Well, sort of.
Roughly three years ago, I publicly announced that I had become vegetarian. I had become a pacifist, and not eating meat as a way to avoid killing animals seemed a logical extension of that.
As I progressed in my understanding of anarchist and communist philosophy, I started to also critique the meat industry from an anti-capitalist perspective.
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But I’ve changed my mind.
I’ve had some spiritual experiences over the last few months that have ignited within me a stronger appreciation for nature. These experiences have caused me to deeply reflect on my place in nature and how we as individuals are connected to nature.
So, I’m no longer a pacifist. Well, not fully. I’m still firmly against imperialist war actions. But I also recognize that sometimes violence is necessary. Against an oppressive state, to defend my family, to defend myself, to stand up to oppressors on behalf of the oppressed, and so on.
Recently, I took one of those online religion quizzes that tell you what religion you are based on your answers to some questions. My answers gave me pantheism.
This made sense in a way. My spiritual beliefs have been heavily influenced by Mormonism, and its esoteric beginnings contain ideas and teachings that parallel aspects of pantheism. Ideas such as all things being created spiritually before being created temporally, all of us being embryonic gods, being stewards of the earth, and so on.
While the quiz is hardly empirical, it made me reflect on my spiritual beliefs, especially in light of the recent experiences I briefly mentioned above.
My outlook on the natural world around me today is that we are spiritually connected to the animals, plants, weather, soil, heavenly bodies, and so on, and that we have a divine mandate to be their caretakers.
While anarchism and communism didn’t significantly influence my decision to become vegetarian, they have helped my ideas on veganism and vegetarianism evolve over the last three years.
Anarchists and communists are fervent supporters of securing natural resources as public resources, that they shouldn’t be exploited or destroyed in the pursuit of private, profitable interests.
As such, what began as a desire to avoid killing animals, my vegetarianism slowly began to include things like wanting to reduce my carbon footprint. The meat industry has a huge impact on the Earth’s ecosystems.
Where I stand today
While I consider myself functionally a vegetarian, I am no longer strictly a vegetarian. Here’s why.
First, anarchist discourse I’ve recently studied helped me to understand that my outlook on vegetarianism/veganism as a solution to resource exploitation was misguided.
Veganism and vegetarianism are consumer activities. Maintaining a plant-based diet (particularly a healthy one that provides your body with all the nutrients it needs) isn’t sustainable in most parts of the world. It certainly isn’t here in Canada, where we have a relatively short growing season (even shorter the further north you go).
Our legumes, our vegetables, our fruit, even some of our grains (quinoa, anyone?) have to be grown elsewhere. These distant crops are often grown by low-paid labour working on plantations where rain forests once grew. Then they’re shipped long distances, requiring vast transportation networks, large amounts of fossil fuel, and numerous staging locations (warehouses, distributions centres, terminals, stores, etc).
Plus, animals are killed and used during the planting, maintaining, and harvesting of crops.
To say nothing of the fact that multinational corporations that produce meat often also produce the foods vegans/vegetarians love to eat.
It is nearly impossible to positively impact the environment while subsisting on a typical vegan/vegetarian diet.
Second, death is a natural part of life. It’s one of the hallmarks of mortality. In LDS theology, death is but a portal into another phase of existence. Through birth, we transition from premortality to mortality, and through death, we transition from mortality to immortality.
Everything will die. I will die. Everyone I love will die. Some of them have already died.
Death is a part of the non-human animal world as well. Animals are eaten, and animals eat. Animals kills plants to eat, and other animals kill animals to eat. But this dance between life and death is a balance; it’s not excessive or exploitative.
Consider this video about the effects of reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone National Park (it is a bit exaggerated, but it raises an important point about predation’s role in ecosystems):
Predators keep surviving prey groups at manageable sizes and keep them healthy and strong by killing the slowest members (often the sick and weak).
Conversely, when predators die, they decompose into the soil, nourishing the plants that future prey will eat.
There’s no sense of morality when predators kill prey. They hunt and kill because of hunger, and their actions contribute constructively to the ecosystem. When they die, there’s no one to embalm them and seal them in a coffin, separated from the nature they had been a part of.
All this to bring us to where I am today.
Not eating animals doesn’t save them; they’ll still die. Either on their own or at the hands of a predator that hasn’t been taught arbitrary morality.
Nature demands that I consume life to live. Entire plants must be sacrificed if I am to eat vegetables. Future orchards must be sacrificed if I am to eat fruits. An animal must die if I am to eat meat.
My body then converts the potential energy from those living organisms into chemical energy I can use to sustain myself. And when I die, the potential energy within me will be released as chemical energy into the ecosystem.
A relationship exists between me and the food I eat. Or rather, a relationship should exist. Often the relationship is superficial; it should be meaningful.
Our current capitalist food system minimizes (if not eliminates) this relationship. We are removed from the producers of our food, let alone the organisms that sacrificed their lives for that food. Because of this distance, we rarely acknowledge that sacrifice.
We don’t consider the labour that harvested, produced, or transported our food. We don’t consider the sun, weather, or soil that sustained this food. We don’t consider the pollinators that converted blossoms into fruit or burrowing insects that helped improve aeration and water penetration in soil for vegetables and grain. We don’t consider the years of life lived by the animals that gave us our meat.
We just walk into the grocery store and buy our canned vegetables, frozen fruit, and packaged meats, many of which will end up in the garbage anyhow.
And those purchasing and eating habits help maintain a food production complex that pollutes our waters, razes our forests, and exploits our animals. Plus, it keeps alienated workers poor and powerless.
The only real solution for opposing the food production complex is to be directly responsible for our own food. When we grow our own food in orchards, gardens, greenhouses, and the like, we remove ourselves from the food production complex. Plus, we give back to the ecosystem through enriching our soil and creating environments where earthworms, butterflies, bees, birds, and the like can flourish.
So where does that leave me with meat?
Well, the taking of another life is still complex for me. I don’t rejoice in the death of another animal who would give its life that I may live. Even thinking about it brings me discomfort.
But I think that discomfort is important. I think that discomfort is a critical part of recognizing and appreciating the sacrifice an animal makes to sustain us. I think that discomfort can breed humility and gratitude. Humility to realize that we are not meant to be apex predators, but partakers and caretakers of the world around us, both in consuming and providing.
That discomfort erodes away as grocery store shopping becomes habitual. Over time, we become desensitized, and we lose that appreciation, humility, and gratitude.
So, while I no longer consider myself a vegetarian, I will be limiting my meat consumption to animals that I have raised or hunted myself. Animals with whom I have created a relationship. Animals that remind me of my role as a steward and not an owner.
I believe that these restrictions will impact my life in significant ways.
I think it will help me reduce waste. It will encourage me to use all that the animal provides, rather than only that which looks most appealing at the meat counter.
I think it will help me further develop, nurture, and strengthen my relationship with the world around me.
I think it will help me make better choices in supporting sustainable food practices in the world around me. Wild animals are the least resource intensive sources of nutrition in the world, and they contribute in positive ways to the environment, in ways feedlots and fish farms cannot.
I recognize that hunting, fishing, and raising livestock on a small scale is not feasible for everyone. It’s not even that feasible for me right now. I have no hunting or fishing licence. I have no hunting equipment. Heck, raising livestock is against the law here in Lethbridge.
But this decision, I think, is a start.