Why Urban Farmer Novella Carpenter Eats Animals: My Response

by hailtothenihilist

I originally posted this piece on my business blog. On reflection, I don’t think that was an appropriate move. So I am reposting it here. 

I stumbled upon Novella Carpenter on Youtube this morning. She set up an urban garden in Oakland, California, out of an abandoned block of land. This is why her story appealed to me so much; it’s a similar to ours. Novella has written / co-written two books: Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer and The Essential Urban Farmer with Willow Rosenthal. She also writes a blog and that’s where I found her piece, “Why I Eat Meat“, which was an entry for a New York Times writing competition, of which bioethicist and philosopher (my hero) Peter Singer was a judge.

Her piece, “Why I Eat Meat“, got me thinking.

Novella wrote:

Last week, someone broke into my backyard and scrawled on my shed, “Don’t Kill Animals—they are our equals.” I’m an urban farmer in Oakland, well-known for raising turkeys, rabbits, goats, ducks, even pigs in my backyard and lot farm near downtown. As a city farmer, I’m used to rubbing elbows—and getting into heated arguments—with vegans and vegetarians. These meat-avoiders don’t want to kill animals. They love animals. Things is, so do I: I love animals and I love to eat them.

The words of a psychopath? In this burgeoning world of designer dogs, pet daycare, and the House Rabbit Society: maybe. But in a world where there is a working relationship between man and beast, no. Increasingly, this world is disappearing; the working animal replaced by pets that are treated like humans.

I read the words again as my dairy goats thoughtfully chewed their cud, a chicken clucked the arrival of an egg, and the meat ducks splashed nearby. Here’s the deal: I feed my ducks and give them shelter—they in turn lay eggs, build nests, and hatch out ducklings. I feed the ducks bugs and excess produce from the garden—and their manure then goes to grow more vegetables. I cull the offspring—process them into delicious roast duck. It’s a cycle. This cycle, this closeness is what I love about farming—and eating meat. It nudges us to think about our role in the cosmos—that one day we too will be food, if only worm food.

Another cycle: my dairy goats. They are bred (which they seem very happy about doing), have offspring which stimulates their milk production. I take some of the milk to drink, and to make cheese and yogurt. The female offspring are retained or sold, the male offspring are processed into meat. I’ve had a Yemeni storekeeper from down the street help me slaughter a young buckling. It involved a prayer and a song. It was, literally, a sacrifice—sacred. I split the goat with the storekeeper who was keen to get the intestines, heart, stomach. His wife would cook their traditional meals with the goat meat; I would make a delicious stew. Nothing was wasted.

Let’s say I took the advice of the graffiti artist to not kill animals, and if everyone else did too—what would that world look like? On my farm, that would mean the ducks would breed infinitely, they would overpopulate the garden, ravage the vegetables and make too much manure; and the young goat buck would grow into an increasingly smelly and feisty beast, making the milk of the does taste foul.

And if proceed to the logical endpoint of a vegan world where we ate tempeh or petri dish grown “meat”: there would be no working animals. No pigs, with their joyous rutting; no chickens scratching for worms; no goats capering. Sure, maybe a vegan utopia would spring up and host a series of “farms” complete with geriatric cows and wizened turkeys, living far beyond their natural lifespan. But would this farm allow for reproduction, a natural process that all animals strive for? What about sick animals?

In the end, domesticated animals are not our equals, they are our creation. We have to take responsibility for them. I do so gladly. I enjoy the antics of the ducks and the goats–of feeding them well so they will then feed me well. I love living in a world filled with animals that remind us that we are part of the cycle, that one day we too will die.

My response:

I’d first like to say that I do not condone the behaviour of the people that graffitied your property. Nor do I condone any other form of property damage or theft. I appreciate there is an army of vegans out there that believe these acts are justified. I do not support this conclusion. Regardless of whether the property is a thing or an animal; it’s property and is therefore legally possessed by some agent. The law ought not be broken, regardless of moral convictions. But the law can be pushed to be changed, and this is the avenue vegans ought to travel.

In this comment I wish to address a few points that you make.

“Let’s say I took the advice of the graffiti artist to not kill animals, and if everyone else did too—what would that world look like? On my farm, that would mean the ducks would breed infinitely, they would overpopulate the garden, ravage the vegetables and make too much manure; and the young goat buck would grow into an increasingly smelly and feisty beast, making the milk of the does taste foul.”

You do go on to dismiss this notion, which I appreciate–though it makes its presense rather superfluous. But, seeing it is there, I wish to share my view which echoes Australian philanthropist turned abolitionist vegan, Phillip Wollen’s: “I’ll cut you some slack – I’ll let you eat all the animals [that already exist], just stop producing anymore, okay?” We both know that we wouldn’t be taken over by the animals as, as you rightly point out, “they are our creation”. However, I don’t think that promoting these species can be justified on the sentimental grounds that you proposed: that the world will be devoid of “joyous rutting… scratching for worms…and capering”.

As for this “cycle” that you mention, it seems to be just another apparent axiom thrown about by those in support of the use of animals. If, indeed, the animals that we use are “our creation” then the only real cycle these animals are part of is one that, too, is “our creation”. Thus, an appeal to nature is indefensible.

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