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In the farmer’s market on Saturday morning, we stood in line to buy bread. We did not stand in line to buy a peach raspberry pie and bread, but that’s another story (with a happy ending. The pie was worth it.) Next to the baker’s display was a booth set up by a local businesswoman who specializes in unique homemade dog treats. As my mother is owned by a dear border collie and I’m always on the lookout for something they might like, I idly checked out the booth while my partner waited in line (to buy bread, not pie.)
I found rows of attractively-packaged, carefully labeled, very expensive bags of dog goodies, most of which were vegetable-based and proudly labeled as containing “no animal biproducts.”
Sometimes I feel pretty despairing about the world. I’m sure this businesswoman is a well-meaning and hard-working person trying to earn a living in central Maine who cares about dogs. However, it would be good to avoid spelling errors on her labels and dogs are not vegetarians or vegans.
There is, in fact, debate among veterinarians and scientists about whether dogs are omnivores or carnivores, but recent research based on physiology suggests dogs are indeed carnivores. Many wild canines are apex predators. Many perform the vital function of carrion eaters and scavengers. Dogs are not vegetarians.
There are a lot of dark monsters walking the streets right now. Rampant narcissists, greedy capitalists and fanatical ideologists are slowly consuming the world. There’s another ogre abroad, though, one bathed in blue light and wearing angel wings, and that is our willful ignorance and denial of the physical and biological realities we live and die with, our inability to work elegantly with complexity and shades of grey and the cult we’ve made out of love and peace.
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One of my favorite writers on Medium, Kay Bolden, recently wrote a piece entitled Love is a Warrior, Not a Saint. She is absolutely correct. Love is not a saint. Love sees things clearly. Restricting our dogs to a vegetarian diet is not love. It’s animal abuse. If we love our dogs, we appreciate them for the magnificent companions and colleagues they are, and dogs are not vegetarians. If we love our dogs, we give them a nice raw, bloody, meaty bone now and then and we do not force them to struggle on a grain or vegetable-based diet and handfuls of supplements in order to address their nutritional needs. Wild canines form packs and hunt. They kill birds, rodents, rabbits and even larger animals, tear them apart with their teeth and eat them raw. That’s what a dog’s ancestry is. Refusing to accept that is not love.
Dogs have evolved with humans for thousands of years and have adapted to scavenge and forage amongst people. Most dog owners know that their pets will, if able, routinely eat all kinds of rubbish and frequently suffer digestive consequences. If humans are wiped out overnight in some kind of a plague, our dogs will consume our dead bodies, form packs, and begin hunting.
I despise what human beings have done to animals. Animal testing, the terrible practices of factory farming, our idiotic greed for things like rhino and elephant horns and furs, and our irresponsibility, cruelty, stupidity and malice have done no end of harm to the entire animal kingdom. We seem bent on destroying every habitat on the planet (often so people can feel self-righteous about how peaceful and loving they are as vegans and vegetarians, never mind that Big Ag wipes out hundreds of thousands of organisms and poisons the soil in every field it monocrops, not part of the natural process of life and death) as quickly as possible, leaving nothing but sterile wastes behind us. We do this. People. Homo Sapiens.
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Bleating about love and peace and refusing to recognize carnivores, herbivores, the extraordinary complex system of Planet Earth and the necessity and function of all parts of it is just as bad as clearcutting the rainforest. Mother Nature is about prey and predator. When it’s healthy, the natural system is a complicated, dynamic dance of life and death involving countless organisms. Carnivores hunting and eating meat is not an act of violence or hate. Predators hunting prey is the natural order of things. Life on earth depends on it.
Somewhere along the way we seem to have lost our innate wisdom and connection to life. The modern age is all about arrested development. We’re like small children in sunny nurseries having a tea party with our stuffed animals and dolls. We’ve distorted love and peace into something prim and sweet, entirely artificial and entirely one-dimensional. Peace and violence are mutually exclusive. Love is entirely peaceful. Death is entirely hateful and violent. Love and peace are pretty. Love and peace are nice. They’re tolerant. They contain no animal “biproducts.”
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What dangerous, infantile lies. Love is the face of the Divine, and the face of the Divine looks upon fire and flood, thunder and lightning, sand and ice and sea. The face of the Divine looks upon the musky violence of reproduction, the grinding bones and tearing tissue of birth, the vast cycles of predators and prey that encompass each layer of life from the smallest microbes to the largest animals. The face of the Divine orchestrates the checks and balances ensuring population control, which is often driven by disease, famine and drought. The Divine dances a passionate, sensual, joyful dance, knee-deep in blood, semen, bone, flesh, fat, hair, scales, feathers, rot, vomit and excrement.
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In the midst of this beautiful, intricate world it’s we alone who have the fantastic hubris to refuse to participate. It’s we who deny the very ground of our being, the substance and structure of flesh and bone and biology. We rant about inclusivity and equality while we steadily eradicate life on earth, self-destruct, and allow ourselves to be divided from one another, never pausing long enough in our fatal greed and grotesque need to win and be right to understand life and death already are inclusive and equal. We all must eat and drink, successfully procreate if our genetic material is to survive, and die. We’re all part of the magnificent turning wheel of life, whether we like it or admit it or not. We’ve allowed our contemptible ideologies, our fears, our ignorance and our absurd desire for the higher moral ground to weaken us and we’ve become the most dangerous form of life on the planet, not only to ourselves but to every living thing around us. Then we project our madness onto the animals who depend upon us, reward the criminals who market vegetarian dog food and call that love. We call that being peaceful.
No. That’s not my love. My love and compassion are bigger and wider than that. I love the glorious cycle of life and death, even if it means I dip my hands in blood and endure the stench of decaying flesh. I muster the humility to learn about interconnectedness and how to participate elegantly in life and death. I love myself and others for what genetics, evolution and biology make us. I work for peace. I can wield the tool of violence if necessary. I respect and welcome death, recognizing it as a sacred consort to life.
I will give a dog a bone.
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except where otherwise noted
This is a third post in a series in which I’ve questioned the relationship between American dietary standards and health and written about my own personal journey with diet. This week I’ll focus on some of the ideology embedded in diet and food production.
In my first post, I briefly mentioned vegan bullying. Because of the way we choose to eat, my partner and I spend some time in digital conversations about food. I’ve been amazed by the hostility and hatefulness directed towards people who choose to produce, harvest and/or eat meat.
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All people need to eat in order to live. That’s a given. I believe most individuals want to be able to feed themselves and their families with high-quality, healthy food. Sadly, because we live in a capitalist and consumer culture, this basic need is hugely impacted by financial, political, social and geographical variables. Additionally, diet is inextricably entwined in the religious and spiritual framework of many people.
Just this short list of factors make the basic necessity of putting food in our mouths complicated. Obesity and other eating disorders, as well as food-related diseases and health issues (which may be to say all diseases and health issues) reflect that.
Add to that a small but vocal group of people who take it upon themselves to judge, criticize, bully, shame and threaten others about their diet, and we’ve got a mess.
Now, there are all kinds of stated reasons why some people think they have a right to mandate what and how we all should eat. Some folks claim to be animal rights activists. Some talk about guilt, as in “What do you do about your guilt about eating the flesh of a dead animal?” Others say cows are killing the planet.
The list goes on. You get the idea.
I’m not a science teacher and this blog is not about handing out an academic education, but the cows killing the planet thing belongs under the heading of alternative facts. It simply isn’t true, and a brief survey of science-based permaculture, climate change and basic biologic history demonstrates that. Properly managed, the presence of animals is essential to healing the planet. Believe it or don’t believe it, but for me this is nonsense and I’m not interested in debating it.
The animal rights activism excuse really gets under my skin. First of all, equating eating meat with hating animals is first grade level reasoning. The world is filled with hunters who deeply respect and love the land and the animals they hunt and harvest. They show that respect by protecting the health of wildlife and wild land, doing their best to get a clean and efficient kill shot, using all of the animal they kill and supporting sustainable hunting practices. Of course, there are plenty of the other kind out there, lots of idiot trophy hunters and poachers who need a rack or a pelt in order to feel powerful. I don’t deny it. What I do say is that hunters are like everyone else — some are respectful and see themselves as part of the system we inhabit, and others operate strictly from power-over and see themselves as masters of the universe.
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This also holds true for food producers. A small family farm hand raising meat with love, affection, attention, rotational grazing on healthy land and a good natural diet is a beautiful place. These people love their animals and the land. They also slaughter, butcher and eat their animals. They participate in, understand and respect every part of the cycle, from breeding to table.
To equate something like that with the nightmare of some modern mass meat production is simply ridiculous. If you want to see cruelty to animals, all you have to do is whisper “profit” into the ear of a corporation. Big Oil, the cosmetic industry and the fashion industry are just a short list of entities who have done plenty to destroy animals and habitat, and most people don’t care.
Incidentally, I’ve spent much of my life involved with animal rescue. I’m proud to say my mother is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met or heard of with animals and she’s largely given her life to making the world a better place for them, particularly horses and dogs, but by no means exclusively. This has all been volunteer work, done out of respect and love for the life in the world that can’t fight or speak for itself. She doesn’t see herself as better than. She sees herself as part of. The animals honor her with their presence and companionship, not the other way around.
So, yes, I eat meat with great enjoyment, AND yes, I love animals. I’m not limited by an inability to dwell in the sacred and powerful duality of life and death.
Bigger than all of this, however, is the guilt aspect, the real heart of this post. A vegan asks, “What do you do with your guilt about eating dead animals?”
For me, this question is much bigger than an issue of diet. The question reflects just how far we’ve strayed from wisdom, health and sanity in this culture.
When did we become amputated from our rightful place in the complex, miraculous web of life around us? What are the roots of the tragic and fatal arrogance that makes us believe we’re in control of life and death in our complex system? At what point did we become estranged from aging, loss, death and decay, which is to say HALF the full, powerful cycle of life?
Life is death. Death is life. Neither has meaning without the other. Both are essential. All life feeds on death. When we walk in the forest we’re walking on death. The whole natural world is based on prey and predator, eaten and eater. What does a tree do about its guilt as it feeds off and roots in the bodies of its companions? What does an eagle do with its guilt when it takes a salmon? What does a lion do with its guilt when it runs down a gazelle?
The guilt in that question is a projection. I don’t have any guilt about eating meat, and I think it’s tragic that anyone has guilt about the necessity to eat. If you pull up a carrot and eat it, you kill it. Every bite of food we put in our mouths is possible because of death. We exist as part of a vital, dynamic and inestimably beautiful and precious system that ebbs and flows, dances, fluctuates, cycles and revolves around life and death. We can choose to act as a unique and valuable part of that system by using only what we need, nurturing and learning from the life around us, and joyfully participating in all the ongoing life-death-life-death cycles around and within us, or we can choose to deny, destroy, and/or desperately try to control life and death, which is a completely fruitless (no pun intended) endeavor. We, thank God, are not that powerful.
The seasons will cycle. New life will be born in the midst of death. The green world will reseed itself, sprout, grow, bloom, fruit and die. The microscopic world and fungi will continue to break death into a rich placenta that sustains the next generation of life. Life is an incredible privilege. Death is part of that privilege. Nurturing life and allowing to die what must is part of what it means to me to be a woman.
I don’t know what’s going to happen to my country, the climate, or the planet. I’m afraid for us all, and the world we call home. What I do count on is the mighty cycle of life and death. All things change. All things move and flow. Nothing ever stays the same. All our fear and desperation, our greed and selfishness can’t change life and death.
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What I can do is figure out how to best support my body with food. Then, I can make choices about how I procure the food I eat — to some degree. I don’t have the means right now to grow my own meat. However, I can and do buy eggs from a neighbor farmer, driving very carefully into the yard so as not to run over her free-range chickens and ducks. I can take the time to relish and appreciate opening a many-times recycled egg carton and looking at a whole variety of shaped, sized and colored eggs, mixed with occasional bits of straw and feather fluff. I can save money so I can buy a half an animal in the fall from a local small farmer to put in the freezer. I can buy fresh local yogurt, butter, cream and cheese from the farmer’s market.
It seems to me our energy should be going into making sure everyone has adequate food and clean water, and that we treat our food sources, whether animal or plant, and the system within which they grow (you know, the planet? Earth?) with love, intelligence and respect. We all can do something about food. Those among us who are doing the hard and unprofitable (financially) work of growing food on small farms may well hold the keys to our future survival. What they know about permaculture, holistic environments, food forests, sustainability, breeding, planting, harvesting and slaughtering is truly the wisdom of life.
Which is to say the wisdom of death.
Which is to say, again, the wisdom of life.
See the fourth post in this series here. Check my Resources page for links to information about diet and nutrition.
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except where otherwise noted
I recently read a blog post about vegan bullying.
Yep. You read that right. Vegan bullying is a thing.
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It’s time for me to write about food.
I grew up in the 60s and 70s in a middle-class family with the standard education about the food pyramid, Food Commandments from the ADA, and a mother who was very concerned and conscientious about feeding her children and animals in the best possible way. Remember Adele Davis?
In my adult life, I was never a vegan or even a vegetarian, but I did eat mostly fruit, grain and vegetables. I bought organic whenever possible. I took supplements. I baked my own bread and desserts, made my own granola, and cooked gallons of stews, soups, chili and hot cereal over the years in my crock pot for my family.
Thanks to my mom’s good sense, my lack of a sweet tooth, and my income level, soda, fast food, candy, donuts and other mass produced sweets have never been a large part of my food intake.
All my life, I’ve sincerely believed I’ve had a healthy, well balanced diet. I avoided white sugar, high-fat and junk food. I made smoothies with low-fat unsweetened yogurt. I grew my own vegetables and herbs. I’ve never been overweight. In fact, I’ve had trouble keeping weight on.
I have a family and/or personal history of rheumatoid arthritis; inflammatory bowel disease; fibromyalgia; constipation; poor circulation; restless leg syndrome; migraines; gout; chronic pain; chronic fatigue; muscle spasm; insomnia; depression; anxiety; asthma; skin and sinus problems; food, environmental and drug allergies; and hypothyroidism.
It’s interesting to note how much of this list has to do with inflammation.
The list is kind of daunting written out like that, but members of my family rarely go to the doctor or take any kind of medication. None of us are overweight. Mom and I don’t drink alcohol or smoke. A lot of the above diagnoses are nebulous and chronic rather than acute. We take vitamins, exercise, try to eat well and control our stress, and do our best with the constant presence of chronic pain and discomfort. Conventional medicine can’t do much for most of this list except prescribe pain meds, anti-depressants, anti-inflammatories, antihistamines and anti-anxiolytics.
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Stepping back and considering our current social context in America, we have millions of people suffering from obesity, diabetes, heart disease and a dozen addictions, not the least of which is the current exploding opioid dependence. Millions and millions of people are suffering with increasing anxiety and other mental health challenges, exacerbated by the current political and social climate. Weight loss programs, supplements, books and weight gurus make billions of dollars a year. We’re obsessed with food and our relationship to it.
Food production is complicated and often unethical, to say the least. Monocropping practices by Big Agriculture annihilate the land, destroying the delicate, complex web of plants, soil organisms, animals and insects. We’re exposed to artificial fertilizers, insecticides and other poisons, whether we use them or not.
Commercial animal food production practices have frequently been horrifically inhuman and unhealthy, both for the animals and for consumers.
Healthcare, to put it kindly, is in disarray. As a medical transcriptionist, I routinely transcribe medication lists that contain twelve or more prescription drugs. Exponential pharmaceutical costs are in the headlines. I myself have insurance, for the moment, through Obamacare, but it’s useless. The only insurance I can afford has a $5,000 deductible. I couldn’t deal with a $500 deductible. I never see a doctor unless it’s a dire emergency, and then I always have to fill out indigent care paperwork to get a sliding scale fee.
Adding to the confusion is the ever-present influence of money. Advertising. Food stamps. Fast food. Dating. Meeting friends for a drink or at the coffee shop. We struggle to feed our families. We debate about vending machines in schools and school lunches. We deal with food-borne illnesses. We have no money and live on beer and ramen noodles, or oatmeal, or rice and beans. We know from advertising the right food can make us beautiful, make us strong, cure our ills, provide us with happy relationships, better hair, younger and more attractive bodies, a perfect date. We should eat beef. We should eat gluten free. We should eat organic. We should eat a pizza. We should eat vegetarian. We should drink milk. We know how to eat well, but we can’t afford to. We know how to eat well, but the rest of our family won’t cooperate. We know how to eat well, but we don’t have time.
Yet all life must eat. A living body is a complex system of energy, organs, elements and chemistry, and we know a lot about how the complex system of the human body works. If we don’t feed our body well, it gets sick.
We all think we know what it means to eat well, based on learned information, our experience within our own bodies, our observations of others, and in some cases our spiritual and political beliefs. Of course, it’s hard to think clearly when in the grip of an addiction to sugar and carbs (this includes alcohol), but that counts only if we acknowledge our addiction and its power to drive our behavior, right?
We all know what a good diet is. Everyone knows. It’s merely a question of self-discipline.
If only it was that simple.
In fact, everyone doesn’t necessarily know what a good diet is, for themselves or anyone else. There’s a lot of confusion, a lot of disagreement, a lot of conflicting “science” and advice. There are a lot of social, financial and political agendas, a lot of manipulation and brainwashing, a lot of misleading and frankly false “information.”
Why is one of the most basic activities of life so complicated? Why is there so much conflicting “information?” Why are we so unhealthy? Why are we so dependent on Big Pharma? Why are people in their late 20s having heart attacks and strokes? Why is there an obesity epidemic? Why is diabetes on the rise?
When did we get to the point of vegan bullying, or any kind of food bullying, for that matter?
Finally, lest we Americans forget there are people outside America, how is it possible that famine still exists in the world when so much food is wasted and discarded every day? What social and political dynamics allow people to starve to death in Africa or anywhere else, while other populations suffer malnourishment and metabolic starvation encased in obesity?
Lastly, why is the topic of diet so inflammatory? Why do vegans and vegetarians bully meat eaters? Why is eating meat conflated with gun rights, hatred and cruelty? Why is it unacceptable to challenge our current belief systems around food?
Hard questions without simple answers. Hard questions guaranteed to outrage lot of people.
This topic to be continued here, here. and here.
Please see my Resources page for more information on food, diet, nutrition and health.
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except where otherwise noted