This morning settled upon me gently; drowsy eyes opened to cloud-shrouded light through the cracks in the blinds. The past few mornings have been tight-laced with urgency, as all event days start. We have to get to the venue; we have to make sure the booth is open; wait, did I remember to pack the cash box, and is there enough change for the day? And so forth. The day’s activities variously include making stock to replace what’s sold, interacting with and helping my customers (sometimes large groups filling the entire booth), steeling myself against ninety-degree heat and direct sun or an air conditioner turned down to chilly levels, and usually tons of music and background noise through which my consciousness must filter only the most important information. Wait, did I remember to eat? This can go on for eight to twelve hours straight. By the time I fall into bed at the end of the day–whether my own, or a hotel’s, or an air mattress in my tent–all I want to do is sleep for fifteen hours, even though I know I need to be awake in eight or fewer.
I do love vending; I love getting to see people, and talk to folks I normally only run into at events, and of course it’s nice to sell my art and books as well. But I am, at heart, an introvert, and while I can socialize quite well and enjoy it, too, it drains me after a while. Plus there’s all the energy that goes into preparing for, executing, and tearing down the booth at an event, and then arriving home and realizing just how much I still have to do, all those things that got shoved to the side for this one big burst of effort that has eaten up my days. I’ve had something scheduled every single weekend since Labor Day, and while there’s been a lot of fun involved and it’s been worth it financially, today is the day I’ve been waiting for the most.
Because today is the first day where I don’t have a huge event waiting at the end of the weekend. I have a book signing at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association trade show this Saturday, but that’s it. A quick boomerang trip, wake up at home and sleep at home. And in front of me stretches a month of few commitments. Plenty of things on the to-do list, but plenty of freedom in which to get them done. There’s no schedule but that which I put myself to, and it is a beautiful thing. It’s easier to take one thing at a time now, focus only on what’s right in front of me. Like the trees divesting themselves of leaves, I, too, shed extra weight.
So I’ll be heading out to my community garden plot to pick the last of the tomatoes and start preparing it for the cold months. There will be time to start cleaning the apartment, left too fallow during the busy festival season. I have packages to mail, and custom work to create, and articles to write. My Etsy shop needs some nifty new things, and there are book ideas floating around, too. The next few months are full of potential and ideas and creative juices bubbling forth–and I’ll sleep when I want to, too. And, best of all, there’s so much hiking to be done–and I’ve already reserved a yurt on the coast for a personal writing retreat in October as well. The wilderness beckons, and I yearn to run to it.
Autumn is here, and as the land around me prepares for a quieter time, I also come home to my den, only to venture out so often, and glad to be in the comforts of home.
This morning I went to my garden to water and weed, just as I do most other summer mornings. It’s early August, and the hot, sunny weather Portland has been getting the past few weeks has caused both my vegetables and the weeds to engage in furious growth. While I hate having left the weeds to get as big as they have while I’ve been gone for festivals, I do have to admit it’s more satisfying to yank up one weed and clear a six inch wide patch of earth than to scrape dozens of tiny weedlings with my trowel and hope their roots don’t regenerate quickly. I’ve managed to make enough space to transplant crowded parsnip and beet seedlings, and these appreciate the cool water that soaks into their new soil.
The other evening when I visited my garden with a friend, we found a dead honey bee still clinging to a calendula bloom gone to seed, entangled in the drying, withered petals. While dead-heading the flowers today, I noticed the little deceased was still there in spite of the human-brought rain from the hose. A few specks of soil clung to her fur, kicked up from watering and weeding. Her wings, slightly torn, stuck out at odd angles. I broke off the flower she lay upon; she looked almost as though she were merely taking a nap, one front leg tucked under her head.
There was no sign of trauma or injury. Perhaps she was a casualty of neonicotinoid pesticides outside of the community garden’s organic boundaries. Or she may have been too old, exhausted on her last flight, a spring hatchling now matured far into summer. She might have just come from her hive after being relieved of a burden of pollen and honey.
Had she died at home, there’d be no bedside elegy; bees are much too efficient for that. Her corpse would have been dragged from where she fell, then dropped unceremoniously into a refuse pile outside the hive. Here, nestled on the edge of a fertile calendula blossom, she was afforded a bit more peace, a few days to lie in repose. Probably no one but I and my friend took note of her passing; certainly none of her hive-sisters would have noticed she was missing. There is no room in the hive for sentimentality when life is so brief to begin with.
I’ve brought her home with me. For now she’ll rest on my work bench, off to the side. I have ideas on how to honor her with my funerary art, but for the moment she’ll lie in state, a reminder of so many of the reasons why I do what I do–and a warning against working too hard lest I, too, only find peace when my own work is at an end.
Recently I’ve run across a few online discussions and blog posts asserting that vegetarianism and veganism (abbreviated as “veg*nism” from here on out) are the proper dietary choices for pagans and other spiritual people. The arguments for this have ranged from “meat is icky and does icky things to your energy” to “such and such culture is/was primarily veg*n so we should be too” and, of course, “no TRUE pagan (Scottish or otherwise) would ever bring harm to another living being” (forgetting, of course, that animals are only one of several kingdoms of living being). I’m not going to link to any of these discussions because I don’t want people to go start arguments there; I think that sort of brigading is a form of harassment and an ineffective way of getting one’s point across.
On that note, before we go any further, I want to speak to the sometimes thoroughly aggressive and unnecessarily hateful speech and behavior that I’ve seen a small portion of people use in these debates over the years. If you are an omnivore, pagan or otherwise, it is not okay for someone to scream at you that you’re a murderer because you eat meat. It is not okay for someone to say “Ewwwwww, you eat meat/drink milk/eat eggs? That’s so gross it makes me want to vomit!” or “You’re an evil bitch/bastard who’s going to burn in hell for hurting poor little animals!” It is not okay for someone to tell you they wish someone would kill you and cut up your body and cook it, or that they hope you die of a heart attack from eating meat. It is not okay for someone to call together a bunch of their friends to leave hateful messages on your Facebook profile or fill up your inbox with the same in a harassment brigade. That shit’s just not okay.
At the same time, I also don’t think it’s okay to antagonize veg*ns for their dietary restrictions. If you are an omnivore, pagan or otherwise, it is not okay to deliberately annoy veg*ns with stupid jokes about meat. It is not okay to tell a veg*n that they just need to eat more bacon, or that they can’t possibly be in good health, or being all “Oh, yuck, tofu? How can you EAT that?” It is not okay for you to question a male veg*n’s manhood just because he doesn’t eat meat. And it is most certainly not okay to sneak meat into a veg*n’s food, whether or not you then tell them you did it. That shit’s also just not okay.
Now that we’ve established some ground rules, I want to address some reasons why it’s okay for you to be an omnivore if that’s your choice. These are talking points you can draw on if someone ever comes in swinging at you for your diet; they’re not meant as bludgeoning objects to try and convince someone that their veg*nism is wrong for them.
Your Body, Your Diet
Bodily autonomy is a basic human right. Regardless of how you may feel about the autonomy of other living beings, almost all of us can agree that each human being’s right to their own body should be inviolate, and the violation of bodily autonomy is at the root of some of the most serious crimes and human rights crises. That means that you get to choose what you eat (finances and availability allowing, of course), no matter what anyone else says.
It also means you have the right to look out for what’s best for your body. Some of us simply don’t thrive well on even a well-balanced veg*n diet, and if that’s the case for you you don’t have to run around sick and malnourished because someone else yelled at you for not eating the way they think you should. That being said, it’s also a good idea to be aware of what you’re eating and the effects it may be having on your body. My partner and I have both been eating less meat (especially not-fish meat) because we both have familial health risks that could be aggravated by too much meat consumption, and we both love good salads anyway. It’s still your prerogative if you want to live on Denny’s ham and cheese omelets and soda (even when other things are readily available to you and within your means), and part of respecting bodily autonomy means accepting that people are going to eat what they will no matter what anyone else thinks.
Spirituality and Subjective Projection
From a more particularly pagan angle, I’ve seen numerous claims that a veg*n diet is better for spiritual practices. The reasons include everything from the claim meat is harder to digest, requiring more bloodflow to the stomach and therefore less to the brain, to the concept that meat clutters up your energy/aura/etc. The part about digestion is true–cooking meat, marinating it (particularly in an acidic marinade) and even pureeing it can make it easier to digest, but it still take more effort than, say, cherries or lettuce. If you’re an omnivore and want to amp up the bloodflow to your brain for the purposes of a particular meditation or retreat, then a temporary veg*n diet can help.
What about the other assertion, that meat makes your aura more icky because you ate dead animal flesh (just this side of cannibalism, according to some)? Well, quite honestly, there’s no way to prove this. A veg*n who claims they felt better and more spiritually active and clean once they kicked their meat habit may be telling the truth about their experience, but it doesn’t mean that meat was necessarily the direct cause. Instead, it may have been the relief they felt in their conscience, which is also a valid feeling. But there are plenty of us who feel just fine spiritually after eating meat. And for those of us who really are obligate omnivores, few things ruin a good spiritual experience like not having given our bodies what they need to function properly.
Given the choice between spirit and science, I’m choosing science every time; spirituality is not meant to be a replacement for professional medical care. That means that since my doctor, who has seen me for years and has been tracking my health with her years of experience and her knowledge of the most up to date research, suggests I stick to omnivorism, that’s going to trump someone without credentials telling me that they think my aura looks muddy because I had bacon this morning.
Just Because We Don’t Have Catchy Slogans Doesn’t Mean We’re Wrong
One of the most frustrating things for me is when slogans like “MEAT IS MURDER!” and “EAT BEANS, NOT BEINGS” are bandied about as though having a catch phrase is all it takes to make you right. Like a sports team’s traditional cheer, these sound bites serve to bind together activists in a common cause with a quick, easy to remember distillation of their message. Unfortunately, just like sports fanatics who stalwartly stick by their team no matter what, the people chanting these things sometimes don’t consider the possibility someone else could have a perfectly valid disagreement. Moreover, these slogans also provide activists with a way to shut down any possible conversation. An omnivore could say “Hey, I choose to eat free-range meat because…” and all the other person has to do is scream “IT’S STILL MURDER, YOU MURDERER! MURDER!”
Here on the omnivore end of the spectrum, we don’t really have slogans, beyond those created by marketing boards. I mean, “PORK! THE OTHER WHITE MEAT!” isn’t really an inspiring rallying cry. And sometimes we don’t really know what to say when someone comes at us, ready to beat us into the ground with a guilt trip. It takes a lot longer to explain why The Compassionate Hunter’s Guidebook spoke to you than it does for someone else to say “YOU KILLED BAMBI!” There’s very little room there for critical thinking.
Why is critical thinking important? Because there’s bad information on both sides of the debate, and critical thinking is a good opportunity to question and double-check this information. One of the discussions I mentioned in the very first paragraph stated that over half of greenhouse gas production is specifically from agriculture; however, the EPA reports that only 10% are from all combined agriculture, livestock and otherwise. Conversely, there are people who honestly think non-human mammals aren’t able to feel pain–yes, there are still those who subscribe to Descartes’ concept of mechanistic physiology in which animals only respond to stimuli because they’re meaty machines, never mind all the modern research to the contrary. And when someone questions either of these assertions, the people who hold to them are likely to just latch on more tightly.
Critical thinking is scary because it can show the flaws and cracks in one’s own beliefs and posits the idea that maybe the other person does have a point. Slogans, on the other hand, often present something as universally desirable for everyone, a much safer but more inaccurate proposition. Even I can see the severe limitations of “Milk: It Does a Body Good”, starting with the significant number of lactose-intolerant and dairy-allergic people out there. This brings me to my final talking point…
We Face Very Complex Problems With More Than One Potential Solution
I am an omnivore in part because I care about the environment. I study (from a layperson’s view, anyway) the entirety of our food system, which is a complicated thing. I am aware of the horrific conditions of factory farms and slaughterhouses and the overfishing of the ocean. I also know how the pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals that are sprayed on conventional crops kill countless animals through poisoning all the way through the food web. They also wash into the ocean to harm animals there and create anoxic dead zones. That goes for crops fed both to livestock and to humans, omnivores and veg*ns alike. And I’m aware that a lot of the food in the stores, regardless of what it is, got from its source to the shelf (often by way of lots of processing and packaging) with an immense amount of fossil fuels, water, and other resources. I’ve watched wild lands around my hometown and elsewhere being chewed up for agricultural fields all planted with one single crop, unable to support the diversity of life they once did, and I know that habitat loss is the number one cause of species endangerment and extinction.
For some people, the answer to this is veg*nism–fewer animals die, less grain is required for animal feed, and so forth. It’s a good answer for many. But it’s not the answer that works for me, not just because of my body’s need for animal proteins, but also because I choose to focus my efforts at a greener life a little differently. I buy most of my meat from a free-range ranch a few hours outside of Portland; they have a booth at nearby farmer’s market every weekend. I’ve toured their ranch, too; the animals are entirely pasture-fed, with no grain finish. Those pastures also support a diversity of wildlife and plants, and the soil is nourished by the manure of buffalo, heritage turkeys, and other livestock. I have my plot at the community garden and my collection of pots on my tiny balcony; it’s not enough to feed both me and my partner, but it’s a very good supplement, and we can make up the difference with organic produce (especially during the summer when the farmer’s markets are full to overflowing with choices). And there are fishmongers at the same markets who drove just a couple of hours from the coast–or, in the case of salmon, nearby rivers–with small-scale, sustainable seafood. All these things came locally, cutting down on carbon pollution compared to conventional alternatives that were flown in from out of the country. And the meat I buy is a damned sight better in my mind than a Morningstar Farms veggie burger, produced by Kellogg’s from non-organic soy and other ingredients.
But this is my solution, as someone who is an obligate omnivore, who happens to live in a very food-friendly city, and who has the financial means to pay a little more for organic at the store and the time to tend to a small garden. I would never dream of presenting it as the One True Solution to carbon pollution, factory farming, and dead zones in the ocean. When I write about my adventures in gardening, or share recipes on Tumblr, I’m not doing it to tell people that they should do things my way. Instead, I’m leaving my experiences out there as examples for others to consider along with other information, and to encourage those who have been thinking about trying out the things I’m doing. That’s as far as it goes.
And you know what? I’m fine with being an omnivore. I don’t run around wearing an “OMNIVORE PRIDE!” shirt, because I don’t think diet is something to particularly be proud of or ashamed of either way. But I have carefully considered my options with research and critical thinking and found a solution that both works for my needs, and sits well within my eco-conscious conscience. I’ll always question it, too, as new information comes out and as new options arise, because fundamentalism of any sort sucks. (You can insert your own end comment here about omnivory and sacred cows.)
(Honey bee on mullein flower, community garden, Portland, OR. Image by Lupa, 2014.)
Ever since I moved to Portland in 2007, I’ve spent every summer solstice at Sunfest, a local pagan festival west of Portland. I’ve collected many fond memories of the event, and last year I led the opening, closing, and main rituals, an incredible experience with an incredible group of people on beautiful land. This year, though, I opted to stay home, not because I don’t look forward to Sunfest, but because every so often it’s good to take a break, and I intend to go back next year refreshed and rejuvenated. (I heard people had a great time, there, too!)
So what did I do instead? Well, I’d been out of town the previous week, and while I was away it rained much of the time. This meant that upon my arrival back home, my community garden spot had a healthy crop of weeds popping up amid the more intentional plants. So a good bit of my weekend was spent with my hands in the dirt, digging up crabgrass and Russian thistles and a host of other unwanted invaders. I ended up with scraped fingers and sore shoulders, but by the time I was done things were looking a lot better (if not perfect).
I also took the time to plant out my little balcony container garden, which I admit I’ve been neglecting some as I’ve wrangled with the weeds down the street at the larger plot. But my herbs were all doing just fine, and the volunteer marigolds and petunias that sprouted from last year’s dropped seeds all ended up gathered together in one long planter box. Soil was freshened up, fluffed, and fertilized, and I planted out beans and arugula and other seeds. I also made my yearly pilgrimage to Fred Meyer’s clearance aisles in the garden section, where I brought home eight tomatoes and two unlabeled squash in sad condition which I’ll be attempting to resurrect with some TLC. Along with these I bought a very marked-down hanging pot of petunias; I thought the hummingbirds might like it.
Still little. Still lovely. My balcony garden <3[/caption]Wait. Hummingbirds?
Okay. For those of you familiar with my work, you may have noticed that I've historically been against feeding wildlife, birds included. Putting out food where raccoons and possums can get it, for example, encourages them to be less afraid of humans and causes them to be more of a nuisance (we see this writ large in the black bears at Yellowstone). However, I was researching something on the Audubon Society website, and discovered that some of the things I had learned about feeding birds, to include the risk of interrupting migration and causing them to neglect natural food sources, were actually incorrect. I figure if the Audubon Society says it’s okay to feed birds, then there’s probably something to it. So I’ve had a bird feeder on the porch for the past couple of weeks and have entertained several scrub jays, crows, and house sparrows at it. (I figure two native species out of three isn’t bad, especially in this urban a setting.) It’s located where I can look right out at it while I’m working at my computer, and it’s been beneficial for both me and the birds. They get food with minimal effort and no threat of predation, and I get to watch their daily tiny-dinosaur dramas play out at the feeders (will the sparrows get a full meal before the scrub jays chase them off? Can the crows cope with the fierce competition for sunflower seeds?)
This, then, was my ritual. I haven’t formally celebrated the Sabbats in years, but if I were to call this summer solstice anything, it would be a harvest festival. I’d been picking beet greens all month for salads and pulled up and stored my spinach, which was threatening to bolt, just before I left town. But this weekend’s haul was even better–a nice big handful of bush peas, ten nice-sized (but not too big) red beets, and a bright bouquet of calendula for both eating and prettying up the apartment a bit. This is my first year really getting to use my garden, and I don’t think I could have envisioned how lovely the harvest would be back in February when I first sowed the seeds. (The beet roots roasted beautifully, by the way, and the leaves and the rest went into a glorious salad.)
All in all, it was a good time to renew my bond with the land through this direct contact. I try to spend at least a little time with my garden almost every day, but the timing worked out that a lot of effort needed to be put into it right now, and instead of being a chore all the weeding and harvesting and replanting was a celebration of gratitude. I’m grateful for my little gardens and the life they support, including my own. I’m grateful that I have the time and schedule flexibility to be able to devote to them. I’m grateful I can invest a bit of money in seeds, starts and other short-term needs in order to get a long-term payout. I’m grateful the weather has cooperated (mostly), and that my plants have survived spring hailstorms and hot days to thrive. Most importantly, I’m grateful for the lessons my gardens have taught me, not just about necessary care and potentials for change and growth, but about what draws me so near to the land here. We give to each other, and I vow once again to be a good caretaker of my tiny corner of the world.