Return to Eden 02/25/2007

"I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth
and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food."
~Genesis 1:29~

These are the Christian God's instructions to humankind in the garden of Eden. It was a time of innocence... before the knowledge of good and evil, or the encroachment of death. Indeed, when we think of a picnic in paradise, do we imagine freshly cut steak slathered in blood or a cornucopia of luscious fruit?

But I am not Christian, and do not see death as a punishment. It is a natural consequence of life, and a release into new ways of being. The thought of being stuck in one physical form for all eternity terrifies me like few other things can. The food chain is sacred. It has no top or bottom, and is instead a web that connects us to all things. Life feeds on life, for in the end, we are all one. We are all endowed with souls that shift and take on different bodies - from grass, to cows, to stars - and death facilitates this reincarnation. When I ate meat, I never saw it as separate from the animal it came from. Always I would picture them clearly in my mind and say, "I honor the animal that died so that I may live."

In my perfect world, we would respect each other's freedom to live autonomous lives. At times our paths would cross, whether for food or friendship, but always with the knowledge that these other entities are individuals with their own thoughts, their own feelings, and their own interests. If we want to eat meat, we would go into the wilderness and work for it just as a wolf does. Ideally this would be a risky venture that promotes reverence for our prey, not the sadistic "sports hunting" or, better yet, "population control" because for some odd reason all the natural predators are missing from the ecosystem.

If we do keep tame animals close by, it would be for milk or eggs, not meat. At first glance I would think it would be fine to have a small farm, where the farm animals are treated as members of the family like dogs and cats are. But is that still enslavement and exploitation of other autonomous beings? Can we keep anyone who does not come and does not stay with us of their own free will? The keeping of livestock often results in contempt for and hunting of wild predators. Also, truly free range ranching leaves livestock to eat up everything that grows, damaging ecosystems and pushing out wildlife. I would not stand for either of that.

For such a world to be possible, there would need to be A LOT less humans on this planet than there are now. 1/4th or even 1/8th of the current population would have to remain. There would be enough room for everyone and enough resources to go around comfortably. When asked to rethink factory farming, people exclaim "we can't do free range! how else are we expected to feed all these people??" Few consider lessening the number of people.

Perhaps this is because many humans believe themselves to be special. They consider the ability to reason and make moral choices as uniquely human qualities, and other species' lack of these qualities to make those beings morally irrelevant. I do not agree with this assessment of human superiority. Other species solve problems, develop relationships, help each other, and make decisions just fine in accordance with their concerns. But even if somebody does believe humans to be unique in the animal kingdom, then that uniqueness does not exempt them from responsibility, it obligates them to make compassionate choices. "Look at a lion," they say, "he will brutally kill a gazelle for food!" OK, 1) just because a lion does something, doesn't mean you should and 2) a lion does not keep the gazelle in a cage for five years and pump it full of drugs before he ties it to a mechanized assembly line that slices its throat. A lion is a perfect carnivore designed to kill quickly and efficiently.

Death is different from suffering. When told about the harrowing conditions on factory farms, some people rationalize it as "those animals were raised for food" and honestly believe this is adequate justification. By that logic, "those people were raised to be slaves" would make slavery ok too. I disagree. Nobody is born to suffer, they are chosen by popular demand. Those staggering numbers of chickens would not be confined to tiny cages and scalded alive if people didn't buy KFC any more than poor kids in Asia wouldn't be spending their childhood in sweatshops if people didn't buy Nike.

Truly it is the catastrophic overpopulation of humans that is creating the twisted conditions of human and non-human suffering alike. But... seeing as how population decrease is unlikely to happen anytime soon, we have to confront the fact that today's means of food production are unsustainable for both humans and the planet as a whole. The fields of grain and tons of water going to feed the millions of cows stuck on a factory farm that might eventually feed some humans is highly inefficient. By phasing out the farming of animals, that land and water could be put to better use for growing food directly - and eliminate much soil and air pollution that intensive farming creates.

For the Earth's swelling population, a plant-based diet is the only answer for humans, other animals, and the environment (until it swells past plant-bearing capacity too). That is why even though I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with eating meat, dairy, or eggs, I choose not to due to the current state of the world. And yet people just don't care, and keep wasting themselves into oblivion. When asked why, they say it's because "meat tastes good." Does that mean that if human babies tasted good, we'd raise and eat them too? Might as well... pigs have the mental capacity of a 3-year old human, and it might take care of the overpopulation problem.

When you suggest alternatives for medical animal testing, they reply "you wouldn't say that if your mother had cancer." Hmm. Maybe they're right. Maybe at that point my judgment would be so clouded with selfishness that I'd start pulling people off the street and doing experiments on them, too. That wouldn't make it okay, and wouldn't change the fact that not a single one of the rats and dogs and chimps rotting away in science labs gave a human cancer. If I was ill, that wouldn't give me the right to turn to the person next to me and say "you should be infected too and suffer for my cure." How anybody with good intentions could bring themselves to willingly infect another living creature with a terminal disease is beyond me. They have done nothing to deserve this and should not be dragged into human problems without their consent. In case you can't ascertain positive consent, rest assured that screaming and trying to get away is universal for "NO!"

I sometimes wonder if I think this way because I do not identify myself as a human. Humans are just another species to me. I see that they can think and feel like others can, and understand that their experiences are no more valuable than anybody else's. If you would not do it to a human, don't do it to a non-human. That is all. 

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DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor or a nutritionist and am not authorized to give medical advice. All I can do is offer suggestions based on my own experiences. Please consult a professional before making drastic changes to your lifestyle.