The Herbivore’s Dilemma

by James Patrick Kelly

Six years ago, I stopped eating meat; now I’m a meat man.

I took my vow of abstinence for a number of reasons, chief among them was a concern with my health as well as the health and well-being of the planet. I became an environmentalist while in college and vegetarianism played a small role in a larger worldview. I swore off driving in favor of public transportation as a means of getting around; I bought all of my clothes from secondhand stores; I worked as the college recycling coordinator, standing shin high in a cocktail of soda, beer and sometimes urine, all to sorting the campus’s recycling bins and separate the bottle caps (non-recyclable) from the bottles (recyclable).

I was also dismayed by the modern meat industry. I had heard the stories of muckraking journalists of the Gilded Age reporting on harsh working conditions in the morass of the industrial meat industries, but blanched when more modern yet equally eye-opening reports on the state of my contemporary processors came to my attention. I once thought regulations would do away with harsh conditions, unsafe and unsanitary practices and ensure a clean industry, but the unfortunate reality of the situation reminded me of the rhetorical question from an ancient Greek satire, restated in a favorite modern graphic novel: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

After I started farming, I realized the importance of participation, and the flaw in my rationale. I wanted to be a vegetarian, but that just left me on the sidelines as an observer. Now, as I’ve realized the importance of dietary health–not just for one person, but for a community–I have also come to value the worth of participation in affecting positive change. I believe the way to change a flawed system is not to step back and remove oneself, but instead to insert oneself and work to change those flaws in a direct and engaging way.

Today the pigs went out on pasture. It is the next step in a dynamic and evolving process of participation. In all of the literature that has inspired me to make the change from passive observer to active participant, a common theme threaded throughout is the power of being a part of your own diet. The power of having a role in planting, cultivating and harvesting; washing, cutting and cooking; sharing, teaching and eating your own food. Participation, I have learned through the very act of participating itself, is transcendent, and today, we put our pigs on pasture and take the participatory act to a whole new level. We are ensuring the health and fecundity of our soil by giving back vital nutrients too often neglected in the process of farming. As we are active now, the long-term vitality of our soil continues. We don’t just farm for today, we farm for tomorrow’s meals.

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