Paganism, food and spirituality
Peace in the Pasture
Last month, the New York Times had an essay contest in which they asked for people to write about why it is ethical to eat meat. You can view the results here, and read my essay here. I was not surprised to not be chosen, but did find this an interesting challenge, because one of the requirements was that we could not talk about grass-fed livestock for meat.
Relationship is one of the aspects that defines Pagan attitudes about food. For Pagans, deity is immanent in the world. Every rock, every tree, everything that moves and breathes is sacred. Including what we eat. It is very common for Pagans to feel a deep kinship with both animals and plants. This creates an ethical dilemma that is not easy to solve. How does one eat one’s brother? Industrial farming is repugnant to anyone who takes the time to look. But even more so to a Pagan who claims kinship to all living things.
Veganism –the practice of eating no animal products at all - has been one solution to this problem, although, as with the general population, vegetarianism – not eating animal flesh - is more common. For physiological reasons, veganism is extremely difficult to maintain, and generally requires far more asceticism than is generally acceptable in Paganism. Vegan Pagans don’t get much sympathy in a religion where enjoying one’s food can include exclaiming over bacon and groaning over a chocolate confection.
For the record (and to the apparent confusion of many of the people I know) I eat meat. But unless I am eating out, it is from animals that have lived their lives in open pasture, doing what comes naturally to them. They were raised with respect and kindness, and their lives ended quickly and with far less trauma than if they had been killed by a different predator. The cows and lambs ate grass and the chickens ate larvae from the cow pies and scattered the manure with their scratching. The grass grew more healthy, increasing both the carrying capacity of the land and the amount of carbon it sequestered because this farmer uses a tight rotational grazing protocol. There was no need for chemical fertilizers or pesticides because these animals ate no grain, and no small animals or birds died in a harvesting combine.
In her bookLiving With Honour: A Pagan Ethics by Emma Restall Orr, she refers to humans as animals, and I agree, we are animals. We share the same drives, we reproduce in similar ways, we need to eat, breathe, and sleep. We feel fear, anger, and affection, even love. As a Pagan, I respect my animal nature without allowing it to be the sole deciding factor of my actions. I seek to integrate the wild with the civilized, the primitive and the cultured, because both are powerful and satisfying. And my physiology demands meat. So I eat meat that comes from animals who have been able to express their nature as I express my own.
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