Friday, June 24, 2005

I've Got Some Explaining To Do

“Conservation is also about choices in our daily lives. It’s not only about how we commute to work but whether we choose to commute at all. It’s about what kind of fabrics we wear and what kind of beverage containers we buy. It’s even about the kind of heating we have in our homes.”

-George Reiger, “Heron Hill Chronicles”
My recent “Where’s the Beef?” post inspired a reader to send me an email that, using unnecessarily harsh language, made explicitly clear his opinion that my diet is nonsensical and unethical. Each to his or her own; I suppose I should turn the other cheek, so to speak, but the reader's invective makes me think that I should better elucidate my choices.

My diet's principal motivation is environmental and rational. I prohibit meat consumption unless I have hunted or fished the creature myself. The water and land use problems associated with industrial meat farming can not be ignored. More strict federal regulation of grazing, feeding and watering practices would no doubt ameliorate their negative impact, but such legislative salves can not eliminate the fundamental environmental challenges posed by large-scale, commercial meat production. According to the USDA, growing crops for farm animals requires nearly half of the U.S. water supply and 80% of its agricultural land! Those are astounding (and very troubling) numbers. The steep decline in offshore fish populations makes poorly regulated commercial fishing ecologically untenable, as well. Surf and turf consumption is therefore unethical. There's no other way to put it.

The ethical call may sound Sisyphean to many of us, but every individual should be compelled (by his or her conscience) to do what they can to mitigate our negative impact. Certainly, as my angry reader points out, plastics (made from oil) are ubiquitous, industrial dairy farms are responsible for environmental problems, and cotton, the base ingredient of my wardrobe, is the among the world's most environmentally destructive crops. While it is difficult for me to avoid consuming plastic products, cotton clothing and milk, I can (and do) take simple steps to avoid these items as much as possible. An increasing percentage of my wardrobe is now hemp or synthetic (also problematic, but not as bad as cotton) and I buy only soy or organic dairy products. If, however, I’m dining at a restaurant that doesn’t offer such alternatives, I won’t refuse the cheese that I'm served. Without retreating to ascetic life, each of us must pick our battles after considering the facts, and I believe that industrialized meat production is among the most serious threats to the world’s environment and to human rights.

Peter Singer, the Australian philosopher, ethicist, and author of “Animal Liberation,” sums up my dietary habits well.
The Peter Singer suggested diet:

- replace animal flesh with plant foods
- replace factory farm eggs with free-range eggs if you can get them; otherwise avoid eggs
- replace the milk and cheese you buy with soymilk, tofu, or other plant foods, but do not feel obliged to go to great lengths to avoid all food containing milk products
It may seem surprising that Singer, a father of the contemporary animal rights movement, should serve as a guideline for a hunter and fisherman. Though animal rights concerns wasn't the principal motivation for my shift to vegetarianism, I do consider such moral considerations integral to my mongrel philosophy.

A moral hunter aims to make every kill as humane as he (and, increasingly, she) possibly can. Unfortunately, even the best hunters will sometimes make a poor shot, and I am deeply disturbed by the long minutes spent tracking a wounded deer or the quiet, slow-motion gasps of a mourning dove as I squeeze the last breaths from its small breast.

Like humans, critically wounded animals go into shock. The endorphin rush associated with serious physical trauma prevents neurons from communicating normally and, as a result, one feels little, if any, pain. The dying animal enters a trance-like state in the final moments. This accounts for the military medical field practice of treating screaming soldiers before the wounded fighters that quietly stare off into space; if a wounded soldier is quiet, he or she has suffered only minor injury or is beyond medicine.

Crippled animals, like screaming, wounded soldiers, are often suffering a great deal. Their body is programmed for survival; the neurons let the pain “scream” to make sure that the animal knows where the source is. I used to believe that wounded non-human animals felt the same amount of pain as wounded humans, but I now fear they may feel more. Unable to reason what has happened to them, the stress of the experience must be that much greater. That I have been responsible for such awful moments in the life of another creature is a terrible reality, but I do feel better about facing such realities myself, rather than entrusting them to underpaid laborers half a continent away.

Even anti-hunters (many of whom continue to eat meat, a ludicrous fact!) sometimes find themselves in similarly distressing situations. A motorist that strikes an animal while driving is morally obligated to put the injured animal out of its misery or attempt to assist it.(1) Those drivers that opt to drive away, shirking responsibility and doing their best to evict the incident from their mind, are acting in a morally weak fashion. As I see it, it's no less irresponsible than a human "hit-and-run," for which convicted individuals often go to jail.

Simply put, it is immoral to allow a suffering animal a slow, perhaps agonizing death after having caused it direct harm. Increasingly, people I talk to claim that their benevolence prevents them from extinguishing the pained creature's life. In fact, they're often horrified by the suggestion that they kill it. My thinking that they should is, in their eyes, barbaric. These individuals are victims of their own good intentions, lies designed to make their little world more comfortable. I have no patience for such people; I disdain them as I do the “trophy hunter” or the violent environmental activist.

As Rien Poortvliet, the Dutch author and painter, wrote in his excellent picture book, “Dogs,”
“Some people would rather see you fool around with an animal than put it out of its misery…a little artificial leg here, a plastic duck bill there, and if necessary, wheels attached to it – anything is better than dead. ‘No, I couldn’t do that!’ Well, what good is that to a cat in pain, run over by a car? It is sometimes such an ‘animal lover with clean hands’ who drives on. I know those types who say, ‘How can you possibly shoot a roebuck?’ But where does that fur coat, that snakeskin bag, come from? She doesn’t care. You also mustn’t bother her with stories of where real cutlets and chicken breasts come from. She has never struck one animal.”
No matter how bloody and miserable the driver's responsibility to brain a raccoon with a tire iron, wringing the neck of bluebird, or snapping the spine of a house cat is, it must be done.

Doing so has left me shaken up for days. I once came upon an eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) that someone had run over. The shell was cracked and internal organs had been forced out of the gaps, but the turtle struggled on, attempting to make it to the other side of the road. Familiar with basic turtle anatomy, I realized that this reptile was doomed. I did what had to be done. I cried while doing it. If that makes me less of a man, I could care less.

It may seem illogical to some readers that I can be a compassionate, ethical person and a hunter. Indeed, there is some conflict. As a result, I hunt less with each passing year (maybe seven times in the last two years) and I've become more interested in pursuing only those quarry I know that I am likely to kill cleanly. Deer and other ungulates, for example, are animals that I am comfortable continuing to hunt, as my rifle marksmanship is good. As my shotgun ability continues to decline (the less often you do it, the worse you become), bird hunting becomes less tenable. I loathe knowing that I may “knock down” a bird and be forced to chase the terrified duck, dove, quail, pheasant or goose to end its life in a brutal fashion. Yet I also realize that death via disease, starvation or “natural” predation is equally awful. Such is Nature’s way, but few of Nature’s actions contribute to real degradation of the environment, even if they can sometimes pose a threat to biodiversity.

(1) If the animal seems as though it is not seriously injured, please take it to your local veterinarian. Having worked in a veterinary clinic, I know that most good vets are excited to have curious patients brought to them. During my short time at the clinic, we received a hawk and an owl that had been struck by cars. Both recovered and were eventually released.

Photo credit:; no credit given on site


OGeorge said...

Thank you HH! I can't tell you the number of times I've had to kill something somebody else "hit". I got into an argument with a highway patrol officer a few years back over stopping traffic to kill a fox that was unable to drag itself off the pavement. A dozen cars carefully avoided the crippled animal before I stopped and brained the poor thing. The officer didn't ticket me, but told me not to stop in the future as it was a hazard (I suppose if you were driving drunk or blind). I told him that was unacceptable and that I certainly would do the same thing again. The rest of the conversation was less than cordial, but I still wasn't ticketed. I think the guy knew I did what was right; he just couldn't admit it.

Mikhail Capone said...

A most excellent post! Please don't hesitate to post more about your diet, or whatever you call it, and disregard the "vegetarians are homos" crowd.

It might not be karma, but they will be punished with coronary and intestinal problems soon enough...

Devo said...

HH, your chosen lifestyle is noble, to be sure, but unfortunately, the choices you've been able to make in a responsible and moral fashion are more than likely impossible for the average citizen of our culture to make. Reading this blog has certainly made me much more aware of the impact I have on my environment (something I'd always been fuzzily aware of, but not to the extent that I am now) but it has also made me frustratingly aware of some of the choices I've already made, most completely unconsciously. These choices have led to a lifestyle I don't feel strong enough to change. Perhaps it's my reliance on connection with others, or perhaps it's simply inertia. Either way, I hope that one day I will give my children the opportunity to made the choices I made, but consciously instead. Hopefully I'll be able to make them aware of the impact they choose to have on their world. On the flip side of that coin, however, I don't know if I'll be able to do that without scaring the hell out of them at the same time. I don't want to raise kids that will be afraid to take a step for fear of destroying their precious earth... yet at the same time I want them to understand how they interact with the earth, and the delicate balance an drelationship their interactions build. It will be a difficult road, undoubtedly... But hopefully one I'll be able to navigate...

As for your diet, it makes perfect sense to me.

Hungry Hyaena said...


I'm shocked that the cop gave you such a hard time given the circumstances. That's frustrating, especially after you've just had to do something rather difficult.


True enough, though I feel Hungry Hyaena has been too "me, me, me" centered lately, so I hope to avoid long rants about what I "feel is right" for some time.


While I'm inclined to agree, why do you think such choices are impossible for so many people (hunting diet aside)? As I see it, choosing better garments, food products and the like is that much easier in an urban setting and the world's population is increasingly situated in or near cities. If reading my blog has made you more thoughtful about such choices - and I'm delighted to read that it has - surely more articulate, influential people could reach out to the masses at large, especially those in the realms of politics or celebrity.

As for your weakness, I think we're all guilty of bad choices that we remain unwilling to change. I still wear a lot of cotton - I think it would be hard to avoid it altogether - and buy products which are not locally harvested/produced. I plan on flying to Japan later this year, helping finance further pollution in the process. I leave my home computer on for hours at a time so I can get frequent baseball score updates and my work computer is NEVER turned off - though this last reality is not my decision, but an office "rule." We all contribute to the problems and our having been born in a western consumer culture only furthers our impact. But to acknowledge your contribution is a good start. If every one considered the same issues you do, there would certainly be a push for better legislation and every little bit helps.

Lastly, I don't think children need be scared into consciousness. I grew up spending hour after hour outdoors, and despite the dire forecasts of my father - which seem to be coming true - I never became afraid of "destroying the precious earth." If anything, I only felt more connected to it. Certainly, children raised in urban or suburban settings will find these experiences harder to come by, and this does concern me. By and large, the less contact one has with something, the less close to one's heart it becomes and the less you know about it. We are entering an interesting pseudo-paradox: the more centralized the human population becomes, the "better" for the planet's overall health, but the less likely people are to care about what lies beyond the city walls.

chris@organicmatter said...

It's too late for me to add anything novel to the discussion, but I wanted to go on record as saying that I find your diet to be one of the most environmentally and morally responsible that I've encountered.

When I first stumbled across your blog and read about your diet, it occurred to me as the only reasonable alternative to a moral choice that a friend of mine made, which was that he wasn't comfortable with the idea of killing an animal himself, and so he ought not eat animals at all.

Devo said...

HH, I was at Target (which is actually a full step better than the Devil Wal Mart on the offensiveness scale, as it's centered in Minnesota, one of the few bastions of true progressive thought in our ailing nation) yesterday, buying my crack (coffee). And I reached for the only rainforest-alliance certified brand I could find. It wasn't even that much more expensive than Starbucks (my guilty, pathetic, craven favorite). I had bought these fair-trade or organic varities before, but never quite as consciously as I did yesterday. I even bookmarked the rainforest alliance URL when I got home (

I don't know if they're a particularly reputable organization, as I know that this type of group is just as often a sham disguised as a concerned coalition of genuinely good people, but from what I can see, they're good people. They list several rain-forest-friendly brands of everything from coffee to cocoa to ... er... other stuff too. They also seem tohave numerous initiatives on many different fronts aimed at stemming the tide of deforestation. Do you know anything about these people? Is there a way to discern reputable organizations from hucksters?

Hungry Hyaena said...

It's encouraging to hear that it makes sense. Just last night I attended a dinner party and, when I couldn't eat anything on the menu, people began asking me about my diet. The general consensus was, "You're weird." I'm glad to hear you don't think so.

You know, that's a very good question and one I spend a lot of time considering. Personally, I just do what you did. I troll the Internet to get the best idea I can of what the company is, who owns them - if anyone - and what exactly they are doing to make themselves (x)-friendly.

When in doubt, I sometimes resort to a Treehugger visit. This site annoys me as much as excites me, but I often find useful information here. The annoying factor has a lot to do with the difficulty one faces navigating the archives, but I also wince at some of the granola-power posturing (not that I'm not guilty of it myself, but still). A quick search for Rainforest Alliance turned up two blurbs of interest, both making it sound as though the company is legit and doing good work.

Devo said...

On a slight tangent, I visited a otential wedding site this weekend with Dawn. Many of the trees on the site were rife with poison ivy vines. I think hugging THOSE particular trees wouldn't be a great idea...

As the man said:
You can love your pets, just don't... LOVE... your pets.

Sara Max said...

I found your blog really intelligent and thought-provoking. It is admirable that you base your code of ethics on your own careful analysis rather than what you have been unconsciously force-fed.

However, I do find it puzzling and a tad disturbing that you continue to hunt animals. It sounds like you have unusual compassion for other living creatures -- with all that thought and emotion, how can you look an animal in the eye and decide you have the right to take its life away? How do you know the animal you kill isn't a mother/father whose young will die without it? It just seems presumptuous and wrong to interfere with another's life, to stop it dead in its tracks. Why do you do it? Do you find it fun? Can you not live without their meat? It just baffles me that someone as sensitive as you could commit these acts.

my blog:

Michelle said...

I am ao glad I found this site. I had to put a rabbit out of its misery the other day and have been looking for validation ever since. I don't know why, maybe because it is the first time and I'm a bit traumatized. I was driving in my neighborhood around 6 am. A small jackrabbit (there's tons of them in the area) ran in front of my car as I rounded a blind turn and I ran it over. I have breaked for animals since I started driving and have been lucky until that day. I knew since I went slow, I injured it. What's worse is I have a pet rabbit at home and I am aware that they are stoic yet still feel pain, are intelligent and I respect them for their place in this world. So crying I turned around. I inched my way rolling slowly holding my breath and sobs until my fear was confirmed. my stomach sank I bellowed Oh No! Poor Baby as I saw it shaking on the pavement. Poor thing was run over, broken back, minor blood but major flesh wounds, the belly was skinned open exposing the insides but not completely squished. I slowly crept up to it muttering Oh Gods and I'm So Sorrys...I moved closer and noticed his back legs were not working at all - broken. I deducted there must be internal bleeding. His face and upper body looked pristine, but he was twisted nonetheless. So Sad. He scratched to get away but didn't move an inch. So I gently held his ears inducing a calm (bunnies go into trance and play dead when they feel threatened. I stroked his cheek and he stopped fretting about. I gently rolled him over to examine the belly (Horrible)
and picked him up gently to seek shelter in the daisy field a few feet away. I knew what I had to do. I cried. I asked God to help and I pondered how? My mind flashed on a scene of a movie I watched the night before...the girl wrapped plastic wrap around the mans face to render him unconscious. So I asked bunny to forgive me, (the first time in my life the 1/32nd cherokee blood in me took over.) Took off my cotton jacket and held his weak head in my right hand. His breath was weak and heart pounding. With my left I gently smothered him with the cotton jacket imploring God to take his spirit quickly. He barely struggled, wheezed a second and was gone. Took about a minute. I held on for a few more minutes and checked his pounding was still. Removed the cloth from his face and his eyes were blank, there was no breath, the lip slightly exposed the tooth where it had been squished under the cloth. I sobbed...I Still feel so bad. But It is ok. Because I am the girl who drove back to face the consequences of my actions - accidents happen. Life must go on. In a weird way it was slightly spiritual as if nature and I were communing by freeing the bunny spirit. My hopes are he has been reincarnated already and will enjoy better luck in a field far from roads. Ok...that's enough...

Hungry Hyaena said...


Thank you for leaving this account. It sounds like a harrowing situtation. That the jack rabbit was so mangled only made the experience that much more difficult, I'm sure.

Nothing anyone says will assuage your concern, but, for what it's worth, I believe you've done the moral (and the brave) thing. I think you will carry that rabbit's spirit with you now, just as the daisy field and passing predators/scavengers will claim his energy, thereby reincarnating the animal as a great many other things.

Thank you, again, Michelle, and I wish you all the best.