Making a certain choice doesn’t necessitate that you become
the enemy of those who make that choice’s opposite. Having a certain identity
does not entail hatred of all which apparently defies that identity. This world
is not black and white. If it is, you might just be blind to what actually is
black and what is white.
For instance, being on a vegan diet doesn’t inherently mean that you hate hunting. As far as I can tell, your diet in itself does not block the efforts of hunters. Objectively speaking, it’s hard to imagine how eating vegetables prevents a guy from getting a gun and using it to catch dinner (Of course, on a large scale agriculture and hunting are at odds with each other. But let's just talk at the level of the individual for now).
A vegan, in fact, can support hunting—even one who follows her diet for both ethical and health reasons. But first, it should be demonstrated how a vegan can be led to take a neutral stance toward hunting.
Ethical, Hunting-Neutral Veganism
To start, the vegan perceives that the food that comes out of the factory farming system (and possibly animal agriculture as a whole) was not salvaged kindly or justly by any standard. The animals did not live or even die in conditions that are remotely beneficial to their health.
For the same reason, the food that comes from these animals is not healthy for humans. Consuming disease seems unlikely to yield health. Thus, this reasoning for avoiding animal product consumption is rooted in both ethics and health.
How would you expect a vegan who follows this line of thinking to feel about hunting—that is, killing wild animals? It should seem obvious that this person would oppose hunting, as it entails taking (unnecessarily so) the life of an animal. A person who is disgusted by the treatment of farm animals is probably equally repulsed by firing a bullet into an innocent animal and creating a small death-inducing explosion, right?
Certainly there are people who feel this way. But the situation must be thought about more critically.
The vegan person opposes the unethical, unhealthy treatment of farm animals. Such treatment refers to extremely cramped and crowded conditions, entirely-indoor living space, improper diet (for the animals), the administration of antibiotics and growth hormones (and other chemicals), branding and beak-clipping, the elimination of “useless” animals (males, in this case), the separation of offspring from their mothers, and the disease and distress the animals face as a result of these things.
Now, go take a stroll (or mad dash) through the woods, come back, and then tell me honestly: do wild animals face this same treatment? You should find that, no, they do not.
Certainly human activity has interfered somewhat with the lives of the majority of, if not all, wild animals on this planet. Manmade compounds make their way into bodies of water, roads make movement more difficult and have led to countless deaths (e.g. roadkill), and litter gets consumed by and kills animals who mistake it for food, just to give a few examples.
But, overall, the majority of wild animals live much healthier lives than the majority of domestic animals (“domestic” is meant to include pets). They consume much more appropriate foods than corn and soy. If they want to keep their kids, they have the option. And they actually get to use their instincts and abilities, rather than sit around inside all day waiting for the next meal to arrive.
Of course, when you try to make the same argument about humans things become trickier. Many people who live off the land and off the grid, similar to their ancestors, are regarded as impoverished. Challenges many people in the developed world rarely even come in contact with are inflated for people who live with less (modern) technology. Attacks by animals are more common because they live closer to a large number of animals. Broken bones can be fatal because they need to use their bones constantly to survive, and there is no one nearby who can help the bones to heal properly (i.e. a doctor who can provide crutches, if needed, and set the body part in a cast). For bacterial infections there are no antibiotics. Disease-carrying insects are tough to avoid when you sleep in a tiny hut made of mud.
Likewise, wild animals do not receive the helpful human intervention that domestic animals do. There are no people around to take care of them while their injuries heal or quickly provide them with food when none can be found.
From this standpoint it appears that it is more difficult to be wild, the central reason being that struggle and the end of your life come about far more unpredictably than in domestic life. It makes ethical sense, then, that we should help all humans to modernize, provided they want to, so as to lengthen their lifespans and make for a relatively more predictable end.
But what about (other) animals—is the modern way the right way for them? Obviously there is no one who advocates placing all wild animals into domestic environments. That would be ridiculous and unnecessary.
But it seems favor has been taken for domestic animals over wild animals, one idea being that it is more ethical to raise and kill animals en masse than it is to find those who have lived largely without human help and kill them on an individual basis.
Surely any human being with a conscience would oppose the conditions of the factory farm described above—correct? What if you force that treatment upon a bunch of people—is that ethical? Such a thing has been created before. It’s called a concentration camp.
Wild animals may not live a life that can be called “rosy,” but in comparison to the lives of factory farmed animals it might as well be. Certainly most human beings would prefer to live by themselves in a cabin in the woods, subsisting primarily by bow-hunting and trapping, rather than in a concentration camp.
At least, I sure hope they would… But, some people might prefer the predictable meals of the camp—particularly those that are produced by humans aside from themselves (cooking is hard, man). Are you such a person?
Ask whether you’re living in a concentration camp already. Perhaps this one is larger, prettier, and less brutal than those that operated during World War II, but it is such a camp nevertheless. This camp is more likely to be orchestrated more so by your own mind- by your own choices- than by other, gun-wielding human beings who yell a lot.
Do you allow other people to feed you improperly, simply because they can do so reliably? Do you spend most of your time out of the warming rays of the sun, hidden from the elements by four walls? Are you constantly administered drugs to fend off disease, since your body is too unhealthy to do so itself? Do you separate yourself from your loved ones, such as your family members? Do you allow yourself to be physically and emotionally abused? Do you spend the bulk of your time waiting around for external forces to make things happen?
If you answered “Yes” to the majority of the questions above, Congratulations. Welcome to the prison camp. Not only have you allowed yourself to be treated unethically, but you have done so to yourself.
After all this explaining, it may not seem too strange for a vegan to actively oppose factory farming (and possible all farming) and leave hunting alone. It is difficult to say whether ending the life of an animal who has lived in relative health is good or bad. Specifically, it’s uncertain whether the kill is necessary, such that animal protein is obviously not essential to survival (otherwise how could anyone live for years on vegan diets?), but it may be optimal for survival.
Who knows? Maybe we should give people some room to explore that possibility through hunting, even if the animal-death involved doesn’t seem like most ethically-friendly thing in the world.
Hunting-Supportive Veganism: Live on Your Own Terms
However, as is always the case with food, things aren’t as straightforward as we might like them to be. Just as there are reasons a vegan can oppose or feel neutral about hunting, a vegan can support hunting as well.
Take the same vegan discussed in the example above. To start, her ability to support hunting can be lifted from the reasoning she used above. A person who supports the exploration of various not-horrible options may not support hunting in itself, but in this case there is an indirect, loose support of hunting. This person would probably be upset to see hunting outlawed because it would likewise be a restriction on exploration, choice, and self-reliance—all things which tend to be valued by a conscious, concentration camp-avoiding person.
If the people who hunt cannot all be convinced to stop eating meat even under such a circumstance- which, by the way, they probably can’t be- the vegan would actually be shooting herself in the foot by opposing hunting. If hunting gets outlawed, farming- particularly factory farming- will proliferate. Even more prisoners will be created. And how could there possibly be more? There have already been billions.
Some hunters may decide not to participate in the animal-domestication system and go vegan in the face of prohibitive laws, but it is unlikely to be many. In addition, a few hunters certainly will continue hunting, but for all to do so would be too dangerous (well, unless they use their collective firepower to take over the government… Now there’s a group of people you don’t want to mess with).
This vegan who values a person’s ability to make choices and to live on his own terms surely, if he loves animals, respects an animal’s right to do so as well—even if the animal’s ability is more limited in this regard. It might be more proper to say on Nature’s terms rather than some human overlord. Man is part of nature as well, yes, but this does not mean that man is always right in what he does.
What if you found a wolf who made a pet out of a gerbil, and the wolf fed the gerbil (an herbivore) nothing but meat simply because this is the easiest food for the wolf to find? You would probably conclude that this wolf obviously does not know what is right for the gerbil; and, if he does, he does not respect what is right. Most likely you would be perplexed and disturbed by the setup and prefer that it end.
What if an alligator tried to make a pet out of a small housecat, and forced the cat to live in an oxygen-filled tank underwater in the swamp? You would be outraged by that one. The story would make national news. Countless people would want the alligator dead. The creature must be either cruel or ignorant.
So, why is it right for humans to feed corn to cows and force them to live in crowded, overheated indoor conditions—just like they do? Of course, a cow isn’t really a wild animal in the first place, just as dogs and cats aren’t. Rather, they are products of domestication. Their ancestors were wild, but they as their own species never have been. But that doesn’t mean that a domesticated animal, even one treated well, is a healthy one.
Even within the sphere of domestication there are distinctions between who gets eaten and who gets treated in what ways. A building into which 1000 dogs are crowded is called a puppy mill, and it is downright evil and illegal.
The same building with 1000 cows is called a factory farm, and it is perfectly legal and apparently just. But on what logical basis, in contrast with a puppy mill? There is none. There cannot be.
Can you think of a good reason why one is okay and the other isn’t? They’re almost completely the same aside from their legal status. They’re like prescription painkillers and heroin—one is legal while the other is not. One is perceived to serve people while the other destroys them. Ultimately, though, both have the potential to do both—particularly in the destruction realm.
Of course, people make distinctions when it comes to which wild animal to eat as well. The choice may be based on which animal is tastiest, lives closest to a person’s home, would be easiest or most challenging to kill (depending on one’s preference), and, of course, on government regulations. But surely these reasons make more sense than the lack of reason behind why, in America, it is perfectly okay to raise cattle in Holocaust-worthy conditions but not to eat a dog. This distinction is based on nothing but irrational concepts and attachments regarding these animals that have been developed over time.
By supporting hunting, then, the vegan supports the maintenance of at least a bit of reason within the animal-eating population.
Even if pets were nearly eliminated (i.e. except for service animals, police units, and hunting companions) and up for grabs by the hungry, these pets would still just add to the number of prisoners because they would become livestock. They cannot become wild animals because they are not wild—plus, there are just far too many of them. They would destroy the ecosystem.
A sidenote: I doubt animal-farming will ever be entirely dissolved- it probably shouldn’t be-, but if it is all the cows, pigs, and chickens wouldn’t be released into the wild. That would be ridiculous, yet somehow people have assumed I suggest this. Instead, they would be eaten as usual until there are none left, because no more would be raised. That’s it. You almost wouldn’t notice except for the empty grocery store freezers.
The Respectful Diet
If you haven’t figured it out by now, the vegan who supports hunting is me. I have been on a 100% vegan diet for the last month and a half and I plan to continue this for at least another 3 months. Certainly this is not the first time: I was vegan for several months in 2014 as well. Even then, for the last 2 and a half years (since early 2013) I’ve emphasized limiting animal product consumption-- in particular, only eating animal foods of a high quality (e.g. grass-fed beef, pastured-raised eggs). Certainly I have eaten far fewer animal products at times than others, but in general I don’t have a whole lot.
Perhaps it is hard to call me a tried and true vegan- I haven’t spent too many months of my life “pure”- but it’s also hard to call me an avid animal eater. Maybe I am not a vegan, but rather a person who follows a vegan diet. I am not the embodiment of veganism, but I adhere to its basic tenant of not consuming animal products. I also take issue with
Prior to becoming vegan (again) I tried to consume more animal products, but it was just a mess. Dairy backed up my digestive system and I had intense anxiety while preparing and eating meat (plus I couldn’t find pasture-raised eggs, but this is due to my own incompetence and lack of effort). I was quite tired, sad, and in pain during this time, though I don’t attribute those things to eating animal products: rather, I’m pointing out that they didn’t help, even though I thought they would.
Really I think all this had to do with being in school (college), where I simply did not want to be. After the school year ended eating animal products just didn’t feel right anymore, if it did at any point. I wanted to allow my body some time to get clean (if a body can do such a thing) and give veganism a decent chance.
I am not certain whether animal products are right for me. As for those people who (lawfully) hunt and eat animals (specifically, eat what they hunt) and feel good doing so, I support them 100%. I appreciate that there are still people in the developed world who work hard to get their food, do so in a relatively ethical manner, and embrace the choice to do so even though they don’t have to.
Though not all hunters approach the task equally, some hunters are among the fittest and most disciplined people on planet Earth. Remi Warren, who hunts 300 days a year, has the same VO2 max as elite distance runners. The bow-hunter Cameron Hanes shoots with a 90-pound bow. On top of that, he can run 100 miles in 24 hours—not world-class by any stretch, but the man is certainly well-rounded.
I am always pleased to hear hunters’ stories of their trips to the wilderness—particularly the trips that are multi-day, go deep into the “middle of nowhere,” and are tough. I run in the woods and have gotten into some sticky situations, but they are nothing like what some hunters have experienced. I am glad there are people who keep alive the spirit of adventure and whose activities support the maintenance of wild places. If there weren’t people who wanted to hunt, we might feel more inclined to bulldoze (let’s face it—human demand is one of the biggest influencers of the natural world).
I have never gone hunting. I have never even seen a person kill an animal that is not a bug or fish. It may not be for quite some time- perhaps a decade- but I would feel my life is incomplete if I never try. I must attempt to determine whether it is ethical to take the life of another animal (I predict I will conclude yes, depending on circumstances). I must put in the work it takes to provide a meal for myself. I must challenge my ideas and push myself to be my best physically and mentally. I must, for once, do as my ancestors did. I cannot sit and wonder. To understand, I must act.
Perhaps at the end of the hunt I will conclude that this is all wrong, and that I have taken an innocent life. Perhaps my life will not change much, though it’s hard to see how this would happen. Or, maybe I would understand that there is an amazing side of life which I previously had no idea about—something which is so amazing in that it is central to our existence (we wouldn’t have gotten here without it).
Whatever the case may be, I perceive that this endeavor would inevitably help me to grow. Not only would I become far more fit physically and adopt a whole new set of skills, but I would also learn something of tremendous value—something which would help me to become, ultimately, a more conscious person. Plus I’d get to go on adventures. :)
I am not focused on the differences between a plant-based and an animal-based diet in themselves. Rather, what I seek is to eat consciously. I want to eat healthfully, minimize the negative environmental impact of my eating, and respect all life as much as possible. I think all three of these things can be achieved through an animal-based diet (e.g. paleo, slow-carb) as well as a plant-based (vegan) one. Likewise, both types of diet can be unhealthy and destructive as well.
Whether we choose to eat animals may not be as important as the broader task of eating respectfully, with regards to animals, to our own bodies, and to the Earth. If you don’t think you should eat something, it’s probably worth your while to improve your diet in regards to all of these three things. A diet which respects all life, including one’s own, is the best diet for a man.
If you wish to live as a conscious human being, you must also respect your responsibility to make informed, reasonable choices which are consistent with informed, reasonable beliefs. The formulation of such choices is achieved through exploring different options and concluding what works best when, and why it does so. If you can’t back your beliefs and choices with solid experience and reasoning, you stand for nothing. You are chasing dust.
To clarify my stance, I don’t think animal-farming should be eliminated entirely. There is no way that hunting could support the entire animal-eating human population. There are too many people who have taken over and destroyed too many natural areas; and, again, there is no way to stop everyone from eating all animal products.
However, it appears there is room for more hunters to enter the scene—and perhaps for governments to expand hunting in areas where more of it can be reasonably had.
In addition, I feel confident that if we treated animals more kindly and promoted their health, we would boost our own collective health. There wouldn’t be an inevitable lack of animals to go around—people don’t need to double-fist Big Macs and eat whole boxes of pizza by themselves when the food they’re eating is actually nutritious. Overweight people tend to come about by shoving too much unhealthy food down their throats, which they constantly need more and more of because their bodies are screaming for more nutrition—which it never gets.
It is simple: nurture and eat healthy animals and you get healthy people. Create and eat sick animals and you get sick people. Respect life, and life gives back to you. Mistreat it, and it will mistreat you.
Even in a world of healthy animals I’m sure there will still be a surplus of people who choose not to eat them. For my part, I am not going to participate in the animal domestication system. This includes pets: it would be quite silly for me to feed dogs and cats the very factory-farmed meat which I abhor. Additionally, I would rather not deal with meat for a pet’s sake if I’m not going to for my own—especially if I don’t need or even want to have that pet around.
Moreover, I want the next animal I eat to be one that I killed myself. Particularly, I want to do so on the ground (rather than in a tree stand), in deep woods, and with a bow and arrow. I’ll only sway from this if I become nutritionally desperate prior to being able to hunt. Even then, though, I might just catch a little mousey or two around the house. ;)
For whatever choices you may make, your beliefs and subsequent choices need not be limited by what other people think those choices should be. You don’t have to be black and/or white.
You can be a hunting-loving, animal-respecting vegan who seeks to go hunting herself someday. You can be a gay person who doesn’t freak out every time you hear the word “fag” or someone cracks a gay joke. You can be a health enthusiast who rejects most of the supplements found on store shelves. You can be an outdoorsman who also enjoys computer programming. All these ways of being are perfectly fine and can be supported with reason.
In what ways are you unexpectedly and perceivably (but not actually) inconsistent? Where would you like to express more weirdness in your life but are holding back? You don’t have to do or believe one thing just because you do or believe another. You are free to explore any choices and any beliefs you would like. Embrace this ability to explore and use what you learn to live consciously. It is what you came here to do.
Note, 8/20/2017: My desire to ever eat an animal again wore off within several months of writing this article: I will not do so unless it is absolutely necessary. However, I still stand by everything else I have stated here.
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