Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Everything eats and is eaten

So I'm reading this book called The Vegetarian Myth, by Lierre Keith. I picked this up because, although I do not tell people how to live their lives, I do take offense when people tell me they are a vegetarian because they don't want to be responsible for killing something. I am especially annoyed by this when it is a veterinarian who gives this reason, because, as veterinarians we are better accustomed to death than practically any other profession, and should have a foundational understanding of the circle of life. This book is written by a reformed vegetarian, who after nearly 20 years of destroying her body, finally did what most people don't do - research, and she had the courage, not to mention necessity, of changing her diet and basically her identity so that she might continue to live. I saw this book on the shelf and thought, finally, a book written for our side.

I urge everyone to step outside of your comfort zones, and accept that something you thought you believed to be true actually isn't true at all. 

One night a year ago or so, I was out with friends for dinner, and a few people I had just met. As we were ordering (steak), a girl who I had just met that evening said she was a vegetarian. Even though I should have been polite and said nothing, I immediately began questioning her as to why she would deprive her body of essential nutrients and protein. She told me it disgusted her to think of 'eating anything with a face.' She then proceeded to order crab cakes. This enraged me even further as I asked her if she thought crabs didn't have faces, or were they just not cute enough to bother with refraining from eating, or was she just that stupid that she didn't realize fish were in fact animals. At this point my husband was frantically poking me in the leg to shut me up.

I'm not a vegetarian, obviously, nor am I a carnivore. I am strictly omnivorous, as humans were meant to be. I almost stuck in "as I believe" in there, but left it out because its not just what I believe. Its the truth. Anyone who has studied anatomy can see that humans share characteristics with other omnivores, in fact we most closely resemble pigs. Oh, the irony gets me every time. I won't detail it here, if you don't believe me take a comparative anatomy course or, read this book.

The passage that struck me the most said that everything needs to eat to live and is eventually eaten. The earth is alive. The soil is living and contains millions of microbes and tiny species of protozoa, fungi, and God knows what else. These things eat to live. Plants are alive, they eat to live. They eat what is in the soil. What is in the soil? The vitamins, minerals, and proteins that were released from dead and decaying matter. Not just plant matter either, animal matter. Flesh. Bones. Excrement. Animals and humans are alive, they eat to live. We eat plants, animals, and are eaten by plants and animals. When we die, we return to earth. And, everything dies. EVERYTHING DIES!!! You can try your hardest to avoid Death, but it will catch up with you in the end. Humans have this vice, or disillusion, I am not quite sure what it is exactly, for wanting and expecting everything to live forever. Get over it! Death is a part of life. In the movie The Jungle Book, which I have not seen in years, one line sticks out as utter truth and I will remember it forever. A person gets devoured alive by quicksand in the jungle. Cary Elwes (great actor) stares calmly at the place where he disappeared and coldly says: Such is Life.

The world cannot exist without both the hunters and the hunted. Both are essential to the balance of life. Just look at Fraggle Rock. In one episode, Mokey, the hippie mother fraggle, decides that the Fraggles are being mean and evil by constantly eating the Doozer's contructions and forcing them to build more. While the Fraggles refrain from eating the tasty buildings, everyone runs out of space while the Doozers build and build until they can build no more. Then they become sad because they will have to leave their home because they have no space left to do what they were meant to do. Finally, the Fraggles realize this and eat all the Doozer's constructions. Everyone is happy again.

Ok that might be a very simplified explanation based on a children's tv show, but the premise is true. One cannot exist without the other. Remove the carnivores, and the herbivores will produce more herbivores while consuming a very limited supply of food, and eventually they will run out of food and starve to death. Remove the herbivores, and the carnivores will eat each other until the last ones eventually starve to death. And, Lierre Keith says this is exactly what is going to happen to humans. We have far outgrown our planet.

Eating a diet of only plants is not sustainable, nor does it actually fall within the perimeter of vegetarianism. Yup, that's right. Animals are still dying for your cause. Whether its the rabbit that gets caught up in the combine that is collecting your grains, or the multitude of species that were driven out of their natural habitats to make way for your grains, or beans, or whatever, something died for you to live. You are still consuming animal products, albeit transformed by plants. Monocultures of grains rob the earth of essential nutrients and destroy topsoil. We must replace the nutrients lost otherwise our plants will not grow. These come from fertilizers (either animal based or made from fossil fuels).

There is a war going on in this country. It is a war against agriculture. Here is where I needed to step outside of my comfort zone. Lierre Keith asserts that agriculture created wealth and poverty, an idea not just her own. Agriculture created civilization, the ability of people to live in close proximity in cities, with no means of growing their own food. But in trying to provide food for everyone (which is impossible given the current growing world population), the prairies and savannahs were destroyed to make way for crops, and factory farms evolved. Both destroy the land. Keith promotes the use of polyculture, the use of land for a multitude of plants and animals that can support in its entirety everything one needs. She does admit though, that this solution is impractical given the current industrialized age, and without offering any alternatives. She wants us to eat only food that is grown locally. I disagree slightly; I think that we should choose to buy locally grown foods over the SAME foods grown far away and shipped, but I think its completely fine and even good to buy foods and spices that cannot be grown locally or that come from distant cultures.

There are several other bits I wanted to mention but as this is getting really long, I won't. I have neglected to address the rage-ful, feminist, anti-patriarchal, anti-USA, zero population growth agendas of this book because I don't feel they add anything to the argument. This book is by no means a perfect manifesto, there are several places which scream flawed research and theory is presented as fact, not to mention the sneaky animal rights undertone. A valuable lesson I learned through 22 years of being in school is to critically evaluate everything I read. Most recent books that I have read of which the subject is food have been promoting a specific agenda, and rarely present both sides without bias.  I don't suggest anyone read ONE book and change their life because of it; rather read and critically evaluate everything you can find on the subject and then take your stance. Respect life, take only what you need to live. Create as little waste as possible. Everything eats and everything dies. And it's OK.

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