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Through an Intimacy with All of Life

Support Small Scale Animal Agriculture – II

This is part of the ongoing response to the ongoing debate featured in Part I.

Supporting Small Scale Animal Agriculture


Hi Caitlin & Others,

I too appreciate the ongoing dialog. I think it helps us all go deeper, form our thoughts more clearly, and articulate our perspectives.

I believe if we are to have any constructive discussion or outcome to these debates, we are going to need some measurables. Otherwise we just keep winding around the axle of emotion, which gets us in a right-messy tangle right-quick. So to that end, I will attempt.

As I read these threads, I continuous hear about five major arguments for veganism and I will respond to them separately.

  1. The Spiritual Question. Underlying much of this entire argument are two significant spiritual or existential questions. “
    1. Do we, as humans, have the right for supremacy or sovereignty over other sentient beings, to determine their lives or deaths?
    2. How can we minimize the impact and harm we cause because of our desire for continued existence?

These are excellent questions. And to my mind best answered in the realms of the poets. I wouldn’t trust these questions to religion, although that’s been their domain since the dawn of civilization, because we’ve seen how they handle things. But in essence it’s about cosmology. How we got here? Why are we here? Best practices for being here? How best to ease the perennial anxiety of existence? How to do more good and less harm?

For folks who have found a clear, resounding, irrefutable answer to these questions, who am I to argue? Who is anyone to argue? For the vegans who feel that humans do NOT have sovereignty over other beings or that eating vegan is the best way to minimize the impact of our very existence, I’m actually thrilled that you’ve found something to ease your heart and soul in the sometimes despairing journey of the human endeavor.

But that’s for you. And for you and your mother/father god to work out together. The desire for a one-world order on any topic is tricky. And trying to convince others that they must see it your way is slippery business. We can look through history and around at our world and see how that goes. The adamant conviction that everyone must come to the same cosmological conclusions as you is called fundamentalism, and is often unpleasant for everyone involved: the believers and the non-believers.

But I do think that you bringing up these spiritual questions for us to ponder and consider is a very good thing. For most us though, our answers and our process to find those answers are deep, personal, and often complex. Much more suited to a one-on-one conversation.

Catilin and others, I invite you on a walk sometime and I can share mine. The cosmology that I’ve worked on for decades, the existential clarities and doubts that run through my heart, life, and service in the world. And I would love to hear yours. What a wonderful experience that would be. Sort of like all the religious leaders of different faiths coming together for an interfaith convention. Yes, deep down, most of us believe in goodness.

  1. The Health Question. Just as you probably know many folks who got healthy after leaving the Standard American Diet (SAD) for a vegan diet, I know many folks who, after years of eating vegan, returned to a meat-eating diet to overcome the extreme deterioration and chronic illness that resulted from them trying to eat in a way that didn’t work for their bodies. When we hear these stories, on both sides, we are moved. And rightfully so. We all desire health and wellbeing for ourselves and the ones we love. We want to thrive. And are excited when folks find a way to do so.

But, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, there are a 1001+ books and methods and diets out there all claiming to be the solution. So here we are again, as modern peoples, who don’t have a common cosmology to turn to for how, what, when, and why to eat. We are grasping in every direction because our land-based life is in tatters and we don’t know the basic idea of how to keep ourselves alive in a good way with our own hands in our own communities. One of the many sufferings of civilization. Tribal peoples don’t have these issues. Their cosmology and their food systems are woven together in an intricate tapestry of origin story, caring for the land, and caring for the people.

So coming to a conclusion here is impossible. Much as it is in the spiritual question. And we should set this aside and mark it off to personal preference. Whatever makes your engine hum is what you should do. And in the mean-time, our best advice for each other is this: Find some meaning in food. Find some community around food. Because that will infuse it with connectedness. And that is good.

  1. The Agriculture Question. You will have no argument from me that industrial animal agriculture is a disaster. None-at-all. Just as you will have no argument from me that industrial grain and vegetable production system is a disaster. And let’s not forget the processed food industry. We can go on and on about the ills and evils of all that. And there, I believe, we will be aligned.

But we do know some things for certain. We know that small to medium scale sustainable agriculture can feed the world. And we know that the best way to build soil AND to increase diversity, yield, and health is integrated animal agriculture. Why? Because it mimics nature. And nature has been growing topsoil for a very long time. There is plenty of research to this end, from the Alan Savory institute (and his famous TED talk) and Rodale Institute.

Building soil is a measurable thing. So instead of arguing, let’s measure. If, in your research, you find a farming system using veganic practices that can build as much soil and produce as much yield, diversity, and health, then we have a conversation to have. If not, then we don’t.

  1. The Ecological Impact Question. The ecological footprint calculator is a real thing. Lots of smart and caring people have put in lots of time, energy, and brains into being able to measure the impact of each of our lives on global resources. So let’s stop arguing and do some measuring.

I will happily volunteer. I will put my whole foods, meat-based, self-grown, local, packaging-free, and supplement-free diet up on the scale to be compared with any vegan you can find. We will calculate food and supplements only, so no points taken off for other lifestyle factors such as driving, flying, electricity usage, etc. Mostly because I live completely off-the-grid and it would be an unfair comparison.

This is a challenge to you all. Let’s find an ecological footprint expert and publish our results. I think it would be good journalism and fabulous fodder for our ongoing dialog. I’m happy to be wrong, but I’m betting I’m not. My premise is this: that even as a meat eater, due to my specific choices, I have less ecological impact than the average vegan.

What we are betting is carbon offsets. There are organizations that allow individuals to contribute money that result in them planting trees or providing other real-world action that helps reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for our high carbon lifestyle. If my diet has more of an ecological footprint, I buy carbon offsets to match the vegan’s diet. And vice versa.

  1. The Sentient-Being Suffering Index. I’m curious if something like this exists. Because I’m guessing it could be measurable. Plants release suffering hormones at threat and death much like animals do. And maybe there is or could be a decibel measuring device to help us figure out our impact.

Let’s assume we’re not talking about industrial agriculture so the comparison is fair across the board. If all other things are equal, and I am responsible for the death of the equivalent of one cow in a given year, and a vegan is responsible for the death of 100,000+ plants, what’s the relative sentient-being suffering? Do we subtract out the positive impact of that animal or plants on other microorganisms during their lifetime or is that already included in the calculator?

This is not meant to be tongue in cheek but an actual request for some kind of measure here. I would be infinitely helpful for those us wanting to have real facts on this.

I believe I’ve touched on all the components. And I can only hope, at the very least, this adds no harm to the dialog. I understand, that for some, eating animals is, as Caitlin says, “a causeless, harmful, and violent cornerstone of our culture.” Given that perspective, I can understand the uproar. And I can also understand the impasse.

civil dialog, ecological impact, health, sentience, spirituality, veganism

Lee Warren

Lee Warren is reclaiming wisdom through conscious relating with self, land, and others. She has 25 years of experience envisioning, designing, and living innovative solutions to mutually empowered relationships, land-based food systems, residential community, non-violent communication, and sustainability education. She is the principle and founder of Reclaiming Wisdom, a co-founder of SOIL, School of Integrated Living, and a proponent of regenerative systems, consent culture, and authentic living. Lee is a writer, teacher, and activist, with an passion for embodiment practices, rural wisdom, sustainable economics, conscious dying, and community of all kinds.

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