Sunflowervillager's Blog

Growing into community

Reflections on Meat, provoked by the Nearings. July 21, 2010

Filed under: anthropology,Buddhism,food/agri/garden,interconnected — Saera @ 9:34 am

Nearly through reading Living the Good Life by Scott and Helen Nearing. This couple achieved much of what I am interested in from the 30s through the 70s. They left New York due to the Great Depression, determined to be self-sufficient, humane, skilled, thriving, and cultured, while debt-free and increasingly independent of wage-labor and money. While they achieved much of this, they did not find a strong sense of community in the Vermont they experienced at that time. They were strongly community/communally minded, far ahead of their time. I do not agree with them on every single point, but there is a great deal of inspiring knowledge and wisdom in their writing. Some of it makes sense to me personally, such as eating almost exclusively uncooked vegetables and fruit, but seems like a bit more than I’m presently willing to give up, and more than most people are willing to do. For them, this was a priority, but I am more interested in developing a functional community and adjusting diet later. While I myself am vegetarian, I do not expect that anyone else become one, and certainly people will not have to be vegetarian to live in a village. However, the production and acquisition of meat does present challenges. First for me is the inefficiency of meat production. That is to say, that in order to have meat, first grasses and grains must be grown and then fed to the animals. This not only is an extra step in food production, but also reduces the food produced, as happens in any transfer of energy. Cows produce the worst ratio, but even with chickens you have more input than output. This amounts to one basic thing: you can feed more people on vegetables, fruits, and grain than you can if you include meat. It leads to another challenge. If meat is to be provided to those who cannot (medically, culturally) or will not give up meat, how is this to be compensated for, since both energy-wise and financially, the meat-eaters will be bigger consumers. I may come back to that in a moment.

The second thing is the slaughter of the animals. For many people this is a purely ethical issue of whether or not it is alright to kill another “living being”, by which many people mean mammals, fowl, and fish. While I personally have not been courageous enough to kill my own meat, the consumption of the meat of other creatures has been a part of human cuisine for millenia. It is an important and valued thing for many cultures, and I would not pass judgment on culture.  Too, there is the fact that I do not see a inherently clear line between the life of an animal and the life of a tree. Both live, both have their own meanings until human imposition. Then we disturb both for our use. The ways in which we use or do not use animals affects plants, and the ways in which we use plants affects animals. Our nature as humans leads invariably to the alteration of our environment. Buddhism (among many other teachings) explains that self and the environment are one and the same.

In any case, humans must eat as best as they are able. For a community aimed at self-sufficiency, I believe that animals may be humanly kept and used for their eggs, milk, manure, and labor. This may include meat, but that brings us back to the question of slaughter. You may or may not have heard, but the methods used for slaughter in the United States are, in a word, appalling. Many people seem to think that the slaughterhouse days of Upton Sinclair are long since gone. I pose that they never left, only altered appearance to sate public demand for increased “decency” in wages and some measures of safety for people. But there are other laws now too which were not so dominant then. Now slaughterhouses are few and far between, with only one or two for entire states, and this by federal decrees and standards. Meant to improve safety, they actually increase the danger. The fewer slaughterhouses are not an indicator of less meat, but of more. All the meat is going through a few places, making the risk greater. The sheer speed necessary to process all these animals creates more accidents, potentially leading to contamination of food and injury to humans. I will not write more on the process here, it is easily found in many places now. The relevance to a village is that while, in many places, it is alright to slaughter chickens for one’s own family consumption, or for a small business, most other animals are required to go through a slaughterhouse, which would likely result in participating in problematic practices. It is also expensive and not practical for a subsidaristic, economically self-reliant community. Meat purchased elsewhere, despite promises of grass-fed, organic, and local, still generally goes through the same slaughterhouses. Therefore, while cows may be ethically raised, their use is not recommended for an intentional community until such time as meat processing is reformed. Other meats may be considered by an intentional community, but it should be recognized that, other than as a health need for specific people, meat remains a luxury.

Another time perhaps, I will write on my disagreement with some vegans regarding honey.

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