Walking the Fine Line: The Ethical Divisions of Eating Animals

This is the gentlest and deepest, most soulful exploration I’ve read about the “omnivore’s dilemma.” Having lived in over 40 extremely diverse locations around the US, I especially appreciate Becca’s honoring the importance of place and our interaction with Earth in that spot.

I also know, from having worked with so many vegans and raw vegans, and from having been exclusively vegan for 8.5 years, just how heart-wrenching choices can feel when your body tells you that, despite all the theories, supplements and fancy superfoods, your body is demanding in no uncertain terms a food you consider off limits. For me, this was raw dairy. I fought that fact for four years before finally trying a little, only to find immediate relief of symptoms I hadn’t even realized I was having until they went away. For now, I’ve settled on a local, grassfed, humanely sourced and “kids first” raw goat milk, which — for whatever reason — feels so much more balanced in my body, even though I *loved* being vegan. On the flip side, I have helped meat eaters come to terms with the opposite internal call, which body and soul, demanded complete abstinence from any and all animal products — at least for a time.

My experience as a gardener, listening to and honoring the essence of plants, has also brought home that even an organic vegan diet involves the taking of life — not just bugs, slugs, and accidental field animals killed during harvest — but of taking the essence of whatever we do process and eat. I’m not lying when I say that my indoor plants cringe every time I run the Vitamix or eat a salad. Anyone who has viewed or read the Secret Life of Plants knows that plants have consciousness. They know when you plan to eat them, and, at least in my garden, they preemptively uproot themselves if I even think about them “being in the way” of a different project or more productive crop. As Becca says,”How we choose to eat is a profound statement about our complicity or lack thereof with the larger economic and political system. It is the most intimate way to take actions that directly affect others, because every single morsel of food that passes our lips is comprised of another species. That is interconnection, that is dependence.”

I highly recommend her essay, whatever diet or dogma you follow. It brings shadows to light in a compassionate and conscious way. Many thanks to Becca and her strong, gentle soul.

Becca Segall Tarnas

“There is no death that is not somebody’s food, no life that is not somebody’s death.”
– Gary Snyder[1]

A couple years ago I participated in the slaughter of two young, male goats on a farm in Big Sur, California. The goats were named Sweetie and Peaches, and were “culled” to keep the herd of dairy goats on this farm to a manageable size. The female goats provided fresh milk that could be consumed raw or made into cheese, yogurt, or even caramel, but after a certain age the male goats served their human caretakers most by having their lives taken and becoming meat. Participating in the slaughter of these goats, which was carried out in the most painless and respectful way possible, brought home for me in a new way issues surrounding the human consumption of not only animal flesh but also the other biological products of their fertility…

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15 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by seattle72 on December 13, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    Interesting article. This topic always brings (past life?) flashes of a memory of an indiginous people long ago having made an agreement with the animals they ate. The relationship between these people and the animals who shared their bodies and essences had many levels and was important to both parties. The people respected and honored the lives offered, they helped to keep the herds healthy by cutting the sickness from the herd. The adults would use the hunt to teach the young many concepts of the interconnectedness of us all and the Great Spirit. The enlightened consumption and sharing of the animals offered actually strengthened the connection between the human and animal nations.

    Times have changed now and it seems humans have broken thier side of the agreement. We no longer honor our animal brothers and instead of ingesting the gifts they chose to share with us we now ingest thier suffering, having reduced them to prisoners, taking from them thier freedom and sense of connection. Interesting reflection of humanities self imprisonment and blindness to our place in the great web.

    I have no idea if this memory or recall or whatever is accurate, it just always comes up when this topic shows itself.

    Thanks for letting me share. Guess I had something to say on this!

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  2. Thank you for sharing! I have sensed similar things, for whatever that’s worth. 🙂

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  3. Posted by mylightwarrior on December 13, 2014 at 10:57 pm

    Good Article Laura… I find that as we progress through the evolution of our consciousness we are called to purify ourselves in many different ways. The path leading to Mastery calls for personal responsibility upholding Universal Law which states, “Do No Harm”… As we travel down this path of purity seeking unconditional love, peace, balance and harmony in our existance, we draw natural love of ALL THAT IS from within ourself. As I look on any part of creation it disturbs me to see any part of creation harmed. The main component of becoming a Master is the expansion of Awareness of Unity of all creation and having the Christ Love, natual love which is unconditional for all creation. In our walk through this material expression when we connect with creation as expressed in your article we are seeing glimpses of our Mastery. To expand ourself further we can meditate on this awareness of Unity and make choice for further expansion of consciousness. All of us have to look within ourself and find that natural love through focus and determination. Then we can follow our heart choices in this love and know that even though we err at times our truth is to become unconditional love.

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  4. Beautiful! Thank you for sharing here.

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  5. Posted by Judi on December 14, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    Thanks for sharing this Laura. Very timely for me.

    Having had long term health issues, mostly chronic fatigue and being veggie/vegan for 30 years, and every test in the book coming back “normal”, my continuing researches and recent intuitive hits, have led me to suspect complex, even genetic, B12 issues.

    Being vegan by diet and lifestyle is so sacred to me that to change my diet would be like betraying everything I’ve ever, ever believed in. I’m totally at a loss as I distinctly feel my body needs meat, but my heart cannot face this at all. I became ill within a year of becoming veggie, what does that tell me?!!

    Has anyone else managed to square this circle? Do I continue to break my body, or break my heart?

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  6. Posted by Kieron on December 14, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    20 years on, I still haven’t struck any balance, Judi. I had to quit being a vegetarian because I kept getting bronchitis which would last from November til almost February. Accupuncture helped somewhat, but I just couldn’t deal anymore, so I changed my diet more toward the Nourishing Traditions path which has helped. For what it’s worth: Eliminating soy seemed to prevent upper respiratory infections, and using cast iron to cook has eliminated iron deficiency in my household! 🙂

    I was told once that our bodies are in constant states of flux and are trying to maintain homeostasis, and what you need to eat in one stage of life will differ from the next stage. Someone once suggested going on a sabbatical or special time-out-of-time where you consciously eat something your body is craving but that you’d normally avoid, such as an organ meat for the b12 or the iron or whatever, and then return to ordinary time by resuming a vegetarian lifestyle.

    The only solution I have found that worksfor me, at this point, is making sure whatever meat I do consume comes from a farmer I know who doesn’t feed his animals soy, or GMO garbage, gives them plenty of sunshine and fresh air, and humanely slaughters them. For now, it’s a compromise I have to make and I’ve accepted the consequences.

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  7. I try to remember to thank my food. I am usually vegetarian, so am often thanking plants. Yet, when I do eat meat, I especially thank the animal for dying for my meal. I also say sorry for any suffering it may have endured.

    I am not that particular about only eating organic, and ingest many GMO’s I am sure. I admit it. I go the easy, cheaper, way because I am poor. I also like variety, which just doesn’t get found outside of Whole Foods when you shop organic in my state.

    I am thinking of buying a garden plot near my apartment this spring to grow vegetables with my Nephew. He hates almost all vegetables, but if he helps grow one, picking it off the plant himself, maybe he will eat it. I eat vegetables around him all the time, and offer some to him. I tell him they are yummy. Every now and then I convince him to try one, but he has never liked it.

    He is one of those picky eaters. Only eats what he likes, and vegetables (and even must fruit) do not make the list. Telling him that it will make him big and strong has no effect. I am very worried about his future health. Also covering the vegetables with cheese doesn’t work. Even if it is baked inside a pizza, he will not eat the green stuff. Occasionally he will eat the green (plants), but I am always surprised.

    He thinks I am weird for saying vegetables are yummy BTW.

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  8. Judi,
    I have done my best with coming to terms with occasionally eating meat. Luckily, the body doesn’t need much of it every week, only about the size of a iPhone. I try to find meat that has been treated better. Luckily at the Farmers Market in town there is a individual who farms such meat. Also in the area there is Calder Dairy for milk, which treats its cows very well.

    If you research and ask around you might be able to find such places in your area. Making the effort to find specially treated meat will make you feel better about eating it. Some people even visit these farms to make sure the animals are treated well, and request to be part of the killing of an animal (like the killing in the article).

    When you eat this meat mentally thank the animal for giving its life. This is what Native Americans used to do to food they hunted. Think about it. This animal, or at least a part of it, is about to live in you, becoming the energy that makes you healthy.

    By eating less meat then others you will be able to afford the extra cost of well treated meat. At places like Whole Foods there is still the division where you are trusting Whole Foods to find good places. If you go on the journey yourself, it might take away some of the heartbreak.

    Remember the circle of life, where your body will become the grass (like in the Lion King). You pay more attention to this circle, and give it the respect it deserves. Thanks.

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  9. Judi,
    I just remembered something. If you are unable to find well treated animals, I would try wild caught fish. These individuals had the chance to be completely free.

    I used to think to myself, I’d eat meat if it were from the wild, and I would know it had a good life because it had freedom. Fish is the only easy way to find wild animals to eat.

    To me the importance of a good life is more important then the fact something died. Everything dies.

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  10. Peacenowflower, thank you for all these tips! Wonderful sharing here on this post from everyone. 🙂 Your story about your nephew reminds me of when I visited my sister’s family back in January 2010 and made a green smoothie for myself. My nephew wanted a strawberry milkshake after mine, so I washed out the blender and he said, “Um, Aunt Laura, would you please wash the blender again?” I said, “Owen, I just washed the blender.” He said, “I know, but please wash it again. There was GREEN stuff in there!”

    LOL, fast forward to when I visited again in 2012 and I made green smoothies for my sister and me: both nephews wanted to try the green smoothies. Now they both drink them regularly and credit their good sports performance to the smoothies. They also started requesting other fruits and veggies once they got used to the green smoothies. It’s like they craved them.

    Soooo, stranger things have happened than kids learning to love veggies. Growing them together is an excellent idea. 🙂

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  11. Thank you, Kieron, for taking the time to share these experiences and suggestions. Much appreciated. I would also add that bone broth can sometimes become an ethical and health bridge for people. Asking an organic butcher or former for bones that would otherwise be thrown away allows you to get all the minerals and nutrients from within the bones and make an easily absorbed broth, without feeling like you have personally participated in the killing of the animal. Bones are “waste products” of the meat industry. One of the beautiful things about the Native American and other indigenous cultures is that whenever they did kill an animal, they used every single part for something. There was no waste, and that was another way of honoring the cycle of life.

    Anyway, Nourishing Traditions is very into bone broth, and I know this has helped many otherwise vegans or vegetarians rebuild their system without feeling like they’re directly participating in the animal industry. Fermented veggies, of course, don’t pose that same ethical dilemma, unless you hear from plants as much as I do!

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  12. Judi, I feel for you! I agree with many of the comments shared here, so I encourage you to read through them. Lots of real person experiences and suggestions….

    I cannot name names, but I know from either coaching or from being on friendly terms with some of the biggest names/authors in the raw vegan and vegan movements that many of them will eat meat or some other animal product on a very rare occasion. Most are just terrified to admit it because they have built their whole business and persona around a diet that doesn’t always work for them.

    Some have been open about this. For example, raw vegan chef and author, Sarma, has shared (and gotten attacked for it) that every once in awhile she will eat out and have some rare kind of meat like elk. This is not often at all, but what people seem to forget is that the very occasional consumption of some of these nutrients may, in fact, be why they manage to thrive on an otherwise vegan diet. I’ve known many others who don’t ADMIT such things, and it bothers me, because their (vocal and rigid) “success” makes people like you feel like failures or terribly wrong when the theory doesn’t measure up to your reality.

    When considering compassion, one must also consider compassion to the self. How many good works and how much positive energy do diet-related health issues prevent us from carrying forth? For myself, I was living in oftentimes non-stop excruciating tooth pain for years until I added raw dairy to my diet. I would find occasional relief from mega supplements, but when it got to the point of taking 16 pills per day, plus herbal infusions and still feeling pain and having cavities, I decided to go local and natural, despite my mental and emotional beliefs otherwise. I found relief, expanded my gardening endeavors and generally had so much more energy because I wasn’t constantly fighting the pain or my intuition.

    Each person’s journey is individual, and it does change over time. Finding heart felt ways to connect with all of life and our interdependence on each other is oftentimes part of the journey, and perhaps the reason that some of the most cherished beliefs get challenged along the way. 🙂

    Many blessings to you,
    Laura

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  13. Also, just to note: I do know many vegans who truly are living the vegan lifestyle. I just don’t know many (if any) who continue to thrive on a strict vegan or raw vegan lifestyle after 8-10 years. That’s not to say they’re not still eating that way, but the people I know in that range tend to have one or more of the following conditions: low B12 and related symptoms, very low bone density and/or tooth issues (demineralization), weight issues (either too low or too high, but not balanced), cancer, extreme hormonal imbalances (especially adrenal and thyroid issues), digestive problems (extreme bloating, malabsorption, etc.), and/or fertility issues. This is not based just on my own medical intuitive sensing but is confirmed by medical tests.

    The people I know (and know of) who are beyond that time range but choose to include SOME animal products of some sort in a largely vegan diet (especially raw) — by contrast — have reported elimination of longstanding health issues that wouldn’t budge with supplements or mental/emotional clearings on the stricter diet.

    There may, of course, be people beyond that time range who continue to thrive on a vegan diet. I just don’t personally know them, and also happen to know that some of the ones claiming to do so are not personally living that or are not actually thriving. It is a beautiful diet for most of the time, a good detox diet, and a lovely theory. A strict vegan diet just rarely translates to LONG TERM radiant, balanced heath.

    Then there’s the curious fact that most organic farmers I know, even if they began farming as vegans end up realizing that from an Earth-care standpoint and a local, kind to the environment standpoint, it makes more sense to raise their own animals, at least for milk and/or eggs, then use their manure to fertilize the land. Rather than flying or trucking in superfoods from across the continent or several continents away, backyard chickens leaving their eggs scattered around the yard and eating bugs, slugs and other unwanted pests, completes the cycle of life in a far less intensive way than some of the higher intensity, sometimes slave labor used vegan alternatives. It all depends on how far your net of compassion extends, and how you assess ripple effects and trade offs. Not a simple or universal answer, but definitely some uncomfortable things I’ve observed over the years!

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  14. Posted by Judi on December 15, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    Such helpful comments from everyone. Thank you so much for the support and understanding. I’ve read every word carefully and the suggestions and advice offered have been so much appreciated. It is obviously a hard one for all of us who care so very much. I care for the plants and the animals and find taking any life so hard.

    Having said all of that, everything Laura has shared in her two posts above makes such sense and applies to me regarding the health issues of being long term veggie/vegan.

    I know we are all being asked to make huge shifts at this time and in so many ways I feel like I am becoming someone else who I don’t even recognise – life defining choices/beliefs changing almost without me – I’ve just been trying to give this particular issue a miss!!! It won’t go away though. Wish it would.

    I will go away and mull. This would be a life changing perception of who I truly am and that’s the hardest thing of all.

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