Confused? You want to read on and figure out what the catch is, because surely being a vegetarian and hunting are mutually exclusive, right? You’re still reading, waiting for the big ‘gotcha’, aren’t you?
Good. I’m trying this thing where I use catchy click-bait titles while at the same time try to remain true to what the article is about, and I think it worked, because the title is the truth. I have been a vegetarian (no poultry or fish, either, mind you) (and I heavily avoid most dairy) for 6 years. I fully expect to never eat meat or drink milk again, and I would eventually like to finally kick cheese and go full vegan. I love animals. I love them far more than I love people. I love all kinds of animals, and if I could, I’d go live on an island where there were no people and only animals. Lots of animals. Because I love animals. Are you an animal? Well then, good news, I love you. A lot.
I also grew up in a family of hunters. My dad taught me to shoot a bow, track a deer, bait a hook load a shotgun when I was a little girl and there was nothing I loved more than spending long days out in the woods with him. We hunted whitetail deer with the bow in the fall and the gun in the winter and we fished, too, on the ocean, in rivers and lakes, and even in the winter (ice fishing – yes, it’s a thing.) Our vacations mostly consisted of camping/hunting trips where we’d catch our own dinner (well, that was the idea, at least. We always had back-up sandwiches). Through my childhood spent picking ticks out of my skin and leaves out of my hair I fell madly in love with nature, especially animals. In fact, my dad knew from the moment he realized how obsessed with animals I was that I’d love hunting and fishing- but isn’t that counterintuitive? Well, for someone who has never accompanied a responsible hunter out into the woods or spoke to a fisherman who loves the ocean, I understand that it may seem that way. I hope you’ll let me explain, because it’ll all make sense by the end.
Now before I keep going, I am in no way defending the killing of endangered species or trophy hunting where animals are killed for a picture and a decoration on the wall. This should go without saying, but I’m sure there will be those people who bring up Cecil and Jimmy John’s and all that dumb shit. There are a hell of a lot of animals that people should not be killing, period, and I obviously feel like anyone who kills something endangered, takes a picture with it and then hangs its dead body on the wall is a piece of shit.
What I’m talking about is the type of hunting and fishing that pulls you into an ecosystem and invites you to become a part of it. I’m talking about hunting carefully regulated species; species that might even be out of control or invasive are even better. Real hunters don’t pay for a kill. If it happens, it happens, and a lot of the time it doesn’t. Hell, 9/10 times my dad and I entered the woods we’d come out after 8 hours empty handed, but our days were never wasted. We’d sit in the same spot on the ground beneath a tree for hours and when a deer would walk past us we’d take a moment to admire it; my dad would make sure it wasn’t too young and then he’d take his aim. He’d only take the shot if he knew with certainty that it would be fatal. I was always taught to cause 0 suffering to the animal; to be thankful for its sacrifice and show it respect. Then we’d gut our kill, leave the insides for the forest to take back and other animals to eat, and take the meat to butcher and cook. Often times we’d donate the antlers to schools or display them, but either way, every last part of that animal was used; our German shepherd appreciated all the meat and bones that we didn’t eat. The same went for fish. Anything too small was thrown back and anything we did catch we ate. Killing animals is 5% of going hunting – the other 95% is admiring nature, seeing all types of wildlife, spending time in a wild place and becoming a part of it.
I haven’t gone hunting in a few years now; you know how life gets in the way of doing everything you want to do, but I have lots of friends that are these kinds of hunters. Some of them even use other animals to hunt, which I think is just incredible. Two good friends of mine, Tyler Sladen and Chris Starr have a team of dogs and raptors that accompany them into the woods to hunt for rabbits and invasive birds like starlings. The love these men have for nature, animals and wildlife is unfounded, and I can think of no better partnership than a man and his beloved dogs teaming up with a mighty bird of prey to accomplish something together, an interspecies pack.
I am inspired by Tyler and Chris and their daily adventures to the point where someday I would love to get a hunting dog and learn the art of falconry, which in itself is bad ass- an ancient partnership between man and dinosaur. How much more connected to nature could you possibly get!?
I fully expect to get a lot of shit for defending hunting, even at the capacity I just described. People are often shocked to hear that I support ‘killing animals for fun’, which I hope by now you are starting to see is not the point at all. Surprisingly, I get a lot of shit about it from people who eat meat like it’s no big deal, which is where my mind really becomes tangled. Just because you don’t kill the animals you eat doesn’t make you a better person. In fact, one could argue that it makes you worse. A hypocrite, I’d even dare to say. If you go around blindly buying meat from the grocery store or eating burgers at fast food resturaunts, you’re supporting one of the cruelest and most heinous industries on the planet. Don’t act like you’re surprised.
By now, everyone must know how terrible factory farms are to the animals they raise. The massive operations that supply most of the meat people buy at grocery stores, restaurants and fast food joints want to create as much product as possible with as little cost, just like any other factory. This means the animals are treated as objects and thus, suffer extensively. These animals lives from start to finish are miserable. Never do they get to feel the sun on their backs or grass at their feet; hell, they don’t even get the freedom of stretching their legs. They are kept in extremely unsanitary conditions, many of them battling disease in addition to the fear and pain they experience on a daily basis. Many workers abuse animals while moving and manipulating them. They are castrated without painkillers, their teeth, horns, beaks or anything else that can be used to fight with other animals are ripped off without anesthesia and the list goes on, right up until their throats are slit while they hang upside-down on a conveyer belt. This existence is Hell on Earth, and the chances are great that every time you eat a cheeseburger or hotdog or chicken fingers, you’re supporting it. In addition to this cruelty is the main reason I became and stay a vegetarian. The environmental impacts of the meat industry are astronomical; worse than the entire world’s transportation system. Plain and simple, it is destroying our planet.
Clearing land for livestock is the leading cause of the deforestation of the world’s rainforests, some of the most precious and important ecosystems in the world. A report released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states that “the livestock sector is a major stressor on many ecosystems and on the planet as a whole. Globally, it is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases and one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity, while in developed and emerging countries it is perhaps the leading source of water pollution.”
Over 50% of greenhouse gas emissions are from the global meat industry, and you know how clean drinking water is a huge problem for millions of people? Well, animal agriculture requires an obscene amount of water. Just 1lb of beef takes an average of 2,400 gallons of water to create, just to put it in perspective. Whenever there is a drought, citizens are expected to restrict their water usage while there are no regulations whatsoever placed on factory farms, and in third world countries where people are literally dying from lack of clean water, factory farms are taking this resource away from people who need it to survive!
Runoff and pollution from these disgusting farms are polluting rivers and lakes and making people who live nearby sick. Studies by the state of California have shown that animal waste from factory farms emit toxic airborne chemicals that can cause inflammatory, immune and other health problems.
Commercial fishing and fish farms are just as bad. Our oceans are being overfished at an alarming rate with many of the populations of species most regularly eaten like tuna, cod, flounder and striped bass dwindling down to nothing. Commercial fishing methods such as using traps, bottom-trawling and long-lining destroy habitat and result in the needless deaths of thousands of by-catch organisms that aren’t intended to be caught like turtles, dolphins and sharks. Farmed fish like salmon require insane amounts of other types of fish to feed them, totally defeating the purpose. These fish farms produce lots of waste and pollution, too. I’ll stop myself here before I just keep going; these are all just examples that come to mind; the full extent of this planet’s appetite for meat is something I could write a full length novel on. I hope by now you get the point, though. It’s absolutely awful.
Many people push these facts aside when they’re hit with a craving for a Big Mac or a tuna sub. Believe me, I used to eat meat- I remember how good it tastes. It’s easy for many people to just shut off thinking about all of the terrible things that come from your moment of self-indulgence, but the fact of the matter is that your food choices have a huge impact on the environment.
I think you’ll beleive me when I say that this article is not trying to PETA you into becoming a vegetarian. In fact, vegans and vegetarians are NOT off the hook when it comes to cruelty to animals and the planet. The production of plenty of vegan things like soy, products with palm oil, coffee, chocolate, fruits, veggies and nuts can be harmful, from clearing land for fields to the use of pesticides. It all comes down to the choices we make.
At the end of the day it’s our duty to learn about the impacts our choices have on the world around us and then use our power as consumers to support the companies and individuals that are focused on creating a sustainable, environmentally friendly and less-cruel product, and please believe me, there are so many options available, with more popping up every day because of the demand created by concerned consumers.
The reason I’m a vegetarian is because I feel best when I don’t consume meat in all aspects. I am careful to source the things that I do consume from sustainable sources, and that’s what brings me back to the defense of hunting.
Which life sounds better to you?
1.) A calf is born on a cold, blood-soaked concrete ground and swiftly taken from its mother without a chance to even look at her, let alone feed from her or spend time feeling her comfort. He is castrated without any painkillers and shoved in a stall among other calves, fed and pumped with chemicals to accelerate his growth until he is crammed inside a crowded trailer and sent to his final destination, the slaughter house. He is terrified as workers use an electric prods to shock him into running down a dark hallway that smells like feces and blood. He is then chained up by his back legs, both of them breaking as he is swung around until his throat is slit and he bleeds out slowly, in fear and alone.
2.) A deer is born upon a soft bed of moss beside his mother, who cleans, feeds and nutures him. He spends his days lying on a bed of wildflowers, hidden from predators while his mother grazes. He spends every night cuddled close by her side. As he grows, he travels and explores his seemingly endless forest. He feels the sun on his back, tastes all the berries and plants nature has to offer and interacts with other deer, sparing with bucks, mating with does and adding to the population. After years of traveling, eating, mating, dodging predators and cars and experiencing a life, a quick and unexpected shot to the heart turns out the lights. He feels no fear when he dies.
Obvious answer is obvious. Listen, I get it. Death sucks. I mean, sometimes even I feel bad watching a shark kill a seal or a lion kill an antelope, but that’s nature. It’s just nature. It’s something we have to accept. A few years ago I helped head-start a bunch of endangered Blanding’s turtles and when the time came for them to be rereleased into the wild, I was so excited for them. There was a tiny one that never grew much and right after I released him and wished him luck a nearby biologist said, “Bye bye, Bullfrog Food!” God, what a shot to the heart! I totally felt some resentment towards bullfrogs in that moment, but why? Bullfrogs gotta eat! (I should’ve felt resentment instead towards the cheeky biologist who didn’t have to say such a mean thing to someone who’d spent time raising that turtle, as shrimpy as he was.)
Everything dies. In the wild, either the prey dies or the predator does. Although humans don’t need meat to survive, extremist vegans must face the fact that we will never convince everyone to stop eating meat. In fact, I’ve never seen extremist vegans accomplish anything but making the rest of us look like assholes.
Do I wish everyone would become a vegan? I mean, to be honest I don’t really think about that, because it just isn’t a thing I see as possible. Being a vegetarian is tough. There are lots of times where I go somewhere and can’t eat anything. Sometimes I get cravings for bacon and turkey sandwiches. The meat industry straight up sucks, but I won’t think you’re an awful person for not quitting cold turkey and only eating super-duper sustainably-sourced everything, believe me, it’s not easy in today’s society. All I can ever ask is that people try. Make an effort. Celebrate Meatless Mondays, or do meat every other day. Matt, my meat-loving boyfriend, tries to only eat meat on the weekends and challanges himself sometimes to go weeks without it. He does his part, and I don’t get onto him for eating at Wendy’s every once in a while. He’s human. My diet is a personal choice and I’d never push that on anyone else. All I strive to do is give people the information and encourage them to keep it in mind.
What I really wish is that people would just be smarter about what they eat. I’m a realist. I’m not gonna waste my time trying to get everyone in the world to stop eating meat. That’s never gonna happen. I instead want to focus on doing what I know is possible; raising awareness of the choices we have and how to support the things that cause the least amount of harm. There are plenty of ways that eating meat can be sustainable, and I strongly feel as though responsible hunting and fishing is the very best way to do it. It’s going out into nature just like a lion or a shark and harvesting your own food just as the Earth provides it. There isn’t anything wrong with a predator being a predator, and I feel as though when done respectfully there is nothing wrong with a human being a predator, either. Hunting and fishing isn’t everyone’s thing; obviously not everyone has the stomach or the desire to kill their own food, even if they can support it, and so the next best thing is supporting small, local family farms, sustainable seafood, and the people who are making an effort to do things the right way. They still exist, and more of them will pop up if the support is there.
Animals face a lot of adversity these days. We’re in the midst of the 6th mass extinction, I’m never gonna stop reminding you of that, but I assure you, the problem is not hunters. We can all do something to make things better; start by laying off the hunters and focusing your efforts towards the true culprits. Stop supporting the industries that are really causing harm and research the ways you as a consumer can make choices that support sustainability – it’s all in our hands! Try to eat less fast food (it’s no good for you, anyway) and support restaurants that value sustainability; local is always a plus! Try new species of fish you’ve never heard of – these species often experience much less pressure from the seafood industry. Ask about the origins of the fish and how/where it was caught, this can tell you a lot about how sustainable it is. See if any of your friends have backyard chickens and get your eggs from them OR get your own backyard chickens if you can – this is something I can’t wait to be able to do one day; fresh eggs are the bomb. Plant a garden and grow some crops – they’re always better when they’re fresh. Go to farmer’s markets – more and more of them are popping up in communities everywhere, and they always have the best food! Support local farms; take a trip to one and buy some products, and again, lay off the hunters. They’re just doing their part. Are you?
Here are some links to get you started on the path to better, more sustainable consumerism.