Coming up on Thanksgiving I am thinking about meat. My 25-year-old daughter, who grew up on our farm, milking goats and gathering eggs, is raising Narragansett turkeys for our and our friends' Thanksgiving dinners. We bought the farm as the solution to my moral dilemma. I was of draft age two years before the Vietnam War ended. One day I was in the supermarket. Seeing all the meat in packages with clear plastic wrap over them, I realized that this, like Vietnam, was killing by delegation. I was delegating someone else to kill my meat for me. Right there and then I decided that I should be a vegetarian unless I was willing to kill and butcher the meat I eat myself.
So I became a vegetarian. I am a very good cook and I prepared wonderful gourmet vegetarian meals, but I missed eating meat and after several months, I started having the same recurring dream. I was on the veld in Africa, running up along side a wildebeest, jumping on its back, biting into its neck with hot blood spurting onto my face. After months of this same dream I realized that I am not cut out to be a vegetarian, but if I wanted to eat meat I had to raise it and kill it myself.
First I raised and killed chickens and rabbits in NYC. Then we bought a farm in Massachusetts and started raising goats and cattle. We raised animals following the Animal Bill of Rights, which had more granularity back then -- i.e. animals had the right to stand up or sit down at will, to be able to be outside or inside at will, to be alone or with their own kind at will, to have a daily light and dark cycle, to be killed respectfully and as quickly and painlessly as possible. After all these years, it never got easy to kill any of the livestock I raised.
I have friends who are vegetarian. They eat no meat but drink milk and eat dairy products. But dairy demands animal slaughter. Most dairy cows come from artificial insemination matings of elite cattle in vitro producing multiple embryos, which are transplanted into various cow uteri to create the new crop of champion dairy producer -- 65+ pounds of milk per cow-day. But cows don't produce milk unless they are 'freshened' (get pregnant and give birth). The resultant offspring from freshening, if female, is not bred to be a dairy cow. And neither is the male. So most of these calves are sold to feedlots to become hamburger. In addition, the average cow freshens three times (in about as many years) before it is retired and sold as meat. If you drink milk or eat butter, yogurt, cheese or ice cream, you are making some cow's baby or the cow who gave you the ice cream into hamburger.
That is why a lot of people choose to go vegan. Vegans don't eat any animal products. They don't want to cause any creatures' death or enslavement. Many won't even eat honey. Yet honey only accounts for $300 million in annual production in the bee slavery business. By contrast the value of captive bees raised for pollination of crops is about $14 billion per year.
Some crops, like almonds, are 100 percent dependent on bees for pollination. Others, like berries are 90 percent dependent. Apples, cranberries, melons and broccoli all result from pollination by bees, as do 150 other crops. There are over 100,000 species of invertebrates and over 1,000 species of birds, reptiles and mammals that pollinate plants. There are also crops whose pollen is scattered by forces of nature such as wind and not nature's creatures, like rice, wheat and corn.
So, if there are no bees raised in captivity there is not much food for vegans. One could craft their vegan diet to only eat plants that are self pollinating, pollinated by wild creatures and forces of nature... but they would still be eating a 'living thing' -- a plant.
While plants are rooted to the ground, they are very expressive and reactive to their environment. In a single day, many plants, including sunflowers for example, will completely track the movement of the sun, at sunrise, facing east through west by the end of the day and back east again by next morning (phototropism). Plants are very responsive to gravity -- with their growing parts heading upwards and their roots going down (geotropism). If there is water nearby they head toward that (hydrotropism). If there are available bio-limiting nutrients nearby such as nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium, secondary nutrients or micronutrients, plants will direct their roots to selectively pump water and nutrients from that section of their root network.
But plants' 'awareness' goes beyond that. In his book the Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan describes how plants intelligently and manipulatively co-evolve with us, using humans to complete the plants' diabolical plans of global domination.
More and more peer reviewed scientific studies are showing bona fide examples of plant sentience. An article in the New York Times documented how pea plants, for example, communicate the onset of a drought to other plant species allowing them to take preparatory and precautionary actions. There are some plants that are specifically designed to be eaten, like cherries, apples, oranges and grapes, so that their seeds are taken from the site of the parental tree and disbursed within a lump of fertilizer elsewhere.
We can keep going down the phylogenetic tree to find politically correct food, but I still don't think it solves our problem. Yeast is one of the most successful life forms on the planet. We think we cultivate yeast to produce bread and alcohol, but it is the yeast that cultivates humans to help it reproduce, enslaving us by keeping us full and drunk.
So, perhaps all creatures have intelligence and all creatures have a soul. So, what to eat?
As Polonius advised Laertes, "This above all: to thine own self be true." What is true is that we hominids evolved into omnivores and have been so for over one million years. We do not have a compartmentally divided stomach designed to be able to only eat grasses, nor do we have flat teeth for grinding plants. Neither do we have the large canines, incisors and jaw muscles nor the simpler stomachs of carnivores.
We are omnivores. That's how we're built. There is no dilemma if we are true to ourselves and, at the same time, full of gratitude for all the life forms on this planet, with special gratitude for the edible ones. We can honor them by raising and harvesting them in a sustainable manner and allowing them to live their lives in the best and most joyous ways possible.