I’ve been feeling a little conflicted for a while about something that seems pretty simple to most of the people around me, and I feel like I need to get this off my chest. Alright, here we go:
I haven’t been capable of committing to veganism.
And I think that I need to say something about this, that might seem a little controversial to my vegan friends and like a “no-brainer” to the meat eaters out there.
Eating only plants did not make me a better person.
But before anyone high fives or boos, I’d like to say that I’m absolutely certain that my puzzling over this definitely has made me a better person.
I’ll put it like this:
Eating meat in and of itself, is not evil. And eating only plants is not inherently good. Are our cats evil because they eat meat? Are the termites in our yard good because they eat wood?
In yoga, there’s this philosophy of ahimsa or “non-violence”
I think it’s a really cool idea. And while I would love to live a life violence free, it’s not because I actually am a paragon of peace with some visionary plan to orchestrate a world order free from destruction. In fact, I think that violence is inherent to existence, necessary and in some cases wonderful.
Violence is an aspect of change. Creation, destruction, nurturing, violence, are all part of the greater concept of change. Whether I am doing violence to a medium to create art, or nurturing a rebellion to destroy autocratic order, the reality of what I’m generating is change. And what you call that change is based on your perception of it.
So when I look at the reality of eating meat, I recognize that as a human being, I in part owe my ability to fathom the world as I do directly to the advent of cooking. Cooking food made digestion less energy intensive and as a result we got shorter intestines and larger brains.
Brains large enough to wonder whether or not their existence is worthwhile.
This is important. Because it’s that very ability to get existential about the current world order that I believe is the root of my “betterment” in this regard.
You see, I am capable of thinking about my food sources in a way that another animal might not. But I also am capable of thinking about my food sources in a way that another animal doesn’t actually need to.
Lion’s don’t have to wonder if it’s good to eat a gazelle. It’s the lion’s place in the food chain to cull the gazelle herds. It doesn’t run after the strongest healthiest gazelles and kill with reckless abandon. They work together to hunt what is convenient to hunt, when they are hungry. And they hunt what they have to hunt when they are desperate. They live their lives inherently in balance with the ecosystems they belong to. The gazelle doesn’t exist to feed the lion any more than the grass exists to feed the gazelle, anymore than the death and waste of lions and gazelles exists to feed the grass. They are all interdependent parts of an ecosystem.
The thrill of the hunt and the rush of survival. The microscopic melee of organochemical decomposition reminding us of the inevitable: being reclaimed physically to fuel the next generations of life. The pain and the fear which salt the caramel of gratitude. All of this is life, and in its own way, all of this is beautiful.
Human’s however have perverted this balance. Not with the eating of the animals, but with the growing of animals specifically to be eaten. Chickens, cows, pigs, and lambs are not herd animals living as part of an ecosystem. They are no longer creatures we respect and have a symbiotic relationship with. They’re protein sources we parasitically exploit for convenience. We’ve built a fortress for the mind to protect us from the reality of violence and consumption and our own place as hunters and hunted. It shields us from the personal experience of responsibility for the death of another to perpetuate our own survival.
The chicken now exists for 3 weeks after birth, subsequently packaged or precooked for my consumption. Scavenging a chicken is not evil. Hell, killing a chicken is not evil. But taking a living creature and denying it freedom, and then exploiting it unto death, I’ll let you decide.
Eating meat is not cruel. But industry, which turns the living into commodities to be used and tossed aside… Which has worked men, women, and children to the bone and rent limbs from their bodies. Which exploited the immigrants and the impoverished until we got sick of seeing it at home and shipped that violence overseas. That is the real cruelty.
For those of us who feel like simply not eating meat exonerates us, I have to say it’s really not that simple. Farming as an industry brings migrants here to work and poisons and breaks their bodies before throwing them back across the border. The industry of farming and agriculture systematically destroyed small farms and as a result family’s livelihoods and legacies stretching back for generations.
If you somehow are thinking, “People aren’t animals(you’d be wrong by the way) and that’s a different story(which it’s not by the way)” then you still have another thing coming. The meat industry might be killing animals who only exist to be exploited, which we can agree is a complete mess if we have a conscious… But farmers clearing forest to make fields destroys habitats. And farmers culling “pests” which are just creatures that compete with humans for food sources indiscriminately slaughter wildlife like bunnies, foxes, and rodents, who are drawn to these hyper-bountiful food sources like sailors to sirens. Except they’re not looking for a good time, they just trying to get lunch. And instead of rocks it’s bullets and poison and electrical fencing.
This might be somehow redeemable by the booming human population and the fact that people need to eat… But the amount of food waste we generate in the US alone is 30 - 40% of the food we produce. And most of it is produce. Combined with the reality that roughly 10% of the population is experiencing food insecurity points to a greater problem.
It’s not simply that industry is wasting food and harming people. It’s that those of us who aren’t aren’t going hungry don’t or won’t see the harm.
For me I wish I could be satisfied to just “go vegan” or simply have the money to be “source conscious” and only buy from companies that treat living creatures like they matter, but currently I’m stuck on the fact that people are so busy arguing about what animals have the right to eat meat that I can’t have any meaningful conversations about improving the overall systems in place for feeding people.
I can’t call veganism a step in the right direction anymore than only eating meat you’ve hunted and consuming it nose to tail. I would like to hold the degree of cosmic certainty that others I spend time with seem to have, but I am not the arbiter of justice. And justice usually just comes down to what whoever is in charge deems to be fair.
While I would love to have a solution, I don’t. The meat and dairy industries are a firmly ingrained part of our economy, our culture and our ecology. When food is part of your culture, the industry that serves it, is a part of your culture, too. It is enabled by it. The meat and dairy industries create a culture of food cruelty and that’s something all of us must accept. Agriculture, too, in its own way.
This brings up another point. While eating meat in America often leaves me really disappointed with the levels of cruelty we enact en masse and thoughtlessly, I know it’s not the case in every part of the world. And while all of the world has its own problems, the idea that the American meat industry’s problems are shared by every meat producer on the planet creates a willfully obtuse position. Even amongst companies in the United States practices are not equal. There are real people, working to create change, little by little. And if people are going to keep eating meat, those companies need support, too.
And if you want sustainable change, that’s the most viable option. If you can see a better one, illuminate me.
Sure we could just collapse the American meat industry. But there would be consequences.
The unemployment and anger around meat access, would likely be the first thing people think of as problems. The unemployment would be out of sight out of mind for most, but the meat shortages would be incredibly personal. The culinary world might go into shock. Perhaps there would be a heightened demand for meat alternatives, but the infrastructure could collapse under the pressure. Corporations serviced by the meat industry would likely collapse. Pet food would collapse. The second wave of unemployment from all of the companies and restaurants closing. All of this would likely be felt before the eventual consequences of releasing multiple billions of animals with no survival skills/instincts into the wild. What would that do to the global ecology? I could do the research, but I really don’t feel the need to pursue that. I’m sure the answer is, “it’d be terrible in ways you can’t even begin to imagine.”
The best I’ve come up with is this:
Figuring out how to draft bills incentivizing city planners to create large organic urban greenhouse farms that pay out a stipend/crops to locals who come to help tend them, and that turn local food waste into fertilizer. Decentralizing our food production seems like a safe way of creating more avenues to shifting away from the current system.
If you know anyone who might be interested in this, please, send them my way.
One of the main problems of human thinking is that what has not yet been experienced is often treated as outside of the realm of possibility. And that which has been experienced can easily become accepted. That is to say:
We’re often unwilling to pursue a possibility without the promise of a payout, and we’re often willing to live with a problem, simply because it doesn’t seem “unreasonable.”
So I need to create new possibilities that make some of our currently acceptable problems “unreasonable.”
Also, I’m trying to figure out what I can do besides sip Lipton or eat popcorn 🍿 when people start arguing about eating animals.
The actions of everyone matters when it comes to making the world a better place. So help me. I’m just a poet.