Letter writer: Cycles of Life slaughtering class is about life and awareness

Graphic by Lori Deaton

As a former ardent vegan, I completely understand the decision to adopt a plant-based diet. I understand and I honor that choice as one that is personal and one that has been effective, to scale, in awakening people to the flaws in our food system. I no longer choose a plant-based diet for several reasons, none of them having to do with a dysfunction in my personality or a lack of compassion. I do this, and my work as an author and educator, with full recognition of the fact that there are many ardent vegans who will not be able to put those puzzle pieces together: the conscious decision to eat animals and an intact compassion and deep mindfulness of the world and its inhabitants. In fact, one entire layer of that conscientious intention has to do with the careful avoidance of negativity that comes from those who disagree with me. I write this after a gracious offer from the Opinion editor of Mountain Xpress and am grateful for the opportunity.

I have written The Ethical Meat Handbook not as a murderer with a passion for death, but as a guide for humans who choose, as I do, to eat meat, or who require meat for their health. It is obvious that after many years of vegan activism, we still have people on earth who choose to eat meat and many more who do not have the luxury of cherry picking the contents of a meal. The book seeks to address those people. In my quest to be useful in the world, I have decided it is less helpful to scorn and gripe about how the world should situate itself to support a singular point of view, and more helpful to assess the world as it is, and propose mindful solutions for as many beings as I can see, regardless of diverse emotional convictions. I believe it will take vegan approaches and nonvegan approaches to inform useful change.

Having never called myself “the ethical butcher,” I speak and provide demos in all types of cooking, including vegan cooking. I have been invited to Wild Abundance [this] weekend to assist with the annual Cycles of Life class, and there will be nothing pleasing to me about slaughtering a sheep. There never will be anything easy or lovely or pleasurable to me about slaughter. That said, having spent over 15 years in deep study and practice of agriculture and food processing, I have close experience with the life-death-life cycle that informs nature as a whole. This cycle informs the production of crops like soy and hemp, and it informs the production of meat. I strive to see the whole system in all things, live my life in service of holistic thought and practice, and work daily to expose the interdependence and synergy of systems to others. This is the overarching perspective I hope to bring to Wild Abundance [this] weekend, in service of life.

The assertion that animals are inefficient converters of energy and abusers of land and resources is based on the same reductionist science that has been used to measure and build the same industrial system of calorie production that both vegans and conscious meat eaters oppose for its purpose of producing money and its simultaneous creation of disproportionate hunger, disease, waste, anger, war, global warming and endless other distresses. Both groups oppose this system that does not function in service of the cycles of nature.

Where disconnect begins between these groups is in the analysis of the system and in the diverse opportunities and challenges we face in fixing it. The food system is vast, complex and very broken. Spending over half of my life deeply committed to understanding its political, environmental, social and scientific underpinnings has led me to a radical assertion that the people who eat meat in America have more potential impact on changing the system in a positive way than the people who don’t eat meat. I do not expect this assertion to be easy or comfortable or intuitive. That our solutions to vast problems may be initially uneasy, uncomfortable and counterintuitive is the essence of any education I provide on food and farming, and far too complex to distill in a letter.

The misquoted statement about ego, which is taken entirely out of context, has nothing to do with “might makes right,” but rather a deep contemplation of the role of ego and projection in our collective experience of death. This contemplation can apply to the death of a sheep and also to the death of our human counterparts. It is not at all surprising that those who refuse to listen to and consider a perspective that is not aligned with their own continually fail to understand it.

The Cycles of Life class scheduled for [this] weekend is not about deriving pleasure from pain or bonding with an individual animal or serial killing or “might makes right.” It is also not about singular death. It is about life and awareness, holistic dynamism and inevitable change. It is about the synergy of life and death, a baffling collusion of opposites that humans have struggled to grasp physically and spiritually since the dawn of our species. The dance of life and death is even more complicated than the idea of vegans and conscious meat eaters perhaps someday working together to conjure a more positive culture and a healthier world. I have space, time and daily energy for both of these wild ideas.


— Meredith Leigh
Author, The Ethical Meat Handbook

Editor’s note: This letter is in response to the letter “Sheep Slaughter Is Unnecessary” in this issue. Also, an update: Leigh stated in a Nov. 14 blog post that she will no longer be the person slaughtering the sheep at the workshop, but that another farmer will conduct the demonstration.


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23 thoughts on “Letter writer: Cycles of Life slaughtering class is about life and awareness

  1. Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

    Nothing lives unless something else dies. See if you can disprove that.

  2. Plants4Hunger

    Here is Meredith’s instagram link where she closes with #EthicalButcher in reference to herself.

  3. Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

    This c̶h̶i̶c̶k̶ ̶ woman (I’m so bad!) is so smart!

  4. boatrocker

    Bravo, author.

    Phrases like ‘cherry picking’ one’s ethics speaks volumes to this decision to eat healthy locally raised meat products for humans having evolved as omnivores and being able to tell the difference between biology and PETA sponsored smear tactics and disinformation,

    Thanks fir mentioning that whole pesky Circle of Life thing too. Some call it the Food Chain too, but
    after all, if the current Dalia Lama eats flesh, it can’t be all bad, right?

    LTEs like this as well as articles about places like Hickory Nut Gap Farms, who advocate responsible animal stewardship give me a bit of hope that not all veggie types are hysterical reactionaries wearing blinders like a draft horse.

    It also gives me hope that militant born again veggie/vegan types might read this and cast off their false holocaust comparisons, as they remind me so much of those who would take away a woman’s right to her own body by crying ‘holocaust! holocaust!’.

    Now cue the fundamentalist PETA types in 3…2…1… now that the out of town online mailing lists have been alerted that the Mtn X has published an LTE about meat, aka a key search word via algorithms.

    • i330

      The circle of life takes many forms. Humans who choose to exploit animals live in more of a pyramid of life where they reside at the top and believe every other living thing is below them and there for the taking. That’s not a “circle.” It’s a wasteful, cruel, and entitled level of hierarchy.

  5. Plants4Hunger

    “The dance of life and death?” I’m quite sure the sheep having their throats slit, don’t feel it is a “dance.” Adding a poetic spin doesn’t make hands-on slaughter any more ethical or profound.

    One of the reasons vegans are choosing to focus on Meredith’s work is because she undermines vegan advocacy that actually does save animals. She represents vegans as being upset that she “disagrees.” That’s not the reason. She more than disagrees. She goes so far as to build her brand and increase her sales, by saying that killing/eating animals helps animals more than NOT eating them? Why, yes, that is counterintuitive… because it’s wrong.

    To quote Meredith directly (here and repeatedly) “people who eat meat in America have more potential impact on changing the system in a positive way than the people who don’t eat meat.” #Wrong

    How literally cutting short the life of defenseless animal isn’t an issue of “might makes right” is similarly confounding. She is teaching do-it-yourself slaughter — she is teaching people how to hands-on use/abuse their greater power to destroy and consume animals, then she waxes on about how it’s better for the animals. A way to “honor” them as Wild Abundance states it.

    If Meredith truly eats meat for health concerns, it would be the smallest amounts possible and not framed as a way to honor the animal. She would also never eat other types of meat. Where are those recommendations? Within her own paradigm, she should be advocating veganism at least to the extent that people can’t kill their own animals. Where is that? That’s not popular but giving a free pass to meat-eating is popular and profitable.

    Meredith helps meat eaters feel good about their choices. Not only do they not have to acknowledge the harm they are doing to animals, she lets them feel as if they are helping animals by eating them more than if they didn’t eat them.

    I hope people will closely examine how illogical her positions are and not be persuaded just because she calls them “counterintuitive.”

    Also, the idea that her classes help those who are hungry and impoverished is an appropriation of people’s real suffering. The classes (which cost $350-$600 for a weekend at Wild Abundance – some exceptions considered) are largely attended by middle-income Americans with access to healthful, plant-based foods.

    Meredith continues to play the victim to “extreme vegans” who campaign against her animal abuse without giving the actual ethics question serious consideration or acknowledging the real victims… the animals who die at her hands. She also claims nutrition and science expertise she doesn’t have, making bold statements without any references.

    As a vegan activist who has also spent more than half my life working on ethical food choices, it’s “funny” (except that it’s not), that in reference to her book on ethical meat, she responded “I’m not interested in having that moral conversation… Most of us do eat meat, so let’s have a new conversation about how we do that.” In the same interview, she also acknowledges “that it was a business decision to add meat.” http://www.ashvegas.com/with-the-ethical-meat-handbook-asheville-author-cuts-her-own-path-toward-sustainability.

    As to never calling herself an ethical butcher, please check out her Instagram. In reference to herself she uses #EthicalButcher. If she takes the post down, please email save@let-live.org. There is a screenshot.

    For more vegan response to Meredith’s ethical meat and vegan bullying claims, visit: http://www.Let-Live.org and http://www.Let-Live.org/bully.

    P.S. For all the humane, ethical butchers who slaughter animals to honor them, please stop using cute, cuddly photos of animals that you kill to promote your killing. Vegans are using similar images to try to save animals and show that they have inherent worth.

  6. boatrocker

    Ta da! See my above post for the email list piling on and by the way,told you so.

  7. think critically

    I ask all of those speaking up in favor of the slaughterer a simple question: If someone were about to murder you, will you fell better about it if they say a few spiritual words to honor your life, or do a dance, or something else to “honor” your existence prior to slitting your throat? After all, your death is just part of the carbon cycle, right?

    • boatrocker

      That depends- would they simply be murdering you or would they actually gain energy to live from eating you?
      I’m thinking of that book “Alive” which addressed that idea.

      And that’s the difference between murder and eating meat.

      • Lauren Krishna

        These middle class people do not NEED to “gain energy” to live. If they’re paying tuition for this course, they well nourished, I’m quite sure. This slaughter tomorrow is not necessary. That said, boatrocker, it fits the definition of murder, not eating meat.
        Furthermore, we all can make the choice to live perfectly healthy (and in some ways, more healthy) lives by choosing not to eat meat. So again, choices: murder or not murder? Or murder vs. enjoying the taste of food? Or a life of an animal that is born, expecting to have the kind of life nature intended, but is instead brutally mistreated and then slaughtered vs. several mouthfuls of food for a human, who doesn’t really need it, and will forget about it the next day.

  8. Carla Golden

    I just visited Meredith’s website (http://www.mereleighfood.com/aboutme/) to get a better understanding of her work and advocacy and was disappointment to see that an actual beautiful sacred slaughter was omitted from her promotional video footage. If humane sacred slaughter is the solution to our collective food and nutrition woes I would think the slaughter would be featured. Why omit the actual throat cutting while the animal’s heart still beats? Why omit the draining of the blood and the animal’s slow death? Surely the blood is captured for consumption. If this is a ritual meant to be celebrated, then celebrate it. Share it widely. Show that the animal does not tremble or resist. Show that the animal graciously gives itself to human consumption. Show the prayers and blessings bestowed upon the animal to help make its journey meaningful and peaceful. Show the animal companions watching and lining up, eager to be next. Show how fantastic this procedure is so that people can better understand how willing animals are to die for us.

    I understand that there are people in our country and in this world where eating a plant-based diet is very difficult if not impossible. I would gamble to say that most people in Asheville or traveling to Asheville who have the time (2 days) and money ($350 plus accommodations if needed) to invest in a sacred slaughter class also have access to locally grown plants, organically grown plant foods, and can afford to shop at Whole Foods, Earth Fare, famers markets, and the like. This is not a class about hardship and survival but about privilege.

    Amino acids, glucose, and lipids are the macro building blocks of nutrition. They are available from plants and animals who eat plants. Rather than eat someone who ate well, why not just eat more like they ate. People who do not feel well on a vegan diet are quite possibly not eating the right kinds of plant-based foods and/or are including substances or habits that detract from balanced nutrition.

    Do unto others…..This is not about me. This is not about you. This is about the innocent third party whose voice and body language must be included in the decision to be killed.

  9. i330

    Stop tokenizing the poor to defend your harming and killing of nonhuman animals. People who cannot afford to “cherrypick” their diet also are likely to be unable to have the time and ability to “ethically (sic)” slaughter someone else. Furthermore, if you cared so much about the poor and disabled that you claim to have started your enterprise for, you would be working on ways to get affordable, healthy foods to be more accessible rather than teaching people how to slaughter nonhuman animals- who cost a huge amount of money, land, and water to raise, especially in a non-factory setting.

    There is no “ethical” slaughter. And you tokenizing people who have less in order to make more money shows just how unethical your methods are.

    • Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

      “”…nonhuman animals- who cost a huge amount of money, land, and water to raise, especially in a non-factory setting”

      Simply not true. People wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t a financial benefit. The costs are offset by the benefits they provide. There is lots of water in this part of the country, and it doesn’t really take that much land to raise cows and goats, and it takes very little land to raise chickens.

      • i330

        I don’t think you understand that cost is about more than what the farm owner makes. I’m talking cost to the planet, cost to tax payers due to government subsidization of animal exploitation industries (otherwise a burger would cost $50 because of how much goes into creating it.) The amount of food we feed to farmed animals alone could feed every hungry person in the world plenty of times over.

        “There is lots of water in this part of the country…” Fresh water is depleting every year and farm runoff is one of the largest polluters of ground water.

        “…and it doesn’t really take that much land to raise cows and goats, and it takes very little land to raise chickens.” Yes, you can cram hundreds of chickens, 8 to a tiny cage, into a shed and raise them. You’re not factoring in the land to grow food for them and the water provided to them even at this very low level of care. You need even more to exploit them less torturously by giving them room to turn around. 95-99% of animal farming is factory farming and most of the farmland in the world goes to farming those animals or growing food to feed those animals (98% of soy grown goes to feeding farmed animals, etc.) It is impossible for our planet to sustain animal farming as is, let alone the less torturous forms of animal farming mentioned in the article.

  10. Old-timer

    I heard there is a new restaurant opening downtown that serves local vegans…I hear that the vegans aren’t very tasty though, not enough fat on em’!

  11. think critically

    “All the arguments to prove man’s superiority cannot shatter this hard fact: in suffering the animals are our equals.”

    “It is easy for us to criticize the prejudices of our grandfathers, from which our fathers freed themselves. It is more difficult to distance ourselves from our own views, so that we can dispassionately search for prejudices among the beliefs and values we hold.”

    Peter Singer

    • Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

      Appeal to authority fallacy. (Not that Singer is an authority, but some people apparently think so)

  12. think critically

    Maybe this will help some of the meat-eaters understand why vegans compare animal slavery to human slavery. Everyone loves Paul Watson when it comes to his heroic work saving whales and dolphins and other marine wildlife, but when he talks about being kind to all animals, they ignore him.

    “If you want to know where you would have stood on slavery before the Civil War, don’t look at where you stand on slavery today. Look at where you stand on animal rights.” Captain Paul Watson, founder, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

    Those with open minds can learn more at http://www.seashepherd.org/news-and-commentary/commentary/v.html

    • Snowflake (Social Justice Worrier)

      This is just laughable. Frankly, I couldn’t care less what Watson thinks or says, especially now after having read such a ridiculous statement. People like him are regressionists who are trying to bring humans down to the level of animals. I’m all for being kind to animals, but you folks completely undo any credibility you might have when make these kinds of statements.

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