Non-violence & Food

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 our kills. 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, whilst not otherwise occupied with surviving.

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 about thinking about my food sources in a way that another animal can’t. But I also am capable of thinking about my food sources in a way that another animal doesn’t actually need to. Predators and prey likely do not feel guilt or shame for what they are.

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 dependent on each other.

The majestic violence of organochemical decomposition reminds us of the inevitable: being reclaimed physically to fuel the next generations of life. The thrill of the hunt and the rush of survival. 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.

In a “violence free” world, the only real benefit is that you get to pretend some of the problems of life do not exist. But living without “violence” in this world is not a reality, it’s strategic ignorance.

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 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 personal responsibility.

What we have achieved is a new kind of violence. We have done violence to the existential reality of the creatures that we consume. The chicken now exists to be neatly 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, 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. In this way, we have accomplished existential violence again. By accident of your birth or circumstance, as a human, you may become a for profit commodity to be exploited when you lose legal protection.

For those of you who feel like simply not eating meat exonerates you, 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 families’ 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 fences.

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 purchase, which doesn’t account for any of the food wasted on the way to shelves or directly from shelves when it is not purchased. The most wasted food? Fresh 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 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 hunting your own meat.

The best I’ve come up with is this:

Figuring out how to create a bill 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. If you know who I can talk to about this please let me know. I’m trying to figure out what I can do besides sip Lipton or eat popcorn when people start arguing about eating animals.

I’m really hear to say the conversation can’t simply be about people eating meat. The conversation has to become about evaluating the sustainability of industrialized food in lieu of the systemic harm perceptible at every level to the financial and biological ecosystems within which we function. The conversation requires wrestling with the reality of human need, and finding ways to create localized solutions that are sustainable. The conversation needs to be about converting that which we have, into that which we want. Because I’ve seen the projections and I don’t know that anyone else who has truly wants this.