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.