Saturday, April 21, 2012

Gardening, Veganism and Death

Our first burst of warm weather on the Mendocino County Coast has led me to accelerate my gardening activities. I am nursing seed sprouts along, clearing up weeds, chopping up decaying wood for my acid-loving plants, and watching my fruit blossoms for signs of the dreaded fire blight.

My thoughts turn to urban city dwellers who have never tried to grow food. Most just eat whatever, but the vegans would be shocked to know how much animal death is in their diets.

Vegans don't eat any animals, alive or dead, nor are they supposed to eat animal products like honey. Veganism, like most isms, has its interpretations, but most vegans I have talked to about it see it as more than an extremist form of vegetarianism. The ideology is that man should not exploit animals, but there always seems to be a huge concern about health and at least a dash of spiritual concern. Killing animals seems, to vegetarians, to be a likely source of karmic backlash. Veganism is associated with, but not identical to, certain schools of Buddhism and Hinduism that believe in reincarnation, and to the ideology of nonviolence.

Which is all fine, until you see the vegan sausage being made. As, for instance, in a food garden.

I hate free-market capitalist ideology, but in a garden I am in competition with a whole lot of animals that show absolutely no respect for private property. It is them or me. They must die so that I can eat fruits and vegetables. I am not under the illusion that the food in the supermarkets, or organic coops, guiltlessly consumed by vegans, is any different than that from my garden. A trail of animal death leads to that pretty apple in the bin.

Most of my competitors are, of course, insects. It isn't like I have to kill puppies to grow apples or lettuce. Every year, however, I kill hundreds of caterpillars with my own hands. They are especially a problem for my pear trees. Once for a couple of years I had problems with coddling moths, which are the most common kind of apple-worm, but once I began doing dormant sprays, which were really to prevent fungus, the worms (caterpillars) and adult moths died out.

Aphids must also die by the thousands or millions each year if I am to eat. Grasshoppers and other types of insects must be crushed in smaller numbers. I don't use insecticides. I don't kill non-destructive insects.

Then there are the higher animals, of varying degrees of cleverness. Deer are now fenced out. Our local scrub rabbits are small enough to jump right through the "deer and rabbit" fence, but they eventually tire of being chased by my dog, Hugo, and so the damage they do is contained. Birds can do a surprising amount of damage. In particular my garden is terrorized by a vicious gang of quail. The first few years I had Hugo, he chased them away, but then they realized he just was not fast enough to be a danger. He just ignores them now, so I have to encase their favorites like kale in chicken wire cages if I want any for my table.

Possums, raccoons, gophers, moles, half a dozen rodent species: much as I would like to kill them, I hope that Hugo and the neighborhood cats and fox will keep their numbers and thefts down to acceptable levels.
Turn the ground with a spade and you are sure to kill earthworms and grubs and strange creatures that might be in any of a number of animal families.

I don't grow grain, but vegans are really in trouble if they think there are no animal deaths involved in their wheat, rice, oats or weird substitutes. Grain fields are rodent heaven. Fail to kill rodents and you have no crop. Plowing a grain field kills lots of the little furry cuties, but plenty will survive to eat us all out of house and home.

Would it not be easier to agree that death is part of life and part of nature? Denying it does not make death go away. Insects die, mammals die, humans die.

It caterpillars kill my pear trees there will be less pollen for the bees (honey bees, bumble bees, fly's evolved to look like bees, various strange solitary bees). Even to have a garden and orchard I had to kill a lot of native plants.

Being kind to animals, and to other human beings, is a good practice. But fail to kill the weeds and the vegans will starve. Fail to kill the rodents, and we all will starve, holy vegans and practical omnivores alike.

If you are a vegan you need to get grounded. You need to get real. Embrace the earth, embrace nature, embrace the energy flow as the living eat the living. I admire your trying to be good. But you were created by a natural cycle of a billion years of life and death, of composting and birth, of joyful life and ravenous appetites. You are a billion years of death, a brief life, and another billion years of death.

Death, animal and human, should neither be worshipped nor denied. Death has its place whether you like it or not. Enjoy your life. Eat vegan if it suits you.

Don't think that animals are not dying to feed you. They deserve recognition for the contributions they have made. Hopefully some day you too will return to the soil and the plant and animal cycle, rather than being entombed forever alone in a casket.

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