Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Peace by the Plate-full

A friend expressed that, to her, promoting vegetarianism is an important part of teaching peace. This entry is my reflection on her statement that "peace begins on your plate".

First, I have NOTHING against people choosing to be vegetarian or vegan themselves. I have many respected friends who are one or the other.

Second, for the past 12 years I have chosen to make a significant part of my living through animal husbandry, producing lamb and mutton (for which I personally watch the slaughter in a State-inspected processing facility) and poultry (which I generally slaughter myself with the help of friends); I LOVE eating sanely produced/process meat (and enjoy eating almost ANY meat); and I have a metabolism that simply is not supported by any vegetarian regimen I've tried.

What we eat is a VERY intimate personal matter...right there next to who we have sex with, if you ask me. What we eat is deeply entwined with sense of self, family issues, relationships, cultural traditions, religious celebrations/taboos, etc.

Because it is a very intimate personal matter, I think it is especially important to respect other's boundaries about their foodways. Giving people respect for their choices is an act of peace...whether they are gay or straight, omnivores or vegetarians. To me that means neither criticising nor promoting ANY particular foodway. To me, using any kind of heavy-handed "education with an agenda", emotional appeal, coercion, or persuasion to get people to change cherished foodways or feel guilty about their foodways IS A FORM OF VIOLENCE. It does not promote peace!

I DO believe that large-scale, industrialized meat production often involves practices that are questionable or outright inhumane. I DO believe that animals raised for food (or any other purpose) should be treated with respect and kindness; their basic needs (food, water, shelter, health care, physical safety) should be reasonably met; and they should be handled and slaughtered with a minimum of stress. Likewise, the people who work in the production system should have their needs reasonably met.

I ALSO know that many aspects of producing vegetarian/vegan food involve significant violence, sometimes worse than "animal husbandry done right". Feedlot cattle may less abused than migrant field workers...and farm workers in this country may be far better treated than those in others. Ecosystems and indigenous cultures are devastated to raise cash crops, both here and overseas. Nearly all vegetable production--even organic--depends on huge amounts of fossil fuels, contributing to the on-going bloodbath in the Middle East.

When I started raising sheep, I asked the folks at the little family owned processing plant if I could watch the slaughter. They and the inspector were fine with that. That led to me getting a job working in the plant, and it was really the most peaceful workplace I've ever been in...lots of respect and no horseplay. Over the years, several inspectors and I have commented that we would choose the same quick end for our own lives if we could, when it's our time to go, rather than all the gruesome, painful, lingering "natural" deaths people die. "Violence" in a sheep's life is any other death--predators, bloat, disease, parasites, etc.

I recently heard that castration and docking may be banned in some areas because they are considered violent or cruel. Whoever makes that judgment has not seen the suffering of an animal from the consequences of NOT being docked or castrated, as I have experienced. It is like the pain of a vaccine injection for a child, to prevent terrible illnesses later in life.

People who are not involved in animal agriculture really have no grounds for passing judgment based on relatively few tragic stories, propaganda, and hearsay.

I do agree that "peace begins on your plate". How? Eat ANYTHING you like--personal peace begins with a full stomach and happy tastebuds! (The intense, insatiable hunger I experience on a rice-dominated diet does not make me peaceful, it makes me violently grouchy!) Community peace begins with enough food for everyone, potlucks where all foodways are shared (with labels to guide those with allergies, religious restrictions, or various preferences), enjoying good food together.

After that, eat locally grown/sustainably produced food, to minimize fossil fuel use. Fossil fuels are the most violent aspect of our food system. And, eat things in less-processed forms because that also cuts down on energy use. "Organic" is NOT necessarily more "peaceful" (or better for the environment) than non-organic (though healthier), because organic standards can dictate the use of MORE fossil fuels.

The role of education in working towards peace through food should be in encouraging tolerance, appreciating diversity, exploring new foods, teaching nutrition, physiology, post-harvest handling, food processing and preparation, so that people can make their own informed choices and be more independent. And teach them to grow their own, for even more food security!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this thoughtful post. I have been a vegetarian for years, and recently have been adding local meats in the place of processed veggie products into my diet for many of the reasons you wrote about.
sheila walker

Anonymous said...

I hope things are going well at the farm. We don't know each other, I just enjoy your blog and miss your writings.