You know what I really hated about Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? It wasn’t the elitist-hobby-farm-thing. It wasn’t even her daughter’s insufferable smugness (though there definitely moments when I put the book down in disgust). It was the chapter in which Kingsolver set about vegetarian-bashing. One of her key arguments against vegetarianism is that millions of insects, worms, lizards, and small animals die so that we can clear land, grow and harvest vegetables. So, even a vegan diet has been achieved at the cost of animal life and suffering. Omnivorism is really only the next logical step.
As an ethical vegetarian, I disagree. For me, there is a huge moral difference between killing animals incidentally (or preventing them from eating your crops) and actively raising and slaughtering them. It’s important to me and most other vegetarians that we minimize, even if we can’t fully eradicate, the harm we do to other animals. Especially the cute, fuzzy, sentient ones.
Up until yesterday, I never fully realized that my diet, too, has a high cost. Kevin and I went to visit a real (if small) farm in the heart of Silicon Valley. Full Circle Farm is a non-profit organic farm that educates kids about where their food comes from and provides local, sustainably farmed produce and eggs. We walked around, looked at the very happy hens in their generous enclosure, decided that we would be willing to pay $3 for half a dozen very happy eggs, and marveled at what things like kale and squash look like when they’re in the ground.
And then we came to the squirrel traps. One was empty. The other held a half-eaten apricot and a trembling bundle of fur trying to burrow out of the cage. We felt really sorry for this terrified squirrel, so we alerted the farm manager. I naively assumed there was some sort of trap and release program in place. There isn’t. Apparently ground squirrels decimate crops and cannot be transported (or rehabilitated). I left in tears, the image of that shivering heap of fur burned into my brain. I was torn between two impulses that I had, up to now, considered compatible: my desire to act compassionately towards animals, and my desire to support sustainable [vegetable] agriculture.
Eating is a violent act. I am shaken by my naivety and failure to see the ongoing, violent competition for resources. The compassionate diet I’ve been striving for seems as remote as it has ever been. Even though I’m vegetarian, even if I were vegan, animals will suffer and die so I can eat. It breaks my heart.
I still stand (and eat) by my belief that less harm is better than more. But some days, I really wish breatharianism were a more viable option.