friend or foe

God almighty. I was perusing Facebook on this windy morning and came across an article that really got under my skin. The gist of this story was about a small college, one that ran a farm that focused on sustainability in food systems, that was about to slaughter a pair of oxen that had worked there for ten years, and this decision had caused a serious uproar from a certain segment of the populace that considers meat to be murder. I think this is extremely unfortunate,  that this segment chose to become enraged by this specific example of the choices involved in raising livestock. I would like to bring up some issues that I’m sure the enraged segment hasn’t thought about.

First of all, all living things die eventually. I know this is a hard concept to grasp, but I assure you it is true. Now, if a big living thing isn’t harvested or killed and eaten in the middle of its life by some other big living thing, then it will grow old and die, and then small living things eat it. So life eats life to continue onward and upward. If every living thing stopped eating other life in some way shape or form, then our planet would turn into bare rock and cold oceans. So it is our Great Luck that we live in a world full of living things eating other living things. It is way more interesting than the alternative.

You may agree with that, but you might say we have no right to eat other living things that are like us, i.e. mammals, birds, or fish. You most likely will say it is perfectly okay to eat other living beings that are unlike us, i.e. grains, fruit, nuts, leafy greens. You believe this because when you look into the cute eyes of your puppy dog, she speaks to your heart. Fine, I love my puppy too. But we don’t really know what the puppy is thinking. We are connected at heart, but separated by this vast ocean that is the difference between species. Again thank god for the gorgeous diversity of life, and the mystery that lies therein. But in any case, my point is this: when a cow grazes some tasty grass or a hawk swoops down to catch a mouse, these lives are simply doing what comes naturally to them, what is in their DNA. Do you judge all the animals that tear into, dismember, and rip out the throats of their prey? Are these carnivores evil? What about an omnivore like a bear, who grabs great gobs of insects and crushes them alive in its jaws? But, you say, we are human and can choose to not eat meat. That is true. We, those of us who are debating this issue, are also highly privileged in that we can go to the grocery store and buy whatever kind of food that we want whenever we want to. So tell me, what about the poor farmer in a third world country who has to put food on the plate for his family, do you deny him the right to harvest animals in order to do that? As a species, we want to survive and continue on, as do all the other species. There is nothing wrong with this, right?

That takes me to my next point: If you think that by eating a vegan or vegetarian diet you are not involved in  the lives of animals, you are most likely totally wrong. Let me tell you why.

Conventional large-scale egg and cheese production involves a large quantity of misery for all involve. If you eat those products than you are participating in a horror freak show. I won’t even go into specifics, it’s all out there for you to find out for yourself. On a small scale sustainable farm, the dance between farmer and animal can be a beautiful thing. I can tell you this because we sell duck eggs for a living and our ducks are happy, healthy, and free to roam their paddocks searching for green nibbles and also, horrors of horrors, bugs and slugs. Chickens love bugs to, and will eat a snake if opportunity presents itself. What I’m trying to say is we need to wake up and understand that the difference between a real small sustainable farm an a really huge conventional farm is like the difference between a bicycle and a Hummer. They both have wheels but they are not really related.

Anyways, back to why your vegetarian diet is kind of misleading.  Here you have a field of lovely organic produce. Most likely it was fertilized with dairy cow shit, see above. This is a really important thing to understand. Without all the lovely manure of livestock, the growing vegetables on a larger scale is tough to impossible work. Also, when the field was plowed up so were some field mice, a rabbit warren, an ant hill, three snakes, and some bird nests. This is the curse of the machine, though, they allow us to be separated from the natural world to a large degree. On a smaller note, most of your produce was pollinated and came to fruit through the helpful work of our friend the bee, which is not a plant as far as I know. But you probably don’t think a bug is much like an animal, plus it’s kinda ugly and alien therefore it’s okay to kill it if it grosses you out.

I’m getting kind of wordy and I have some work to do so I’m going to wrap up this post with this: The farmer or gardener understands his/her plants and animals way better then you do. If you haven’t even experienced anything related to agriculture or raising animals all the way from the beginning to the end, you don’t really know anything other then what’s in your imagination. We should respect the decision of this college to harvest these two oxen and continue the conversation about the ethics of raising our food. That is all.