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Do we have to kill to live? Turn fellow-creatures into dead flesh to eat?

Been thinking about this ever since I found out Harsh, one of the guys who started up hART - the new coffee/hookah lounge across from the NewSchool of Architecture in East Village (see blog Great Bathrooms (continued) — is a Jain.

That is, he belongs to the ancient Jainist movement of India which tries to do no harm to any living creature, to only eat what Nature offers. Like fruit, or grains you can get without destroying the plant. Not potatoes. You have to rip them out of their environment and kill them.

And killing a living mammal, like pigs or cows, that's another order of murder.

Guess I was never more guilty than when I worked a summer on a sheep farm. As the newest kid, I got all the dirty jobs, of course, including feeding the sheepdogs.

That involved going to the little paddock where the sick and lame sheep were kept. I had to go, select one, then, basically (hard to admit this), slit its throat. Once a week.

That first sheep. She let me roll her on her back. No resistance. She was lame. She looked up at me like, you're going to do this, aren't you. The worst thing was, she seemed to forgive me. And as the life pumped out of her, she just faded away.

And then I was skinning her, cutting up her warm body, as the dozen dogs yelped and danced at the end of their chains. Then, as I tossed out the parts to them, she was just meat, a memory, and a pelt of wool.

It got easier, as the weeks went by. Guess I got hardened to it. But it was never easy.

And then something else happened. I felt a kind of grim pride, that I was at least taking responsibility for taking the life of something I or the dogs were going to eat. It's easy to be preachy and sensitive when someone else is doing your dirty work for you.

Maybe we should all have to be prepared to kill the things we eat. Or else not eat them.

I guess I sit easiest with what I heard many native Americans do. Apologize and ask permission at least from the animal or tree they're going to kill. And be very sure they need to do it for survival's sake.

But Harsh, at hART, is at a whole 'nother level. I want to learn more.

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Twister June 15, 2011 @ 9:24 p.m.

Good piece, Ed.

"Maybe we should all have to kill the things we eat.

"I guess I sit easiest with what I heard many native Americans do. Apologize and ask permission at least from the animal or tree they're going to kill. And be very sure they need to do it for survival's sake."

All animals kill something in the process of eating. Human culture is the only species, however, that enslaves ("domesticates") animals in order to kill them. As human cultures have grown more "successful," mere enslavement has morphed into brutality and torture. This is the lowest moral low-ground. I grew up in farming and ranching country before the industrialization of "animal husbandry." Mistreating animals would not get you arrested, but you would be "disciplined" by any man (except maybe another psychotic) who witnessed the act (or sometimes a "committe" of men who had heard of your crime from a child or a woman). Some women would thrash you too. Yes, men were men and women were women.

Potatoes are "domesticated" too, and we have to murder ecosystems to have a place to plant them. That's been going on for at least ten thousand years, maybe much more. But we have "elevated" slavery and destruction of ecosystems far, far beyond farming and ranching. All that is now run by bean-counters, ribbon-clerks, and other pimps. If you think climate change is a hockey stick, take a look at the origins of the economic straits we are in. Economics (counting) against ecology (understanding).

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Ed Bedford June 17, 2011 @ 2:10 a.m.

Thanks for the thoughts, Twister. And Mindy. I admit to being a total hypocrite when it comes to food. I had a burger yesterday. It's so much easier to pick up ground bison meat and think how healthy and grass-fed it is, and not think of the personhood of the animal we destroyed to make use of it as a kind of organic battery we can suck the energy out of.

We shudder at the thought of cannibalism, and yet say eating animals is justified and moral.

Maybe it's living apart from life (ie in cities) that separates us from the mucky realities of being decent two-legged animals living among other animals. And also creates city people (like kind-hearted Mindy?) who can avoid the bloody side of Nature and be absolute in their positions.

On the other hand, I don't want to fall in with the gang who just throw up their hands and say "That's life. Not my fault," whatever. But (if I'd had any power on that sheep farm) what should I have suggested that the boss feed the dogs? Lettuce leaves? And what do we know about the suffering of lettuces, when their neck is slit and their leaves are ripped off them? Nothing wants to die. I'm sure of that. (Even though we all do.) I agree with Mindy: be kind to animals. Don't eat them. But I feel just as sorry for fish, who have no defense attorneys, and plants who have just chosen another way to express life. Honestly, a guy could curl up from the impossibility of it all.

As I say, maybe I need to look more into the Jainist ways. Or maybe they're just a couple of notches more refined in what they seek to destroy in order to survive themselves.

But I do agree with you about our degrading and often Nazi enslavement of animals like battery cows and chickens and pigs, and how we have broken the social contract with our fellow-creatures, just because (as Bill Clinton said about Monica) we can. -Ed Bedford

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Ed Bedford June 21, 2011 @ 5:16 p.m.

Mindy, I can appreciate your feelings, though I am and always will be a meat eater. However, how can I take your comments seriously when I see - after your remark about 'staying the hell away from the Reader'- you are still blogging (658 last count).

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Twister June 16, 2011 @ 10:45 a.m.

Mindy might like books by the late Judy van der Veer. One of the best was "Higher Than the Arrow." Two children befriend a coyote.

Judy used to say "We shouldn't eat our friends." She used to have a pig named "Wallace" about whom she wrote a book, "Wallace the Wandering Pig." Wallace, even as a six-hundred-pounder, used to wander into Judy's kitchen.

Judy also wrote articles for the Christian Science Monitor. She lived near Santa Isabel.

You might have to try the library; I don't know whether or not you can get her books and articles on-line or not.

Judy was not a censor.

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Twister June 17, 2011 @ 8:20 p.m.

All creatures great and small are interdependent--that's how life goes on.

As we gain understanding, we become less dictatorial, more concerned about our own behavior and less about the behavior of others. Struggle is one thing, fighting quite another. Out of great adversity come moments of great insight, mostly into ourselves, but, after a lifetime of running off the high road and back out of an infinity of ditches, we can see farther down the road of life--of all life, and our place in it. Martin Luther King and Rodney King come to mind for some reason, and the principle of insisting upon non-violence and the mending of artificial, self-constructed and inherited barriers, and a springing forth, more with deep questions (like this piece) than pronouncements. "Why can't we all get along?" is more than a rhetorical question. As the late Kenneth Boulding used to say, "We have only two choices, really. We can have an 'I beat you down, you beat me down, I beat you down society,' or we can have an 'I lift you up, you lift me up, I lift you up' society."

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Twister June 18, 2011 @ 5:27 p.m.

Lifting requires effort on every individual's part. So does beating down.

"The opposite of love is not hate," said Oscar Wilde, "the opposite of love is indifference."

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Twister June 22, 2011 @ 12:47 p.m.

We ARE animals--but yes, more "screwed up" than the rest.

When we were more like the other animals, we lifted each other up. Back then, cooperation was essential to our continued existence. We consulted each other, and "leadership" was by consent rather than decree. We were free, but that meant feeling the consequences of our acts rather rapidly. "Beating down" (competition) is culturally-acquired concept. Culture, as we now know it, was made possible by the enslavement (the euphemistic term is "domestication") of other animals (dogs were an exception; they were cooperative partners) and plants--animal "husbandry" and agriculture.

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Twister June 22, 2011 @ 12:59 p.m.

And oh, yes . . . my fellow human animals here,

It seems to me that Mindy has taken quite enough abuse in her life, so let's not get on her case, but give her some breathing room. She has some points very useful to this most challenging discussion. It's not about whether or not we agree, but how well we pursue this vital discussion to acquire better understanding.

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