It’s deer season here in Missouri. That’s made me think about sustainable food choices…any meat, native meat, or no meat at all?
I have a few friends who are vegetarian or vegan. I commend them for their efforts and their discipline when it comes to not consuming various foods (I don’t think it’s ever possible for me to give up cheese). I have reduced my meat consumption, and even given up beef/chicken during Lent. It seems that many people do it for dietary reasons. Others do it for environmental reasons (think energy flow at each trophic level or the impact of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s), etc.). Still others do it because they believe the animals are suffering under modern factory farm conditions and they feel that the slaughter of cute, big-eyed animals is a shame. On most of these points I agree, but I’m afraid I’m not sure about never consuming meat. I disagree that we are the only beings who cause suffering to our prey. I’m also afraid that our love of certain charismatic animals and our hatred of the ‘scary’ ones (i.e. wolves) has upset the natural balance of ecosystems and confused national and global conservation efforts. As stewards of His work, we are to responsibly utilize our resources.
Even if we stop killing animals altogether, there will always be suffering and hardship in the animal kingdom. That’s nature. I once hiked a forest trail to witness a squirrel busily squirreling, unaware of an avian predator overhead. I suddenly saw a shadow flash through the canopy; a red-tailed hawk had pounced the squirrel. Unfortunately, the squirrel had not died by the hawk’s initial blow, so the hawk remained over its prey until it suffocated into a terminal sleep. Not a pretty picture. But it’s nature.
Another polarized issue is hunting. Again, it’s a mixed bag for me. Hunting seems to be acceptable to me as long as the purpose is to eat, not to solely fill vacant wall space in the living room with trophies. On the upside, deer tag purchases usually benefit the budgets of conservation departments, funding additional environmental and conservation work. In some parts of the country, hunting has been argued as a method for combating exploding populations of deer. There are so few predators and so many deer in some places that undernourishment and starvation has become a concern, particularly in winter. And that is suffering. Yes, deer can suffer when crossing the road in traffic. Yes, deer can suffer during hunting season. On the other end of the hunting spectrum, I absolutely do NOT condone the killing of wolves that movies like ‘The Grey’ portray as humongous, relentless beasts. (Learn more about misunderstood canids at the Endangered Wolf Center, located just outside of St. Louis.) I do not condone the killing of wolves on ranches out west since we’ve replaced their native menu items like bison, elk, and deer with our menu item–cattle…slow, dumb, tasty cattle. I generally do not see any purpose of killing carnivores unless they pose an immediate threat.
At any rate, I think that if we continue to promote meat in society, native meat should be on the forefront. Cattle inefficiently graze (no migration patterns like bison), erode unprotected streambanks and land, and often have to be led to shelter and food (in the winter, some cattle don’t even know to dig for forage in the snow). But deer and bison are native to this continent; they know how to survive the conditions. They naturally perpetuate local ecosystems. In addition, Bison, which is making a come back, is much healthier than beef. Venison is also in plentiful supply.