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    Environmentalism v. Taking Dominion {Part VI}

    June 30, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    Since my computer has been temperamental the last week or so, I’ve had plenty to time to think about the comments being left around here at Afterthoughts. Of course, I also haven’t been able to respond! I haven’t gotten any complaints from anyone, so I’m thinking it is my setup here. I’d call the cable company except, last time I checked, we are moving soon, and usually things go wrong with the modem and such during a move, so I figure we will move and deal with all of our problems at once.

    Anyhow, this post is really a long-winded “comment” for Part V. And it is a bit of a collection of scattered thoughts and reflections at that.

    The comments went in a direction I didn’t expect, that of factory farming. I am truly undecided on the factory farming issue. I understand the concerns about animal cruelty. I also understand the issues concerning health. I had forgotten that a certain number of vegans have made their food choices based on the idea that it is the only sure way to avoid being party to animal cruelty.

    Are We Weak?

    One commenter mentioned that some of this comes from all of us being overly influenced by Disney movies in our youth, and I can’t say I entirely disagree. This is not to say that mistreatment of God’s creation is ever okay, because it isn’t.

    However, comma…

    I do think that our society has gotten soft. I am reminded of a post The Deliberate Agrarian wrote in defense of his recent chicken harvest. If anyone’s chickens live the good life, it’s Herrick Kimball’s. And yet, in the end, some folks are uncomfortable that these chickens are a crop. They’re uncomfortable that his son helps him with the harvest.

    In the end, they are uncomfortable with the death of an animal, even an animal raised well, and for the express purpose of being consumed later on.

    I often jokingly call folks like this “city folk,” though it doesn’t really seem to matter where they live geographically. The disconnection from nature seems so prevalent in our society seems to have resulted in some strange beliefs and reactions. I mean, if you’ve ever watched a feisty Western Scrub Jay dive bomb a nest of perfectly good eggs, you begin to realize you’re not the only creature out there that likes the taste of an egg.

    I see all of this as connected to the fact that many in our society are far more comfortable with a woman showing more than enough cleavage than they are with a woman discreetly nursing in a restaurant. Things that are actually quite natural are no longer seen as such.

    Now, let me come full circle and say that I do not endorse animal cruelty. I think that the heart of a man is revealed in many ways, one of which is how he treats the creation under his direct influence.

    Meat-Eating: Not a Sin

    I think Nate did a good job mending the different directions of this conversation when he wrote:

    Christians who oppose factory farming are often branded “Darwinist” or associated with some other label that they would reject. So I think it’s important to note that such Christians often explicitly reject the following claims:

    1. Humans are merely animals, and are no more morally valuable than non-human animals.
    2. Suffering is the only morally relevant factor in choosing to eat / not eat meat.
    3. It is intrinsically wrong to eat meat or kill animals.

    Some people who are against factory farming endorse these claims, but they are not essential to the case against that practice. In fact, to focus on these claims is to detract attention from arguments which begin with a premise to which everyone agrees: suffering is a bad thing {unless it is essentially linked to some good which outweighs it}.

    On the flip side, it is important to note that many Christians who oppose factory farming explicitly ENDORSE claims like the following:

    1. Because they are made in the image of God, humans are immeasurably more morally valuable than non-human animals.
    2. Eating meat is morally permissible when it is necessary for human health.
    3. Eating meat is morally permissible even when it is NOT necessary for human health, provided that the meat comes from humanely raised animals.

    When I read this, I was immediately struck by the fact that I have mostly met very different folks from Nate. And I was encouraged to hear that there are Christians out there who have made personal food choices without branding meat-eating a sin. When I wrote the post, I was thinking specifically of Christians who avoid meat-eating because they believe it to be sinful. I’ve encountered a lot of this as we’ve been studying up for the micro-homestead project. And many of these Christians fall back on Scriptural passages that I believe they are misinterpreting {like Daniel choosing to eat only vegetables, or that meat eating is a sign of sin from the days of the flood, and so there is a belief that vegetarianism is a restoration of creation}. These Christians also fall back on what I consider to be Darwinian reasoning, even though they don’t believe in evolution. For instance, there is a discussion about whether or not we humans actually have the teeth “necessary” for meat eating, which overlooks the fact that we are a separate creation which is capable of making tools and using fire, and our teeth are somewhat incidental to whether or not we can {or should} eat something.

    Meat-eating and Building Community

    I’m kind of wandering here, so I think I’ll bring it back to one of my original thoughts and concerns, which was that eating meat or not eating meat is something that Scripture warns us can break the community. We are to be very careful not to condemn each other. I am reminded of the fact that when Jesus sent out the 72, he told them to simply eat what was before them. The work they had been sent to do was more important than the food and what was or wasn’t in it. This is so striking because it occurs before Jesus completely overturns the Jewish dietary restrictions.

    However, these instructions are repeated in I Corinthians, where believers aren’t to raise questions about the food when they are eating with unbelievers.

    As the mother of two allergic children, I can testify to how food restrictions {even restrictions based on health} can harm community. When we visit family, it is extremely stressful. Grandma can’t use her cookie recipe, her spaghetti recipe, or whatever family favorite she always dreamed of serving at the holidays. When friends invite us over {or, even worse, new acquaintances}, I am always faced with the dilemma: do I ask what they are serving and risk sounding impertinent? Do I just show up with my own food and risk offending the chef? Do I inform the family in advance that I’m bringing my own food and end up spending half an hour explaining what is wrong with my children?

    And maybe I’m seeing vegetarianism through my own problems, but I see it as potentially destructive to the work of ministry. The kingdom of God which we are to be advancing does not consist of eating and drinking. How we eat in our own homes is one thing. I think each man should be convinced in his own mind in this regard. But when we get to the point where food becomes an issue, and where people need to worry what to serve a guest, I think we need to ask ourselves whether our priorities have gotten out of order.

    One Last Thought on Factory Farming

    I don’t think factory farming is an ideal by any measure of the imagination. And I’m an idealist, so I take this fact seriously. I often romanticize the old days where man was more connected to the land. I am very grateful for Laura Ingalls Wilder, who showed me how near-to-death that lifestyle could get and how I can’t even begin to imagine the struggle of living in a pre-Industrial society. I think I am probably not tough enough to have made it back then.

    One of the questions raised in the comments was whether or not factory farming really fed the poor, or whether it was even efficient. I am going to surprise you now and say that I think the answer to that is probably “yes,” even though I will also say that factory farming is not the only, nor even the best, way to be efficient in the raising of food.

    I say this based on experience and absolutely no research, so I am more than willing to be corrected here. One of my daughters seems to have an enzyme deficiency. This means that her body does well with raw milk, but cannot digest pasteurized. Raw milk here in our valley is raised using the Old Ways, with the cows grazing on green grass. It is truly some of the healthiest stuff around. Butter from those cows, if made in the spring, could practically raise the dead.

    However, comma…

    The milk is over nine dollars per gallon. Last time I checked, the butter was $16 per pound. Raw goat’s milk is technically illegal here, though it can be obtained and used for “pet milk.” We do not actually buy it, but it was $14 per gallon last fall. The raw goat cheese goes for over $20 per pound.

    I could talk a lot about the economic factors which cause these high prices, but the fact remains that dairy products raised in a more ideal manner are extremely expensive. Our family is “too poor” to afford to regularly provide our children with these products, even though we are not actually poor. We are simply a normal one-income family.

    I shop at a grocery store that is patronized by a lot of “poor” people. Or, at least, some of them look poor to me. Some of the men look like day laborers, and the women, if they work, probably earn minimum wage. Their baskets are piled high with factory-farmed meat and vegetables. Certainly, it isn’t as healthy as the grass-fed dairy I mentioned above. The factory-raised beef doesn’t live the Good Life, wandering on a pasture. But the poor man is able to hold up his head and feed his family with his own, hard-earned money. He is a hard enough worker to raise his own food, for sure, but I doubt he could ever afford the land to do so. {It currently runs $100,000 for a vacant half-acre zoned ag in our zip code.}

    All of this to say that though I fully admit that factory farming is not ideal, I think it probably is the most efficient means of feeding the poor in our current, post-Industrial society, especially if by “feeding the poor” we mean allowing them enough dignity to actually be feeding themselves.

    Homesteading Might Be the Answer

    The old saying is that if you want something done right, you need to do it yourself. Hence our family’s coming micro-homestead project. We aren’t jumping into the deep end here, so it’ll be many years until it begins to produce as we like it, but we’re hoping for our own organic eggs, fruit, vegetables, and maybe even goat’s milk. We’re excited about the future, and we hope to become somewhat self-sustaining, less dependent on others for our own survival.

    Intimate knowledge of how our food is raised is the only way to be sure that it is raised in a way with which we are comfortable. However, homesteading on any level requires a lot of sacrifice once you add in animals. Ducks need to be grazed and cleaned up after. They need fresh water. Goats need this, and also to be milked. You can’t skip a day or week and go on a vacation because they’ll dry up. Food needs to be harvested exactly when its ready, and then the abundance needs to be stored and preserved so as not to waste it.

    Homesteading solves one problem, while creating another for a world that lives more in their cars than they do at home. Elevating home life, staying home more, and learning to do things for ourselves is, in my view, more of a long-term solution than simply skipping on the meat in the produce aisle.

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    6 Comments

  • Reply Brandy July 1, 2008 at 5:09 pm

    Rahime,
    Zucchini is a sure confidence builder! This was one of the first things we ever grew, and I felt so productive, what with something to harvest every day, and the accompanying overabundance. We took extra to our neighbors on either side. It was great. We are having good luck with our tomatoes this year, too. Another fun one to try is watermelon. It makes an impressive display, fanning out in all directions.

    So true, by the way, about farming subsidies. In fact, it is probably difficult to get a realistic picture of “efficiency” (at least from a cost/profit standpoint) if the government is tinkering with the prices.

  • Reply Rahime July 1, 2008 at 7:25 am

    Yes Brandy, there are a lot of factors involved. I think you’ve got something with the specialization issue. Whole farms are needed to grow the food to feed factory-farmed animals…like your expensive geese…expensive cows. I don’t know much about the politics of it, but it seems like it must be subsidized somewhere. Well, I guess at least the farms which grow corn and other certain crops are, so maybe that’s how the meat prices stay low.

    I would LOVE to grow some of our food and become more self-sustaining. I’m afraid I might just be too lazy though. πŸ™‚ Sometimes when I’m buying raw milk (though I don’t very often these days) I dream of having a cow. πŸ™‚ One of these days I’ll start to experiment with tomatoes and zucchini though.

  • Reply Brandy July 1, 2008 at 5:24 am

    Kansas Mom,
    I think that you and I have similar visions. I totally agree that farms have so much to offer children beyond healthy food. The opportunity for real work and contribution, the knowledge of the seasons and plants and animals, the extra Vitamin D from being outside more often, the list goes on. When we talk about growing souls, I think a farm environment has a lot more to offer than, say, suburbia where I live right now.

    You will indeed have more land than I. Unfortunately, it isn’t just land that comes at a premium out here–it’s also water. It can cost $80,000 to dig a well, and a huge monthly bill if a farmer attempts to buy water from a nearby canal. I have met folks who own land that sit idle because they can no longer afford to water it. So I think our little half-acre is enough unless we become independently wealthy. It isn’t enough room for a cow, so I suppose it is just as well that the children and cows don’t mix! πŸ™‚

  • Reply Brandy July 1, 2008 at 5:19 am

    Yes! My comments are working. At least for tonight…

    Rahime,
    You have given me a lot to think about, so I thank you in advance. I’m going to research that 10% law you mentioned tomorrow during the children’s nap.

    When I started thinking about efficiency some more, I was reminded that a friend of mine once told me that the biodynamic method can produce food for a family of four using 10000 square feet, if I’m remembering that correctly. I think that makes it the most efficient method. Perhaps the modern tendency toward specialization is a lot of the problem. For instance, just grazing a goose for the sake of grazing a goose is less efficient that grazing a goose as a method of weed control in an orchard which will produce much fruit. The goose will stay healthy, money is saved on herbicides and also pesticides, and the geese can be harvested as necessary as well. But growing a field in order to pasture a gaggle of geese? Probably not worth the time and energy, plus it makes for an expensive goose. Interesting…

    Also, I appreciated you making the distinction of factory farming being an efficient way of attaining meat rather than necessarily an efficient way of attaining food. My brain needed that, I think. πŸ™‚

    By the way…NEVER apologize for being long winded, my friend. Your thoughts have always proven worth listening to.

  • Reply Kansas Mom July 1, 2008 at 1:27 am

    We’re on the homesteading track ourselves, though it looks like we’re aiming bigger with 5-10 acres and a milk cow within a few years. Partly we started thinking about it because of all the injustice and cruelty that might be going on in the agribusiness world (though I’m sure there are sustainable and ethical companies out there). I also like the idea of eating organic foods (as much as possible) and it’s not something we find we can afford on a regular basis without doing the work ourselves.

    Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about the more direct benefits to our children…learning where food comes from, the value of hard work, the satisfaction of a full belly from food grown and cared for right at our own home. I’m really excited to make our family farm life part of the whole homeschooling lifestyle. Even if they don’t stay on the farm and make their own clothes (someday I hope to learn!), I think they’ll have a greater appreciation for life when they move on.

  • Reply Rahime June 30, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    I also know a number of people (Christian and not) who choose not to eat factory farmed meat…some do eat well-raised, pasture-grazed meat (in much smaller quantities than the average meat-eater) and others do not. None that I know consider eating meat an issue of sin, but rather a personal choice.

    I also know several people who were raised as vegetarians, so eating meat makes them physically ill–I suppose their bodies are no longer able to properly digest meat. Others consider a vegetarian diet to be more healthy. One last vegetarian friend is a man who was raised on a farm. He has what I would consider a sensitive spirit, and can not handle the thought of any animal being killed for his meal. What that all comes down to is that there are MANY reasons to choose not to eat meat. (around these parts you run it to a LOT of them) I have yet to actually meet one who considered meat-eating to be sinful.

    The issue of efficiency of feeding the poor was mentioned. From a purely biological standpoint, it is more efficient to feed people with things grown in the ground than things that used to walk. That’s probably why meat has historically been reserved for the wealthy.

    Maybe it’s because in our modern grocery stores meat and veggies do not have a dramatic cost discrepancy, but I was just talking to ‘Chung a few nights ago about this being one of the concepts that, across the board, kids taking basic bio. can’t seem to grasp. Only 10% of the energy transferred between each trophic level is conserved; the rest is lost. This means it takes 10x more energy (remember that there’s a enormous amount of feed required) to raise a cow and feed it to the poor than it would to grow grain (or other agri. products) and feed it to people with the same energy output. Look up the 10% law in ecology for a better explanation. I’m not saying that energy or efficiency is everything that matters here, but factory farming (or any method of producing meat) is not, strictly speaking, “efficient”. It is certainly a more efficient way to get meat, but it’s not more efficient than no meat.

    Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the poor referred to in the comments were the “starving poor”, not the day-laborers who can afford to buy meat at a grocery store. Maybe I’m too much of a literalist, but I don’t even know why this comes into the discussion. Meat does not usually (and probably should not) go to feed those who are starving. Not only is it less efficient and not cost-effective, but it also best for a person who has been severely malnourished to be fed a low-protein diet.

    Raw milk up in the Bay Area, while completely legal for human consumption, is up to $16/gal. I don’t know about raw butter or raw goat’s cheese.

    Sorry I’m so long-winded today. ☺

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