Vegan Bullying and the New World
As a former ardent vegan, I completely understand the decision to adopt a plant –based diet. I understand and I honor that choice as one that is personal and one that has been effective, to scale, in awakening people to the flaws in our food system. I no longer choose a plant-based diet for several reasons, none of them having to do with a dysfunction in my personality, or a lack of compassion. I do this, and my work as an author and educator, with full recognition of the fact that there are many ardent vegans who will not be able to put those puzzle pieces together: the conscious decision to eat animals, and an intact compassion and deep mindfulness of the world and its inhabitants. In fact, one entire layer of that conscientious intention has been the careful avoidance of negativity that comes from those who disagree with me. I have been avoiding the militant vegan rhetoric for a decade or more. As of today, that has changed.
For the past four days, I have been targeted by what seems to be an international coalition of militant vegan organizations. The coalition has made a call to action on their social media pages, and created a petition via Change.org to encourage harassment of me and of Natalie Bogwalker, who owns and operates the non-profit organization known as Wild Abundance in Barnardsville, NC. Why? Because I was hired by Natalie for her annual Cycles of Life Class, an adult education class for people who want to understand the choice to eat meat, and take steps to do so in the most ethical way possible. The class includes the humane slaughter of an older sheep, skinning, dressing, butchery, cooking, and charcuterie. The position of these fundamentalists is that we are the epicenter of animal suffering, and that no slaughter is humane. They have issued an open threat letter to both of us, asking that we cancel the class or else they plan to continue their harassment via “various methods.”
Among the letters I have received include death threats, suggestions that I should be beaten, that I have only hell awaiting me, and that I deserve the worst treatment of any vile treatments imaginable, because I obviously have no compassion. I have also received letters from individuals suggesting that “other” cultures who rely on meat for their livelihood are simply ignorant, and backward. I don’t need to point out the hypocrisy and inherent bigotry of these threats. I also don’t need to point out the fact that the existence of an organization, or a coalition of organizations just to harass individuals is not going to rid the world of meat, or of anything really. Further, there is overwhelming evidence in our world, from ISIS to partisan politics, that basing your entire agenda on changing people’s beliefs is not progressive, not effective, and not constructive to positive change. It is only inflammatory, divisive, and derogatory. That others disagree with you is utterly out of your control. What you choose to do about it can be constructive, or destructive.
I have written The Ethical Meat Handbook not as a murderer with a passion for death, but as a guide for humans who choose, as I do, to eat meat, or who require meat for their health. It is obvious that after many years of vegan activism, we still have people on earth who choose to eat meat, and many more who do not have the luxury of cherry picking the contents of a meal. This will continue to be true. The book seeks to address those people. I did not write it for vegans. In my quest to be useful in the world, I have decided it is less helpful to scorn and gripe about how the world should situate itself to support a singular point of view, and more helpful to assess the world as it is, and propose mindful solutions for as many beings as I can see, regardless of diverse emotional convictions. I believe it will take vegan approaches and non-vegan approaches to inform useful change. Thankfully, I know many vegans who do not engage in bullying or defamation of ethical meat proponents.
Having never called myself “the ethical butcher,” I speak and provide demos in all types of cooking, including vegan cooking. I had been invited as a guest to Wild Abundance to assist with an annual class, and there would be nothing pleasing to me about slaughtering a sheep. There never will be anything easy or lovely or pleasurable to me about slaughter. That said, having spent over 15 years in deep study and practice of agriculture and food processing, I have close experience with the life-death-life cycle that informs nature as a whole. This cycle informs the production of crops like soy and hemp, and it informs the production of meat. I strive to see the whole system in all things, live my life in service of holistic thought and practice, and work daily to expose the interdependence and synergy of systems. This is the overarching perspective I hope to bring to Wild Abundance and other places where I speak, in service of life.
That said, I have chosen to withdraw as the person slaughtering the sheep this coming weekend, because I do not feel that I can be present enough for the animal considering how contentious this event has become. After four days of harassment, I feel angry, and I feel more inclined to put my energy into discovering legal grounds for shielding people working towards change from the ideological terrorism of coalitions such as the one I have been dealing with for the past week. Does this mean the event has been canceled? Absolutely not. The event will go on, and another entirely capable farmer will provide the slaughter demonstration. His name and contact information is not being publicized, to shield him from the harassment, and ensure that he can be present and centered for the animal. I remain in full support of the event, and will be on site to teach on the second day. I am committed to shining a light on vegan bullying, and hope to unify proponents of just and local food systems that include animal agriculture to deal with vegan fundamentalism in a measured, effective way. I hope to engage positive vegans who understand that while we may disagree about animal agriculture, we must make room for each other anyway, in order to actually ensure a better world.
The assertion that animals are inefficient converters of energy and abusers of land and resources is based on the same reductionist science that has been used to measure and build the same industrial system of calorie production that both vegans and conscious meat-eaters oppose for its purpose of producing money, and its simultaneous creation of disproportionate hunger, disease, waste, anger, war, global warming, and endless other distresses. Both groups oppose this system that does not function in service of the cycles of nature. Where disconnect begins between these groups is in the analysis of the system and in the diverse opportunities and challenges we face in fixing it. The food system is vast, complex, and very broken. Spending over half of my life deeply committed to understanding its political, environmental, social, and scientific underpinnings has led me to a radical assertion that the people who eat meat in America have more potential impact on changing the system in a positive way than the people who don’t eat meat. I do not expect this assertion to be easy, or comfortable, or intuitive. That our solutions to vast problems may be initially uneasy, uncomfortable, and counterintuitive is the essence of any education I provide on food and farming, and far too complex to distill here.
We live in critical, transformational times. Thousands of people the world over woke up Wednesday morning, November 9th, afraid for their basic rights and for their families. We need to work together. We need practical solutions that inform action. We need realistic approaches that make way for a diversity of beliefs and a synergy of players. We do not need any more bullying, any more failure to listen to each other, any more refusals to make way for differing truths.
The Cycles of Life class scheduled for next weekend is not about “deriving pleasure from pain”, or “bonding with an individual animal”, or “serial killing”, or “might makes right.” It is also not about singular death. It is about life and awareness, holistic dynamism, and inevitable change. It is about the synergy of life and death, a baffling collusion of opposites that humans have struggled to grasp physically and spiritually since the dawn of our species. The dance of life and death is even more complicated than the idea of vegans and conscious meat eaters perhaps someday working together to conjure a more positive culture and a healthier world. I have space, time, and daily energy for both of these wild ideas.
This applies to racism, sexism, religious fanaticism, and yes, even dietary fundamentalism: if you are a witness to ideological judgment and negative dogma in our world today, say something. Don’t put your head down. The stakes are higher now than ever. It is time to show up.