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Thee Speaks My Mind, Friend: A response to "Butcher Hogs for Sale" by Dayna Baily in Friends Journal

Updated: Jul 7, 2019

In response to Dayna Baily’s article, “Butcher Hogs for Sale,” in Friends Journal:


Thank you for a wonderfully thoughtful, thought‐provoking, introspective, spiritual article, Dayna Bailey. I stopped eating meat three years ago for three reasons: health, humanitarian, and ecological. You’re right — animals are sentient beings and mammals share many traits in common. They’re family‐oriented, care for their offspring, feel fear and pain, have memories, and many know when they’re going to be slaughtered.


You deftly break down the arbitrary distinctions some of us make. But there really isn’t much difference between a pig, or, cow, or chicken, and a dog. While I try to understand and allow some cultural accommodations, when I see pictures of depressed dogs in over‐crowded cages in Asia, waiting to be slaughtered, feelings of primal violence well up in me toward those who do that. Dogs are arguably mankind’s best friend, and it’s possible we may have not survived as a species without the help of dogs and the wolves they descend from.


Whales and dolphins are highly intelligent mammals — relatives of ours, actually — who have been on this planet far longer than we have. And though I don’t agree, I can understand how some Pacific or Alaskan tribes wish to continue strictly limited whale hunting because it’s been part of their culture and belief systems for thousands of years. But I see that as distinctly different from wholesale slaughter of cetaceans for supermarkets in Japan.


Things get murky and not all species are equal. Pests like rodents carry disease and invasive species like boa constrictors and iguanas are wreaking havoc in the Everglades, destroying native animal species. Similarly, along the Mississippi, the invasive Asian carp population has exploded, destroying native species and are intent of making their way upriver to the Great Lakes.


They are so prolific and aggressive, that they sometimes attack rowers paddling down the river, and they literally jump into powerboats, flying into the faces of boaters. It’s the kind of ecological crisis that results when thoughtless people dump exotic pets into ecosystems in the U.S., which have no natural predators to keep their numbers in proper balance. We are all connected to the circle of life.


I have friends who are ardent vegans. But this issue gets murky for me because plants are sentient beings, too. They can tell the difference between their roots, and something that is not their roots. Trees can communicate chemically by alerting others of oncoming pests or disease.


When I look at the little herb garden in my sunny kitchen window, I sometimes feel a bit like a cannibal or a vampire — because I’m growing those basil plants to “harvest” them for my dishes. There’s something a little ghoulish about that. So, for me, there’s not a lot of difference between that basil and a chicken. So, to draw a strict line between what we will and won’t eat seems a bit like simply splitting hairs in some ways.


Every drop of water we drink and every breath of air we take have living organisms in it. The challenge is where do we draw the line ethically, ecologically, and practically? It’s as you said, a matter of spirituality and stewardship. I still eat a greatly reduced amount of wild caught, sustainable sea creatures, mostly bivalves. But I often think of Mister Rogers who said: “I never eat anything with a face. And that’s my goal.


Global climate change is our greatest danger, as even our military acknowledges. This means, we need to make different choices regarding the foods we eat. One of the reasons I stopped eating meat was because I could no longer justify the 600 gallons of water it takes to produce a single beef hamburger. I can live without burgers, but I can’t live without water. And I want my child, and hopefully grandchildren someday, to always have clean water to drink. I owe them that.


The next round of wars will be fought over water, not oil, which has already begun in east Africa. The perfect storm of higher average temperatures due to global warming, record years of drought, massive agricultural farms (“Big Agra”), and dramatically increased populations in arid places, like Las Vegas, are depleting the Oglala Aquifer and other natural water sources faster than Nature can replenish them. And industrial pollution that renders drinking water to be as toxic, or worse than Flint, Michigan’s, in a thousand other communities across the country is expediting this crisis.


But there are also water‐villains in the plant world, too. It takes one gallon of water to produce one almond. Avocados are also water guzzlers, which require 74 gallons each. Peaches require 42 gallons apiece. We have the intelligence and technology to engineer crops that are more drought‐resistant, requiring less water. But each of us needs to make good choices about the foods we buy, and “vote” with our informed dollars.


I’ll save my next homily about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch the size of Texas, and others swirling around our oceans, for another article. Or, how pesticides are now being found in mother’s breast milk and intact chicken eggs. We’re a suicidal species that also destroys other life forms. Yet this is the only planet we have.


I believe that we, as Quakers, are called upon to be ever better stewards in our little corner of the world wherever possible. As George Fox said, “be examples” to others. Today, there is an abundance of plant‐based protein — burgers, sausages, ground “meat,” roasts, and seafood substitutes — that taste as good as, if not better than, animal protein. I encourage those who eat meat to reduce their intake, if not for personal health, then, for the health of the planet.

Even major corporations are getting on the band wagon.


Perdue is coming out with a chicken burger that is half plant protein because they see this shift in consumer consciousness, preferences, and diets. Burger King and White Castle are now offering plant-based burgers produced by Impossible Foods. And Citizens Bank Park is now selling vegan cheese steaks using plant‐protein “meat” from Impossible Foods, inspired by Philadelphia jazz musician Questlove.


Thanks again for your thoughtful, spiritual, and wonderful article, Dayna Baily.


Thee speaks my mind, Friend.


Sam Lemon, Ed.D. July 5, 2019

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