Is Eating Meat Sustainable?
I am eating and enjoying meat after 30 years as a strict vegetarian. For decades I nurtured a sincere faith that eating meat is morally wrong. I believed that evolution had given us the opportunity to rise above our barbaric ancestors and preserve the lives of animals! My mind and heart have changed. Amongst the interesting subjects on the table with long time friends, incredulity about this change emerges again and again. One especially hilarious friend finds it entertaining to watch me eat meat and requests an announcement so that he doesn’t miss the performance!
Although I’ve changed my eating choices for health reasons, I’ve been startled at my findings about the relationship between consuming meat and living sustainability. I was certain that someone would convince me that eating meat is devastatingly unsustainable. I hoped to find cause to postpone my lifestyle change for another month… and another.
In Radical Simplicity, a brilliantly level headed Jim Merkel uses tables, charts and sound arguments to illustrate the disparity between high footprint meat consumption and low footprint vegetarian diets. He shares his courageously disciplined strategies and inspires immediate action. The statistic-packed Diet for a Hot Planet, by Anna Lappé soothed me, giving me compelling numbers and percentages to hold in my hands, read on my flashcards, and roll on my tongue. But the fatigued blood and bones of a long time vegetarian whispered inside of me. Breathing through gritted teeth, I continued to absorb information.
Soil has taken a beating since the invent of synthetic fertilizer and monocrop farming. Many of the grains and vegetables I consumed during my bleeding heart vegetarian days were products of these soil degrading monocrops. Knoll Farms in Brentwood, CA teaches that the plant/soil interaction: “[…] is so complex that, though we may know the complete DNA of many animals, no one has unraveled the miracle of soil–a miracle so complete that the plant and soil interaction becomes a continuum.” (Source : http://www.knollorganics.com/intro.htm)
Imagine for a moment, how many living organisms are in a handful of soil! While I thought I was preserving lives through my vegetarian food choices, how many lives and ecosystems were destroyed in vain? Are these lives any less important than the lives of larger animals? If so, why? Because we can’t see them? Because the average adult may not know what they mean to us? I estimate that we will have to learn just how important the lives of microorganisms are, in the coming decades. As both life in the soil and oil used to make synthetic fertilizer become more rare, we will feel the squeeze. The magic that our species has only recently forgotten will have to be remembered.
Eating sustainably involves eating organic, local, in-season food prepared at home. When I reach further, I find that it also means ensuring that we are feeding our food-source as much as, and ideally more than we are taking from it. It is possible to use relatively few acres, nourish the soil, and yield a large output through rotating pasture, harvest and cover crop. Fogline Farm, in Santa Cruz, CA shares their pasture cycling technique: “We graze our animals through our orchards and vineyards, constantly moving them to fresh pasture.” (Source : http://foglinefarm.com/?page_id=97) They capture the benefit of this pasture parade by following it with cover crop or harvest crop. Fogline Farm respects each ingredient of the cycle, feeding the soil while feeding the community.
Am I left with the ever ferocious dilemma of how to extricate myself from the piece of the life-cycle that involves death? The hope that I may be exempt from this intricate web is a delirious vacuum. The suction is tempting until I notice that it drags me into a familiar circus. The lights glow as they deceive and the music spins as it distracts. I’ve come to understand that death is part of all life, including the life I gift myself every time I eat. Finding peace in this elusive dichotomy wafts an essence of the divine through the room, bringing me images of light and dark in one body, and letting go of something in order to understand it.
Is eating meat sustainable? Far too often not! The soft leather gloves of big business have gripped an industry that produces nutrient-light/toxin-heavy “food”. Feeding us from the prison cells of CAFOs is not only unsustainable. It is despicable. Can eating meat be sustainable? Yes resounds! It can be sustainable and more; we need animals to feed our soil. Absorbing life with gratitude, kindness and grace is a lyric to an ancient song that still echoes through our land and is so often unheard.
In his book, Folks, this ain’t normal, farming revolutionary Joel Salatin writes: ” […] in recent decades we’ve used more energy, destroyed more soil, […] mutated more bacteria, and dumped more toxicity on the planet than all the cultures before us – combined.” Modern farming techniques that were once praised as the vehicle for record production yields are now convicted for the mass murder of ecosystems. As we kindle this understanding, I think that we will reconnect with our land. Our communities will want to hunt, gather and grow their own food. We will hear an ancient rhythm; as connectedness flushes our systems, we may be overwhelmed by the thought: Oh, thank heavens, I remember.
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Sources cited or mentioned (I strongly recommend all of them!):
Joel Salatin, “Folks, this ain’t normal”. Center Street, 2011.
Jim Merkel, “Radical Simplicity.” New Society Publishers, 2003.
Anna Lappé, “Diet for a Hot Planet.” Bloomsbury USA, 2010.
Not cited but highly recommended: