into the epitome of healthy daily living.
Years ago I ate vegetarian burgers because I thought that I was helping animals.
But now I know differently.
Animals are helped if we switch from processed food to to a whole foods diet based mostly on perennial plants. This shift will reduce suffering more so than any other diet choice that we could make. Paradoxically to some, grazing animals on these perennials and eating them is one of the last harmful way of eating, other than eating the perennial plants themselves.
The most abundant and resilient perennial on the planet is grass and we can not eat grass. And thus a cow becomes our God — she offers a seemingly endless supply of meat and milk eating only the strongest and most abundant perennial on the planet that we cannot digest.
One large food animal can feed a family for months, and is less harmful to the overall big picture of the natural web of life then eating any grain or bean product.
As long as we do not see the results of our daily choices we will never know the literal suffering that we create in our wake on a daily basis, and so as so-called First World inhabitants we barely know a thing about the trail of death that we cause as we go about our day to day existences.
Even when I point out to a vegan that each plastic item, each processed grain or bean food (all of which have to be endlessly processed in order to be in any way digestible to our sensitive guts), each rubber tire on our metal cars, each shoe on our feet, each breath mint in a tin can — all of these things are cause for the destruction of our environment and animal and plant habitat — even then the response is invariably “I try to do the best that I can.”
But who doesn’t?
Each processed food, whether it is the Impossible Burger, or a Chicken Nugget, or a can of tomato sauce, or a bag of chips, is an inherently pollution-filled and wasteful product that is created to appeal to our tastebuds and our laziness. Thus, each instance of food manufacture is an extreme instance of unethical behavior.
From the very processes to create the packaging, to the creation of the food product from field to factory, to the inevitable byproducts including the wasted packaging, all of these things are ethically wrong because they imply that it is okay to create pollution and waste in order to satisfy our flavor desires and selfish behaviors.
But we say that is okay. We say that is the best we can do today. We make that choice, knowing that the plastic bag we got our fast food in will end up in the stomach of a giant whale, amongst a million more.
Because that giant whale means less to us then our own comfort, in the grand scheme of things. We cannot care for the planet when all we really care about is our own tongues and our own convenience.
What it all comes down to is that fresh food, from our own landscapes, including all the animals and plants and mushrooms that we can find and eat, are really the only ethical food choices that we can make.
But we don’t choose those foods for many of our meals, with predictable excuses such as “I’m too busy.” or “I’m too poor.” or “I just want to treat myself.”
And so none of us are really doing the that best we can. So much of this issue, the ethical nature of eating meat, is lip service and grandiose statements on the internet, when we are all really eating bag after bag of Doritos on the living room couch watching Netflix documentaries about giant whales.
We can do better.
And the way toward something better is most definitely not more processed GMO soy-junk like the Impossible Burger.
But perhaps the way forward is in that hunk of cow meat that was harvested from a nearby farm and brought to you by your local farmer.
Not only does the manufacturing of food kill animals indiscriminately by putting acres of grassland into crops which ultimately are transformed into Chicken Nuggets or Doritos or Impossible Burgers, but it also slowly but surely puts all of your local farmers out of business.
They too are worthy of your compassion.
Up until the early 1900’s they were the human beings behind your food. They were the living orchestrators behind the dance of cattle and crops that characterized agriculture for thousands of years, back before petrochemicals, war, and genetic engineering decided it was smarter than a plain old human being in overalls.
Food engineers are doing “The best that they can.” But their best is far worse than what humans have been eating for ten thousand years. The engineers are creating solutions to problems that don’t exist.
Choose Farmer over Factory.
Choose Beef over Soyjunk.
Choose Life over the Death of an Ecosystem.
Choose that Giant Whale swimming in the Deep Ocean.