A Vegan Among the Deerstalkers

Another Dispatch from the Other Summerland

Saturday, April 21, 2012
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When I was a kid, I had this fantasy of farm life, where I’d have a barnyard composed of a happy harmony of pigs, chickens, cows, horses, and other suitably agricultural animals. The animals wouldn’t actually do anything – we’d all just live on the farm together, them eating or grazing or whatever, me taking care of them. After all, Old MacDonald’s farm animals were just – there, right?

This fantasy persisted until I started spending time in a real agricultural community in rural New Zealand, among real farmers. Then I got my wake-up call about the role of animals on farms. They are tools, valued for what they produce, and disposable when they stop. The other night I was at dinner with neighbors; the man grew up on a farm here, although he’s also lived and worked in a big city. This couple told me they’d once had chickens for eggs (very common here). When I asked where the chickens were now, they explained that the birds had gotten too old to lay and thus had “got the chop.” The birds laid eggs and got fed; when they stopped laying, there was no point in feeding them, so they got killed instead.

Lee Heller

By now, I should know better than to be shocked by such pronouncements. Still, I was disturbed by the purely utilitarian value placed on animals, even by my sophisticated, iPod-owning, ex-farmer neighbors. Animals are a means to an end in their calculus, and no more. That an animal might have a right to life, independent of its use-value to humans, does not figure into the equation.

I got this rammed home again last week, when I spent a night in the remote Cobb Valley at a New Zealand Deerstalkers’ Association (NZDA) hunting hut, as part of a friend’s 50th birthday celebration. One of the women in the group is a member of the NZDA and got us in – quite a luxury, since the hut has electricity, a wood stove big enough to cook on, a small gas range, and even hot water for showers. Great, but of course there was a pair of antlers on the wall, along with a corkboard full of braggardly photos of hunters with their kill. Jean, the host member, had her binoculars out until it got dark, trying to spot deer – not that she’d brought her gun, but for practice against the next time she came out to kill one.

Now, I get hunting for food. Indeed, there is no more humane way to be a meat eater. Hunted animals live in nature as they should until the very last moment, and if killed quickly by a competent shot, suffer far, far less than domestic meat animals – who might stand in shit-filled feedlots for months before being trucked off to be slaughtered in abattoirs.

What I have trouble with is the pleasure that hunters seem to take in killing a living being. Yes, hunt successfully for the food it procures. Yes, hunt competently so as to minimize suffering to the animal you kill. But the excitement of killing for its own sake, for bagging the big one – I can’t get my head around that any more than I can imagine killing a chicken simply because it has stopped laying eggs for me to eat.

I think that it’s this difference that characterizes the divide, in Santa Barbara County, between the ranching interests up north and the environmentalists that dominate south county politics. If you’re a rancher, your land exists to graze animals that in turn exist to be turned – ultimately – into money. It’s no wonder that they’d oppose regulations that interfere with this outcome. (I am generalizing here; there are ranch owners who have more of a stewardship model than this, of course.) On the other side, most environmentalists operate with the belief that other species have a right to exist, not to be mowed down (literally or figuratively) by humans who see everything in the landscape as either an instrument for, or an obstruction to, making money.

It’s not an easy thing, persuading a New Zealand farmer, or a California rancher, that the land and animals on which they depend for income might have an autonomous right to exist. After all, once you admit that your cows should get to live even when they stop making milk, you then have to consider that their calves should get to live even if they aren’t female (future milk producers); and then the cows become individuals, not implements – and then, well, it’s a slippery slope to veganism, isn’t it?


Independent Discussion Guidelines

I guess when you play the game that homo sapiens are some how elevated above all the other species, your conclusion is correct.

A day viewing Animal Planet, you will see, a Mountain Lion dig its claws into the flanks of a Deer, pull it to the ground, and rip it's throat out. The Hyena Pack kill the weakest Wildebeest and rip it open while it's heart still beats. A Wolf Pack do the same to a Caribou. I guess they did not get the office memo.

Nature is cruel and Darwin got it right. Earthquakes, Volcanos or Flesh eating Bacteria - it still boils down to survival.

Homo Sapiens are no different from the rest of Nature, please read human history, and to pretend we are somehow elevated above the savagery of Nature is simply silly.

The only food that I am aware of that gives nourishment without suffering is the Fruit Tree, dropping its seed to the ground. Some feel and have studies that show that vegatables feel pain when picked.

No free lunch here.

Natural Law is what it is, brutal, mean, nasty and violent. I think of the Yellowstone Caldera as an example of a Terra-Form event or the Japanese Tsunami as reality check.

I would rather look at the inefficiencies of meat production, taking 10 pounds of grain to make one pound of meat. The pollution caused by Agri-Chemicals growing the grains and the absolute over Population of Mother Earth.

The Obesity caused by Grains, sugar's made from Corn, and overeating plastic meat and grains etc.

We can live better,eat better, treat the land better, stop breeding ourselves into oblivion, as we are bound by the same laws as all living things.

Native Americans got it right on how to live within the environment.

Pretending that eating vegetables elevates Humans above Natural Law is, well childish.

I would rather take an honest look at our place within Natural Law and do a better job in our roll, not above or below but correctly just another small player in a very large system.

howgreenwasmyvalley (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2012 at 3:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I love when I agree with someone here that I normally disagree with.
I recently asked "Doesn't every species think it's the superior life form?"
Today I caught a glimpse of the panic that ensued in a video of a 3yo who fell into the gorilla pit at a midwestern zoo. A female gorilla immediately went to the child, picked it up took behind some rocks. The crowd was sure the gorilla meant the child harm, I personally felt the child safer than when it was the crowd of strangers! And lo and behold, of course it turns out the gorilla was indeed caring for the child , indeed placed it by a door and hence didn't need to have a water cannon fired at it!
There are so many instances of animals behaving better than humans.. the pride of lions in Africa who rescued a 9yo girl from being raped then stood guard over her for three days until nonmaliceous humans arrived. This isn't to say expect a big comforting hug from a Grizzly bear, but we should be aware that other living things do have emotions and can act in compassionate, even heroic ways.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2012 at 3:15 p.m. (Suggest removal)

'Veganism' it is a slippery slope to compassion.

Does this callousness, or is it superstition, or this thing called "Natural Law" b.s. have the same primal origins for all of our other indifferences or our lack of enthusiasm toward more compassionate behavior.

A neighbor surprised me with an invitation tonight to check on a homeless veteran she had recently befriended. This veteran has bone cancer and says he is waiting 3 weeks for a bed at the V.A. UCLA. Circling a church we find several homeless friends, one friend led us to the veteran. He knew where he was because he had just wheeled him to a spot under an eve. Previously, while searching, we disturbed a homeless woman under another eve. She called out "who's there, who's there." We introduced ourselves and explained who we were looking for. She said she was apologetic and said she was blind and couldn't identify him by description. She seemed be very elderly. All I came across tonight seemed very vulnerable.

DonMcDermott (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2012 at 9:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I agree with the author that eating hunted animals from the wild is far more humane than eating domesticated animals that are essentially being raised for food. However it is important to realize that some domesticated animals have much better lives than others, which is why if and when you do eat meat it is important to buy grass fed beef and cage free animals, no RBST, hormones or steroids.

I don't care for the insinuation that domesticated animals have any "right" to exist beyond their period of usefulness because the farmer spent the time and effort to breed, raise and feed them, without which they never would have existed. If the farmer gives them a relatively stress-free life then I don't see why killing them and ensuring a more efficient and higher quality food supply is a bad thing when we have so much worse factory farm conditions occurring due to government subsidies into the food industry.

My biggest problem with the article is that the author seems to be attacking the actions of the most humane system of farming we have, the small family farm that is just trying to get by when we have big agro corp. down the street doing things a million times worse. Let's try and get back to the most humane system we have, then improve on that if we can, before we ditch the most humane system we have.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
April 23, 2012 at 11:20 a.m. (Suggest removal)

As far as regulations go, the author couldn't have insinuated anything much worse than what they did.. That the agricultural community, at large, as a group and community of individuals would be against farming regulations because they want to hurt their animals and make more money. This is precisely the attitude that has led us to the more inhumane factory farming methods.

Regulations always have and always will be written by the corporations of industry that is being regulated. Repeat that last sentence, it's important. Corporations write the regulations, hand them off to the lobbyists, they hand them off to politicians who then turn it into legislation. The truth is, the big corporate farmer is always going to benefit from farming regulations because not only are they often designed around their own current methods but they are often much less expensive for bigger farms to implement on a cost per unit basis. This forces smaller farms out of the market and we end up with big corporate agro animal torture chambers.

Regulations are supposed to set a bar, at least that is what most progressives believe. But unfortunately what they end up doing instead is they end up setting the standard. Regulations prevent innovation and they often prevent better techniques from being used.

What we need to do is stop subsidizing farms, because the subsidies always end up going to the big corporate farms. Then we need to get rid of the regulations. Once we do those two things, you will begin to see ALL the prices at your local discount grocer (such as Albertsons, Vons, Ralph's, etc.) begin to resemble the prices that you see at your local health food store (Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Lazy Acres, Lassens, Farmer's Market, etc.). The reason is because organic farming isn't really more than 1-2% more expensive than factory farming, but when you are a corporation that deals in billions of dollars that 1-2% turns into several million dollars.. But when the consumer only has to pay an extra 3% or 4% instead of 5%-40% for better food, then people WILL demand better food. We will see factory farming either become more humane and better for the environment, or it will disappear from the sands of time.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
April 23, 2012 at 11:27 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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