In February, 2012, I wrote an article about my conversion from vegetarian to omnivore: Is Eating Meat Sustainable?. Days before Easter, 2012, I was alerted of the New York Times essay contest, “Calling All Carnivores; Tell Us Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat: A Contest”. The elite panel of judges compelled me to enter: Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer, Peter Singer, and Andrew Light. In June, 2012, I published my submittal through Biocadence: What is Ethical Eating?… Is Eating Meat Ethical?. I have been delighted by this discussion, as it has continued amongst Biocadence followers. Much to my surprise, Google searches have yielded the Biocadence blog as the #1 result for queries such as: Is Eating meat sustainable? and What is the truth about eating meat and sustainability?
One especially well-read follower sent me a link to the article: Visualizing A Nation of Meat Eaters : NPR. She prompted the vital question, “Even if animals are raised kindly, they still require so much resource – how does this influence the ethics debate?” I think it is important that every intellect be involved in this curriculum. Please share your thoughts. I include my response below, and ask for the discussion to continue!
~ The soil/ruminant relationship and it’s incredible carbon sequestering capacity!!!! When these (only recently forgotten) techniques are embraced, beef/water ratios can lower from 1 lb/2500-6000 lbs to 1 lb/122 lbs (Source: The Vegetarian Myth).
~ The devastating impact that feed as “food” has on energy-use, the environment AND nutrition.
~ The ENORMOUS disparity between energy-use associated with CAFOs (consider import/export of goods to maintain operation, cesspit emissions, feed as “food”, antibiotics, etc.) vs. polyculture/beyond-organic farms (requiring a tiny sliver of resources necessary for CAFO operations). See Joel Salatin at Tara Firma Farms for a profile of the beyond-organic operation in Petaluma, CA. For more, check out my tour of Tara Firma Farms.
~ The negative impact of grain/gluten/legumes/sugar in many human beings, and resulting energy-use associated with healthcare/pharmaceuticals. There are increasingly convincing arguments that prevelant illnesses may be linked to diets consisting of these foods.
~ The depletion of soil (a carbon sequestering magician) associated with farming of annuals (ex: grains) and mono-crops, and the environmentally destructive potential of farming without ruminants, considering our current population/land ratio.
~ The energy and environmental costs of global relations and global conflict: while soy and corn are subsidized and used as ingredients in artificially inexpensive/low nutrient food-like exports, they are inextricably tied to global relations and global conflict.
~ The disparity between the amount of meat in demand and the amount of meat that is necessary, especially in a diet designed to free the body of the “hunger”-like withdrawals that can be associated with a diet heavy in grain/wheat/gluten/legumes.
In conclusion, I think that it is short-sighted to educate the masses with statistics that include energy-use data from CAFOs, without including data about the above mentioned issues. The quantity of meat, and how the meat is raised are so critical to ethical eating. I’m really excited to see how the curriculum evolves as more compassionate intellect is devoted to it!!!
A few quotes from books I recommend:
“In fact, the cow, or domestic herbivore if you will, is the most efficacious soil-building, hydrology-cycling, carbon-sequestering tool at the planet’s disposal. Yes, the cow has done a tremendous amount of damage. But don’t blame the cow. The managers of the cow have been and continue to be the problem. The same animal mismanaged to abuse the ecology is the greatest hope and salvation to heal the ecology.” ~ Joel Salatin, author of Folks, this ain’t normal
“It is my conviction that growing annual grains is an activity that cannot be redeemed. It requires wholesale extermination of ecosystems–the land has to be cleared of all life. It destroys the soil because the soil is bared–and it has to be bared to grow annuals.” Lierre Keith, author of The Vegetarian Myth
Written by Annie Tichenor, Founder of Biocadence, LLC.
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Hello, hello… and alert: I would love your input on the controversial subject I’m covering in this article.
I was raised to believe that eating meat is devastatingly unethical. I believed that one day we would recognize the folly of our ways, and look back on omnivorism with regret and distaste. As such, my recent transition from vegetarianism to omnivorism has been made with much research and deliberation.
On April 4, 2012 I received a message from my brother. He wondered whether I’d thought of entering the New York Times essay contest: Calling All Carnivores Tell Us Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat: A Contest. “U don’t have much time:/”, he texted. I read the essay prompt and calculated the 4 days I had remaining before the deadline. My blood sped and my thoughts buzzed.
Having converted to omnivorism in January 2012, this subject frequently propelled my mind and heart waves. The essay captured my intention and the panel of judges positively arrested my motivation! Peter Singer… Michael Pollan… Jonathan Safran Foer… Mark Bittman… Andrew Light! As it was, this subject had been monopolizing my brain-space for months. Organizing my thoughts in 4 days was not only “no problem”, it was unavoidable! My biggest hurdle was squeezing my arguments into less than 600 words. In fact, if you count the words in my essay below, you will find 599;)!
Now, regardless of my current knowledge of the outcome of the contest, I find myself (once again) animated by the challenge! I must interrupt my excitement to share that I was not victorious. I write today to usher my readers to participate in the critical discourse on ethical eating. Our food choices have considerable influence on our future. With immediate ties to health, happiness, and vibrance and effect on our soil, environment, and global relationships, food must be principal curriculum for citizens of all ages and nations.
What is ethical eating? Is eating meat ethical? What does food mean to you? Please share your thoughts! Reading them will make me very happy! Below is the essay I submitted to the contest (with a few visual aids added). If you’ve visited my blog before, you may notice that I pulled many arguments from one of the first articles I wrote for Biocadence: “Is Eating Meat Sustainable?“. I recommend reading the winner’s, as well as the finalists‘ essays as well!
By Annie Tichenor
I am eating meat after 30 years as a strict vegetarian. For decades I nurtured a sincere faith that evolution gives us the opportunity to rise above our barbaric ancestors and preserve the lives of animals. When health concerns ushered me to consider diet changes, I began to study. In hopes of evading a lifestyle change, I sought confirmation that eating meat is devastatingly unethical. The diagrams in Jim Merkel’s Radical Simplicity and compelling statistics in Anna Lappé’s Diet for a Hot Planet gave me comfort that I could hold in my hands, read on my flashcards, and roll on my tongue. But my fatigued blood whispered, “Keep reading.”
Imagine for a moment how many living organisms are in a handful of healthy soil. This life-source has been squandered since the invention of synthetic fertilizer and mono-crop farming. 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. While I thought I was preserving lives through my vegetarian food choices, how many ecosystems were destroyed in vain? Are the lives of micro- organisms less important than the lives of larger animals? If so, then why? In the coming decades, I estimate that we will be forced to learn just how important live soil is. The magic that our species has only recently forgotten must be remembered.
Ethical eating involves organic, local, in-season food, prepared at home. I reach further to find that it also requires feeding our food-source more than we are taking from it. Animals are a mandatory component of this equation. Life in the soil is re-established and maintained through its interaction with animals. Rotation of pasture, harvest, and cover crop allows us to use relatively few acres, nourish the soil, and yield an abundant edible output. Fogline Farm, in Santa Cruz, CA shares, “We graze our animals through our orchards and vineyards, constantly moving them to fresh pasture.” Followed by cover or harvest crop, the benefit of a happy-animal parade is captured. Each ingredient of the cycle is respected in an ethical farming strategy. Animals are incorporated in order to feed the soil while feeding the community.
Is eating meat ethical? Far too often not! Soft leather gloves of big business grip an industry that produces nutrient-light/toxin-heavy “food”. Feeding us from the prison cells of concentrated animal feeding operations is not only unethical, it is despicable. Can eating meat be ethical? “Yes!” resounds. 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. The delusional attempt to extricate myself from a life-cycle that involves death is a delirious vacuum. The suction allures me, inviting me to a familiar circus where lights glow as they deceive and music spins as it distracts. With piercing clarity and flashes of anger, Lierre Keith, author of Vegetarian Myth, writes about her arduous path, “Eventually we see our only choices: the death that’s destroying life or the death that’s a part of life”. Finding peace in surrender wafts a divine essence through the room. As we kindle this understanding, we will reconnect with the natural cadence of our life cycle. Connectedness will cleanse our systems and we may be overwhelmed by the thought, “Oh, thank heavens, I remember.”
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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: