Bye-Bye Vegan Diet? Or, Little Cluck Cluck Meets the Axe

Could I be a killer? That is the real question. I know, I know, I sound like a bit of a whiner. Anything living ends up killing something even if the killing is accidental:  chopping up worms when I dig the garden soil, crushing ants as I cross the driveway, the endless smearings of flying critters spattering my windshield as I drive. What’s the big deal, right? The thing is, I feel bad about even these deaths – the deaths can’t control. I can only imagine how it would feel to intentionally slaughter something bigger than a bug – something with a distinct personality, soulful eyes, and a significant amount of blood.

I doubt that many hunters sob over the prostrate bodies of the animals they kill, but I can guarantee you I would. No victory dances for me, thank you very much.  On a PBS show, I once saw Ted Nugent prance wildly in celebration around a dead wild boar that he had shot with an arrow in one of his hunting videos. I found that disrespectful, disgusting even. To gloat over another living creature’s suffering and demise, shameful – especially since this animal was going to feed his family. This is the problem I have with hunting for “sport.” Hunting to survive is one thing and the animals should be respected in life and death, but “sport” implies the right to gloat, to preen and prance about as if it death for death’s sake is a victory.

One of the things that I’m a bit concerned about with the coming of peak oil…well, ok, more like panicked aboutis the possibility that I may have to eat animals or animal products again out of sheer necessity. While I’ve worked through my ethical concerns about eating the eggs of fowl that I would obtain from ethical sources and raise humanely on my own property, I cannot reconcile myself to dispatching one of my hens when she reaches retirement age. Thanks for the years of service, Henny, now into the pot you go! Knowing that our economic status would probably prohibit me from continuing to feed a “nonproductive” member of our household (kids not included), brings up all kinds of uncomfortable issues for me.

I understand the reason behind responsible animal husbandry – grass-fed, naturally raised beef, for example. I know the history of animal domestication and the reason why raising animals is an essential part of farming – especially organic farming. Grazing and foraging animals like chickens, goats, cows produce tons of natural organic fertilizer and, in small numbers, benefit the pastures they graze upon. The poop helps the grasses grow and can also be spread on garden beds to enrich the soil. The animals supply the farmer with one or more “crops”: milk, meat, eggs, wool. The animals live a good life and then bang (or whack), they feed the farmer’s family. The problem for me comes when you’ve spent months or years caring for the critters every day and suddenly it’s not an issue to send them to slaughter. I know farmers who talk as if they love and care for their animals yet still enjoy them on the dinner plate. I’ve read books and heard interviews with farmers – farmers whose general philosophies and practices I would mostly approve of otherwise – who have no trouble viewing their livestock as commodities – a crop (I think it was Barbara Kingsolver who put it that way). They gave them a good life and have no problem giving them a “good” death to feed their families or make a living. They aren’t sentimental about their animals even though they take the time to scratch a sow’s back or mingle with and pat the cows every day. Granted, these animals will die from natural causes or disease eventually even if they weren’t destined for dinner. I have a problem being the agent of that death.  What gives me the right to decide that a year or two is long enough for a cow to live when they might live to be 15? 

I’m also familiar with the idea that domesticated animals wouldn’t exist without us – true enough. However, I don’t buy into the thought, raised by some, that these animals have “thrown in their lot” with us and agree to feed people in return for the privilege of existing. I don’t believe animals would willingly sacrifice themselves so that their species can continue to exist. This is not to say that animals don’t have a sense of the future – just not the future in those terms. Faced with danger an animal will not choose to be killed and eaten if given the opportunity for escape. 

I do not disagree that in subsitance agriculture, animal products provide essential fat, protein and calories. However, Americans, most of us, are not living hand to mouth. It is the CHOICE not to contribute to animal suffering that keeps me returning to to veganism. If i did not have this CHOICE, if my family was dirt poor and a few chickens could make the difference between starvation and survival, yes, I could still choose to let my family perish, but that would seem pretty silly. Being vegan is a luxury allowed by our current somewhat “elite” (as compared to much of the world) lifestyle. Now, many people in the world eat very few animal products because they are costly and dear and this is how it should be. Instead, our society has cheapened animal products so much that we raise millions of animals in such nightmarish conditions that death is probably a welcome blessing for them. 

As long as I can, I will remain vegan (with the exception of a the few humanely acquired eggs I’ve mentioned in the past). Now, honey is another issue…and I’ll talk about that some other time.

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