If you eat meat, I’m sure you’ve heard it – the angry rustle of the vegan forest, accusing you of barbarity, cruelty, unnecessary and inhuman behavior. If you’re a vegetarian, or more specifically, a vegan, you’ve heard it too – the angry growling of the meat-eating masses, accusing you of wimpery, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, bleeding-heart liberality and desire to force your lifestyle choices on others. You’re all fools.
I write this as I sit here in my rural farmhouse, dressed for hunting turkey, a box of 20 ga. shells by my computer. I write this as I think about the squirrel I shot the other day, how bright and black her eyes were even as I picked up her small, warm body from the snow. I write this as I remember the Brunswick stew I made with the squirrel – a wonderful old-fashioned dish you just can’t believe until you’ve tasted, and you can’t even come close to the taste without the squirrel. I write this as I remember my grandfather, standing in the winter woods somewhere around Tionesta, PA, cursing the ineptitude of the idiot who butt-shot a beautiful 8-pt buck and left it to die slowly and painfully because the idiot was too ignorant to wait for a clean shot and too lazy to track the badly wounded deer. I write this as I remember my grandfather shoot the head off a rabbit with a .22 pistol about 30 feet away off to his left side and he wasn’t even looking at it. I write this as I remember my grandmother angrily recounting how someone she knew cut the breasts off of the quail they shot and threw the rest away because the small birds were “too hard to pluck”. I write this as I remember the deer that have come close enough to touch, the great horned owls, the raccoons, the woodpeckers, the porcupines, the foxes, the hawks and eagles and turkeys and grouse and woodcock and songbirds I have seen when I’ve been alone in the woods. I write this remembering my father teaching me how to bait a hook and cast a rod, how to clean and pan-fry bluegills and catfish. I write this as I recall many, many meatless meals we’ve had, a lot of those entirely from our own garden and orchard. I also know that despite loving roasted butternut squash, fresh pesto, corn salsa, eggplant and zucchini and all the other great vegetable stuff, I like meat too much to give it up. And I am willing to kill for it.
If you are against harming animals, you might be cursing me and might even send me hate mail and threats. Go to it, if that’s all you’re capable of. Most vegans (assumption as to ‘vegan’, more on that later) are not like that, though. And if you’re a certain type of hunter, you may get upset when I tell you that I am entirely against “trophy hunting”, “canned hunting” and hunting on stocked game preserves. I’m also against fur farms and most of the current factory farming methods. Most hunters would either say “that’s ok” or “I entirely agree”. The small percentage who believe they should be able to pay to blast away at a captive-raised cougar or think shooting quail released from cages in the brush is fun, or who use doves and crows for target practice or who ‘only shoot the biggest and best’- well, they probably have some choice things to say to me. They can just stuff it like bad taxidermy.
I hear some vegans applauding. Less people eating meat is good, yes it is! Some of you are pretty proud of “eating nothing that has a face” and eating no animal products like dairy and eggs. And so, because you eat no animals, maybe you wear no leather or wool or are against domestic animals entirely, you think you harm no animals. Oh, so sorry to step on that delusion. Do you wear anything made of petroleum based materials? Have any plastic? Do you heat your home with electricity? With propane? With natural gas? With hydropower? With wood? Do you live in a housing development that was once farmland that was once forest? Do you fly anywhere? Drive a car? Do you use any palm oil? Are you sure none of your purchases have a connection to slash’n’burn or other environmentally devastating practices? Do you have a dog or cat? Are you feeding that carnivore pet a vegan pet food manufactured and sold by a pet food company with their “assurances” that it is a complete diet? Do you use a sewer system? Do you eat anything grown with non-organic methods, and/or with irrigation water taken from a disappearing river or aquifer? Do you eat crops fertilized with manure (composted or fresh) from livestock animals? I could go on for a long time. You may still say “But how am I responsible for harming animals if I don’t eat them?” or “Well, I’m not EATING animals, and that’s the point!” Really? Well wake up. You may not be eating animals, but you are probably oblivious to all the ways your lifestyle is still harming them. Yes, you harm animals. We all do. Most of us are just not aware of it. Those “vegan leather” shoes you’re so proud of? Chances are they’re petroleum-based. Got coal-based electric? Ever see what coal mining does to the area where it’s mined? Get off your high horse, you look foolish up there. We all look dumb up there.
So who is right? What is the answer?
Most people who hunt have loads of stories to tell about the animals they didn’t kill. Most people who hunt will speak of the animals they kill with appreciation, respect and admiration. Most hunters have wonderful recipes for their game, and little is wasted. There’s nothing wrong with most hunting, but there is something wrong with being nasty to people who don’t share your passion, assuming they are “Obama-loving liberals” (?) or liberal wimps or pussies or cowards who don’t support our veterans, want to take away your guns and are unpatriotic moochers sucking away your hard-earned money via taxes to pay for abortions. Oh yes, I’ve read these comments – and much worse – in the comments section of various blogs, articles and facebook posts somehow related to this debate.
Most people who don’t eat meat aren’t militant haters, and they are living their chosen lifestyle, and they aren’t eating factory-farmed animals, so they get off the hook with me on that point. There’s nothing wrong with being a vegan, but there is something wrong with telling people who don’t share your views that you hope they die horribly, that they are monsters, that they only hunt because they are “too retarded to have a job and buy their food”, that they are evil or that you want to kill them. Etc. Yes, I’ve read all that too, and worse.
The real problem are the people in the middle, the great big bulk of the population – the meat eaters who think chicken is just a kind of meat, and that meat comes from the store in a nice package. If they can conceptualize the chicken as a living, breathing animal, maybe they think the chicken lived on a story book farm with a grassy barnyard and a big red barn and a smiling man in overalls sitting on a tractor.
Maybe they think the chicken was gently euthanized. Maybe they think the chicken committed suicide.
In reality, they don’t know, they don’t want to know, they don’t care. They eat meat, but have no connection to it. In a way, they are the clueless drivers of the factory farm industry. The farmers are simply raising the animals in the cheapest, most efficient way possible because that’s what our culture demands – cheap, plentiful meat, milk and eggs – without any real thought about how those products are produced. Thoughtless omnivores, you don’t deserve cheap, plentiful meat, milk and eggs. You don’t deserve expensive variations of it, either. Oh, wah! You want animal products on your table? Raise your own steer or lamb or pig or chicken, then kill and butcher it. Or if you live in town, visit a factory farm and then a slaughterhouse, and if you’re ok with that, well… kill and butcher an animal yourself. Know what eating meat means. Look at the creature and know you are taking its life away so you can have meat on your plate. That’s right. YOU swing the hatchet. YOU pull the trigger. If you can’t do it, not even once, you shouldn’t be eating meat, not even if you’re wealthy enough to buy Texas. You don’t deserve it. If that standard was applied, a lot of Americans would be on a vegetable diet. A lot of Americans would stop throwing away leftover turkey or pork chops or meatloaf or ham salad if they personally had to kill an animal in order to have those things in the first place.
I’m sure the ugliness will continue between the pro-hunters and the anti-hunters. I’m sure thoughtless omnivores will continue to eat chicken nuggets. But some people understand…
Years ago, a woman I worked with bought a rooster from me. She was from Nigeria, had come to the US as an adult. Her children were born here and had a typical upper middle class life – Dad a doctor, mom an accountant, private schools, etc. She bought a rooster from me because she wanted her children to understand the culture she had come from, how she had grown up – if you wanted to eat chicken, you went to the market, bought a live chicken, killed and dressed it yourself. She wanted her children to understand that the chicken was not just a package of skinless, boneless breasts from the supermarket, that it was a real living thing, and if they wanted to eat chicken, or other meat, they had to understand what it meant.
Here’s the take-away from this: Every time you eat meat, think. Think about the life that steer or chicken or pig had – did it ever see the sky? Did it stand in the sunshine? Was it born into this world and never set foot on the earth? Was it denied the ability to turn around, or run or flap its wings or nurse from its mother?
Hunt, don’t hunt, be vegan or not – but don’t be a thoughtless omnivore.