I feel the need to speak up in response to Gracia Fay Ellwood’s article "Are Animals Our Neighbors" (FJ April). First of all I would like to thank Gracia Fay for bringing the deplorable condition of most of our domestic animals to our consciousness. Like her, I would probably become a vegetarian again if I had to eat meat offered in our stores. I was a vegetarian for ten years and my health really suffered.
But there is an alternative—maybe not immediately available to everyone, but if the demand for clean meat is there, it will become more readily available.
First, though, we need to look at our long history of involvement with our domesticated animals. It is more an issue of stewardship than animal liberation. We have taken these creatures under our care, fed them, bred them, selected them, and protected them from predators. A chicken or domesticated duck could not survive in the wild. Most of our animals have lost their instincts to even find food or successfully reproduce without our help. It is the rare chicken or the even rarer domesticated duck that will brood and raise its own young anymore. Sheep need special care when birthing. You get the idea—our animals have become degenerate and are in great need of selective breeding to bring back vigor and survival skills.
So a farmer has his or her task cut out. I have a small farm growing most of our own food, and I raise chickens, ducks, geese, and bees. A farm has what is called carrying capacity. Animals tend to multiply and soon pastures are overgrazed. In order to raise animals properly they need access to green grass. That’s the only way to keep them happy and healthy. They need to have space and be able to interact with others according to their species.
So what do you do with the excess bull calves or the 40 potential goslings my mother goose would gladly hatch each year?
This is our contract with our domesticated animals: the excess is ours. In the wild, predators will keep the herds healthy by culling the sick and weak. If we all become vegetarians there soon would be only a few nonfunctioning domestic animals left. And the integration of animals is essential for healthy farms. They graze the lands that can’t be tilled to produce a crop and they produce the fertility with their manure. This ideal is the foundation of the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening method started by the philosopher and spiritual scientist Rudolf Steiner in 1924.
In response to Gracia Fay’s argument that animal-based food is not necessary for human health, I would like to mention my own experiment with vegetarianism for ten years. My health was deteriorating and I was painful all the time. All this has reversed since I switched back to meat, milk, and eggs. There are about as many opinions on diet out there as there are people. But I found the soundest and most time-tested advice from the Weston A. Price Foundation and their excellent quarterly Wise Traditions. They maintain that people on traditional meat-based diets—before all our modern, refined, and artificial stuff that’s called food—had perfect health, as documented by Weston A. Price in the 1930s, when he traveled the globe researching traditional people’s diets and dental health. He found that as soon as these people switched to a modern Western diet, degenerative diseases proliferated—especially in the generations following the change in diet.
It’s funny—you see the same thing in our domesticated animals. Since dairy cows have been confined indoors and fed rations and pot scrubbers for roughage, the average cow lasts maybe for one or two gestations, while cows on grass used to live 20 years and have a calf each year.
So what can we do, since most people don’t have the option to move to the country and raise their own food? First of all, withdraw our support from this exploitative system—gradually. Try to grow some of your own food, even if it is just a potted tomato plant. Dig up your back yard and your front yard and make a blooming, productive oasis of it. Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where a local farmer is paid upfront to supply you with fresh food each week of the growing season. Yes, you can, even in New York City! Buy at a farmers market. Local mobile butchers have mostly meat grown by small producers. Surf the Web to find a CSA. The Biodynamic Association and the Weston A. Price Foundation can link you up with conscientious producers. Cook from scratch, sprout some alfalfa or other seeds, and watch them—and yourself—come to life and health!
In conclusion I would like to touch upon the subject of our emotional involvement with animals. Of course, they are ensouled beings; their feelings of joy and pain, motherly love and attachment to each other speak to our own souls. But I would stop short before claiming that they have the Inner Light, that special consciousness of God within. As God’s creation they are precious like all of the created world, but I don’t see divine reason in their instinctual behavior. Maybe divine wisdom. I kill an animal in a reverential way, thankful for its sacrifice so that we can live.
I would like to close this letter with a poem by Christian Morgenstern that is very dear to me:
The Washing of the Feet
I thank you, strong and silent stone,
inclining gratefully before you,
To plant life with your help I’ve grown.
I thank you, plant and mother Earth,
and humbly bow myself before you,
You helped the beast in me to birth.
I thank you, stone and beast and tree,
and humbly bend myself before you,
You helped me find myself in me.
We thank you, human being, too,
and bend in gratitude before you,
For we exist because you grew.
In thanks joins God upon His throne,
and all the beings that adore Him,
In thanks all beings are as one.