More Thoughts, and Blatant Omnivorism

First, a bit of an addendum to yesterday’s post. Although I talk about drawing on the energy of the Land, it is an exchange, not just a feeding. Pore breathing is like lung breathing (at least in my experience)–breathe in, breathe out, not just breathe in. It’s an exchange of energy; for everything I draw in, I release part of my own back out. It was interesting walking to Laurelhurst last night; I’d had a particularly bad day, and was feeling really “ick”. Soon as I got outside into our neighborhood, even before we got to the park itself, I felt all that “ick” unloading. Bringing the energy of the night, of the neighborhood, and then of the park, felt like clear water flooding my pores, and my whole body. Exhaling flushed the “ick” out through the pores, so I felt that my skin was covered in rivulets of water stained grey with numerous particles of soot.

Despite this, the Land gladly took my energy. I knew that I meshed well with this place, but last night I felt utterly and completely enfolded and protected there. No one seemed to mind the trail of shed “ick” (which ended up pretty quickly absorbed or scattered). I’ll take this as further confirmation that the Land there wants to get to know me better–or, rather, vice versa. So I’m going to try to make it my goal to visit at least once every other day/night. Plus it’ll help once I can go hiking further out, too–I’m going to shoot for heading to Multnomah Falls next weekend.

Speaking of connections, I’m working on being more mindful of the living beings whose bodies become my food. Night before last, my husband Taylor and I went on a date after I got off work (Jim Butcher book signing FTW! Yes, I am a geek.) For supper, we went to an American-Chinese-Japanese buffet. This, of course, equaled utter and complete heaven, as among other things I could have unlimited quantities of two of my favorite foods–crab legs, and sushi. However, there were a number of other things I’d never tried before–clams and crawdads being among them. So I took the opportunity to exercise some neophilia.

I was doing great until I got to the crawdad–which was whole, face and all. Now, rationally, I realize that pork, beef and chicken meat all once had faces, too. However, in a society where even shrimp routinely end up decapitated before hitting the market, to come literally face to face with my food was a different experience. (It didn’t help that I had no idea how to eat a crawdad, and there were a lot of legs…) I almost didn’t eat him, but then I realized that if I ate faceless mammal meat and got completely squicked by a very complete crustacean, there’d be a definite note of hypocrisy in there.

I’m not going to go into great detail about the experience. Needless to say, Lupa figuring out New Food is almost always an entertaining experience (Taylor can tell stories of the first time I cooked a whole duck and found the neck in the body cavity while I was cleaning the bird.) What more concerns me is the interaction between the crawdad spirit and me during this process. He didn’t seem particularly upset about being dead; however, he seemed rather amused by my squeamishness. “C’mon, don’t feel so bad–I used to dismember and eat my food when I was alive, too!” and gave me a good mental picture of the average crawdad tearing up and eating a minnow.

I did eventually figure out that the tail was the best part. However, I also carefully picked my way around the guts, too, for random little pieces of meat. This was largely due to the fact that many of the spirits of the animals whose flesh I was eating insisted that I try to eat as much of it as I could, especially the shrimp, crabs and crawdad. Maybe it’s a crustacean thing, but there was the definite sense that the more of them I took into my body, the more I honored their deaths. And that’s something that isn’t limited to crustaceans–or even animals.

As I’ve mentioned in other places, I am an animist–everything has a spirit. I’m also a pantheist–the spirit is the spark of the Divine in all things. However, unlike most people in the U.S., I do not see myself as an inherently superior being just because I’m human. Unique? Sure. But so are all beings. Acorns, goldfish, boulders, yeast, and so forth–they’re all fascinating and can do things we can’t.

I know some people are vegetarians or vegans because they refuse to eat anything with a face. Personally, I find this view to be too anthopocentric–and anthropocentrism is what got us in our current mess. It’s an improvement, to be sure, because it acknowledges that beings other than humans are worthy of regard. However, it’s still anthropocentric to only give regard to beings that are like us–beings that have the same kind of body, nervous system, etc. We regard them because they’re like us, not because they are unique beings. If they were regarded for being unique, then we’d regard plants, too. Of course, even some vegetarians show selective regard–sure, trees are impressive and amazing and maybe even house dryads (who, surprise surprise, are often depicted in humanoid form)–but that carrot is just food. Dead food at that. If it doesn’t have a face, it doesn’t have value. Or so it would appear. (I know that’s not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth for all veggie folk, just FYI.)

I come at things from a spiritual perspective. If it has a spirit, it deserves regard. Just because a plant’s body doesn’t have what we recognize as a nervous system doesn’t mean that its spirit doesn’t suffer when it is injured or killed. Anthropocentrism can go jump off a cliff for all I care. The spinach in my salad deserves regard as much as the crawdad on my plate. I admit a historical bias towards animals, but more recently I’ve come to actively honor other spirits, too, though I don’t have nearly as strong a relationship or long a history with them.

Why do I honor them? Well, let’s look at my body. Other than a few chemical traces picked up from earth, water, and air pollution, and some residues from processed food (which were once more recognizable as animals or plants long ago), every molecule in my body came from a natural animal or plant that I ate in some form or another. I carry in my body pieces of cows, carrots, baby octopi, dandelion leaves, spaghetti squash, rabbit, cocoa beans, Cornish game hens, buffalo, rice, and numerous other living beings. They may not be recognizable as such now, but that’s what they once were before I consumed them. And before that they may have been grass, clover, plankton, corn, tiny fish, and other smaller bits of food. Someday when I die (and hopefully have a green burial) I will dissipate in the stomachs of thousands of earthworms and countless bacteria, and in the roots of grass and trees. Where do “I” end? Does it really matter?

The point is that without the plants and animals, I die. Face or leaves, feet or roots, lungs or stomata, they all deserve my respect. So I’ll be doing my best to get food that’s humanely raised as possible (including organic produce), clean my plate, compost what I can’t eat, and maybe get a digester for things that are bad for a composter’s diet.

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5 thoughts on “More Thoughts, and Blatant Omnivorism

  1. I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned this to you before, but in light of this entry I won’t mind possibly repeating myself. One of the things I want to do in my overall diet is a) cut down on the amount of animal I eat (because we don’t NEED that much on a daily basis) and b) eat more of the animal. When I was younger my mother tried to have me eat liver, but I could not handle it at all. Now that my taste buds have changed, I want to try again. Eating just muscle seems very wasteful. Plus, I’ll eat whole clams, oysters and mussels and not flinch. I just need to find a starting point.

  2. Soli–*nods* I’ll admit that I tend mostly towards muscle meat, though I have discovered the joys of giblet gravy! I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to buy liver, but if it comes as part of a package, then it’s fair game. Same thing’ll be true if I ever get around to raising chickens or rabbits.

  3. my husband read this post beside me and he said, “wow! I think I like this person.”

    I enjoyed these words as well and share this perspective. I must confess, I hope to someday witness this “Lupa figuring out New Food” experience- sounds delightful…

  4. mmm… chicken.

    In any case, I’ll be making a mental note of this entry the next time someone tries to convert me as I believe this to be a very articulate rehashing of beliefs I have with regards to good.

    Wasting food/food material is a sin in my book.

  5. Hi Lupa…I’m halfway through reading the links you posted on Livejournal. This is an excellent essay, and thoughtful. I would like to add what I know from my experience as a Pagan vegan. Some of the more vocal people in the vegan community are anti-religious (with good reason) but also unfortunately anti-spiritual as well, and there’s a lot of mockery of anyone who speaks of spirit in food. One of the problems, from their perspective, is that people who speak of spirit don’t recognize the mental uniqueness of animals, the uniqueness of thinking, desiring, suffering. Sentience. And it seems to me that the anthropocentricity of according special rights to beings who are slightly like humans (vegetarians’ not eating animals) pales in comparison to the anthropocentricity of according special rights to humans (never ever eating humans while still eating animals).

    I agree with you that lots of vegetarians (and “vegetarians”) have got it wrong. They eat with their emotions, eschewing those that are most like them. Some do not eat mammals. Others eat air-breathers because they are unable to sympathize with fish. Others will only eat invertibrates, who are too different to care about. There is a perpetual problem among strict vegetarians who would otherwise be vegan but who draw the line at bees–it is the oddest thing. Many vegans, however, live as they do not because of emotion and sympathy for likeness but because of a philosophy of non-violence and anti-dominance, including dominance of the natural world. These vegans care about human rights and environmental destruction as much as animal rights, because all oppressions are connected. They may not use spiritual terms, but they are dedicated to healing the problems of the Earth and returning some of the huge chunk of space, health, power, dignity that humans stole from the rest of the planet.

    At least, that’s my perception.

    So I don’t go thinking of myself as an Animist, but I do worship the body of the Earth. I do try to use all parts of what I consume, whether by eating or composting or repurposing non-foods, and I am removing things from my life that can only be used once. I think we agree that waste is disrespectful to spirit and deity. I think we agree that certain actions injure spirit. But I also think that causing unnecessary suffering to sentience, where sentience exists in addition to spirit, is disrespectful. At least.

    Necessary animal use is a different game. Allergies, poverty, local ecosystems might justify and require this for survival, just as some species require meat to live. And probably a planet-repecting, global back-to-the-land utopia would rquire it too. Yet in the West, for now…

    This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive Pagan argument for veganism, but I wanted to elaborate on a few points that you brought up. I was very interested in your article addressing totems and domestic animals, by the way.

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