Why I’m Not a Vegetarian

A few years ago, the weeds and rushes were growing out of control on one of my pastures, so I mowed it with the tractor. Chickens range widely over short grass, and mowing the grass helps keep it green. (Chickens can’t digest tough, brown, woody plants, but they can deal with succulent green plants.)

As I mowed, crows appeared. Mowing uncovers field mice and other rodents that live in the grass, exposing them to predators. The mower also kills some creatures outright.

“It’s a good thing I’m not a vegetarian,” I though. “If I’m killing this many animals just by mowing, imagine what would happen if I plowed this field every year to plant corn and soybeans!”

If you think through the process, you’ll see just how hard farming is on the local wildlife. You start by cutting down all the trees that make up the normal ground cover on your land (at least, that’s what grows naturally in my part of the world.) This displaces all the birds and animals that used to live there. Because all ecological niches are already full, displacing creatures has the same effect as killing them. The only real difference is that the cause of death — starvation, exposure, and disease — is more lingering.

Then, each year, you plow the land, killing burrowing animals outright and preventing the land from being colonized by ground- and tree-dwelling creatures. By growing only one or two crops, which become edible only for a brief period before harvest, you create a wasteland with little food value 11 months out of the year. No creature can survive by eating for one month and starving for eleven, so farming greatly reduces the amount of wildlife the land can support.

So a piece of cropland is an open scar on the landscape that kills and starves birds and animals every year. And vegetarians pat themselves on the back and feel smug, because they didn’t actually eat any of the dead creatures themselves. They died anonymously, out of sight. To a lot of people, that’s the same thing as not dying at all. It makes me angry. We’re all in the same boat: animals are being killed so that we can eat. Being a vegetarian doesn’t change this. We’re all benefiting equally from the deaths of our fellow creatures.

If you’re interested in treading lightly on the earth, the best lifestyle is probably that of a hunter. In this case, you are basically displacing your weight in predators. That is, a 150-pound hunter eats about as much meat as two 75-pound wolves. The impact on the prey species is the same either way.

Nomadic herding is also low-impact. In this case, you’re displacing your weight in predators again. The total biomass of ruminants will end up the same, with your domestic animals displacing their weight in native animals.

You don’t start cutting a serious swath through the ecology until you start farming. That’s when all hell breaks loose. Farming lets us achieve a human population that is much larger than we could with hunter/gathering or herding, but it’s not all that easy on the planet, even when you do it right. (Also, I suspect that native peoples with a more nomadic lifestyle have more fun than we do, since they’re living the lifestyle with the longest track record. It suits us.)

Ethically, of course, it doesn’t matter whether you kill an animal outright and eat it yourself, or whether it dies because you displaced it so you could grow soybeans. You killed it for your own purposes either way.

I think people are approaching the whole issue from the wrong end. The real issue is that everyone has a yearning to be connected to nature and the land. It’s a basic human need. Almost by definition, people with a lifelong disconnection from the land don’t know how to connect to it appropriately. Their yearning will attach itself almost at random to one of the half-measures or palliatives offered by the people around them — who are also lifelong city dwellers. After all, the people who have achieved a true connection don’t live in the city anymore! Their good example is not very visible to their former neighbors.

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Thoughts? Questions? Comments?

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Robert Plamondon
Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, and is an expert on free-range chickens. His publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of the best poultry books of the last 100 years.

Author: Robert Plamondon

Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, and is an expert on free-range chickens. His publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of the best poultry books of the last 100 years.

4 thoughts on “Why I’m Not a Vegetarian”

  1. One reason people turn to vegetarianism is that, at least in the U.S., most of the available meat comes from factory farms. Much of the pro-veg literature I’ve seen focuses not on the the death of animals, but on their miserable lives leading up to that death.

    Anyone who says that you should be a vegetarian is ignorant, but it’s a rational choice for an American city-dweller not to eat farmed meat, even if animals are dying either way. Vegetarianism is not necessarily a way to connect with nature, but a way to cope with an ethically questionable food supply.

    If vegetarianism were mainstream, it may be the ecological disaster you describe, but vegetarians and folks sitting on the fence need a better alternative than our current food supply. I’m hopeful that the alternative isn’t that everybody becomes a farmer, which is unrealistic, but that government policy and social change can put our meat in better moral standing.


  2. Interesting points. In my case, I know where to find high-quality meat — such information is easy to come by in the country — so that’s not an issue. You know who the best farmers and butchers are, and that’s who you go to. It’s a complete no-brainer.

    Things don’t get complicated until there are enough middlemen to blur the distinction between the best and the rest.

  3. Of course beings die so we can live. Every time you brush your teeth…

    Yes, but not eating meat means less area needs to be farmed = less environmental impact. Assuming one doesn’t go big on the soy, coffee, long distance travel etc.

    Too many of us around now to go back to hunter/gathering. But it may still come back to that.

  4. Robert I always appreciate your clear, straightforward view of things.
    In my youth I was moved by the Ethics of Buddhism and became a Vegetarian for 5 years, devoted to ‘ending suffering’. My oldest daughter never tasted meat till she was 5 years old.
    One can do it, many people are forced to because of economics and poverty, but one day I was in the grocery and happened to bend over to tie my shoe near the meat cooler box. As I looked to my right, the box from that perspective appeared to be about a mile long and filled with freshly butchered red meat from cows, pigs, lambs and some particularly handsome slabs of Pacific Salmon (being in Oregon at the right time of year helps)
    Clearly I had failed to slow or even slightly effect the slaughter or bring an ‘end to suffering’ and I realized that since they were already dead and I wasn’t slowing the process down at all, the noblest thing I could do was honor their ‘sacrifice’ by firing up the Bar-B-Q and introducing my little children to the joys and pleasures of broiled carcinogens.
    I have not looked back.
    When and where I can, I provide meat (game) and fish by my own hands which suppliments our store purchases. I am preparing to raise chickens for both eggs and meat as well as icelandic sheep possibly, I purchase from local suppliers such as your self when possible to support local agriculture and family farms in my community, I grow a large garden, but fill in the canning season with supplies from a local ‘pick your own’ operation-when I can pick fresh tomatoes for $7 a half bushel, why pay retail?
    Modern technology is a wonderful thing and a bushel for corn for $3.60 on the futures yesterday is hard to beat! Seedless grapes from Chile in February for 99 cents a pound! Avocados from California for 94 cents each (good old walmart!).
    As you have demonstrated, there are some things to re-learn from the past that are very effective, but internal combustion engines and electricity at the flick of a switch sure can be nice!
    I think the intellectual mistake many city dwellers and ‘do gooders’ make is to project human feelings, attitudes and values upon animals who have no such compunctions.
    Clearly, your chickens, when lost in canibilistic frenzy from over crowding or nutritional short-comings don’t. In battery cages that increase production, sanitation and disease control clearly they don’t.
    I watch animal ‘humanizers’ ruin perfectly good dogs by projecting anthropomorphic emotions and behaviors on them that only create confusion and bad behavior in the dogs. I feed my dogs, exercise my dogs then ‘play’ occasionally with my dogs. I am their ‘pack leader’ and they always follow me everywhere and never take their eyes off me when they are awake, they always lay in a circle around me, ready for action and are the calmest, happiest dogs I know. My ‘Pack’.
    If we want to ‘help the animals’ the best thing we can do is to let the chickens be chickens, the cows and pigs to be cows and pigs, let the dogs be dogs and quit the anthropomorphism.
    I am a very successful fisherman because when I approach a body of water I think like a fish! People think I’m crazy but it works. “Where’s the shade? Where’s the stream carrying food? Where is the shelter? If I was a fish where would I be right now?” That’s where the fish are.
    Love chickens? start thinking like one…I bet you started to become more successful with your live- stock when you started to ‘think like them’. love dogs or cows or horses? Think like one. Then they will be happy. Don’t try to make them think like you, you will fail!

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