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HOMEGROWN Life: A Farmer Mulls Vegetarianism. Thoughtfully.


HOMEGROWN-life-logoI’m a farmer who cares about living within the rhythms of the annual cycle of living and dying. I might have fairly complicated human ambitions, but those are tempered by a grounded sense of the soil and the climate and the sunshine and the rain. These things help keep me mostly honest, at least when it comes to my agricultural endeavors.

I live out here on the homeplace because I like it. I enjoy living with plants and animals around me. I am part of the place’s ecology. I am a living and breathing creature, albeit one who can wield immense power via tools like fencing and knives and fossil-fuel-driven engines.

So that’s why I’ve chosen to explore a concept that I’ve struggled with over the years: vegetarianism.

I want to say first and foremost that I’m 100 percent pro-veggie. I grow veggies by the truckloads. I eat them every day. I feel strongly that people eat way too few green plants and way too much other junk. I am concerned about American fatness and heart disease and diabetes. I think most Americans would be better off if we quadrupled our intake of vegetables. My recipe for a better nation would include more farmers growing more and better veggies and more people cooking and eating them.

I’m also a good enviro with street cred. I hate factory livestock operations. I don’t like monoculture. I believe in preserving wilderness. I feel strongly that our society’s inability and lack of political will to deal with greenhouse-gas emissions is likely harming both human economy and nonhuman ecology in incredibly negative ways. I think we should work hard to decrease fossil-fuel emissions. I am, and have been, an activist involved with each of these issues.

I don’t believe in the mainstream agricultural prescriptions of genetic engineering, indoor meat production, or anhydrous ammonia fertilizer. They do more harm than good, and they are all very expensive, short-term solutions to the long-term question of how humans can feed a growing population.

Heck, I even struggle with the very concept of agriculture and civilization as a way of being human. I don’t like to kill animals. I am not that comfortable with the concept of living beings as my “property.” I don’t feel good about the concept of “owning the land.”

With all that said, though, I still eat meat. I kill and cut up and cook the animals I’ve cared for and fed. I sell animals to people who do the same. In my West Missouri climate, and with the land being what it is, animals are an essential component of a functioning ecosystem.

I really don’t know how to explain myself to vegetarians other than to say that we have this land around us. It’s made of soil and topography and vegetation. The sun shines. The rain falls. Things grow. Other things eat the things that grow. And other things eat the things that eat the things that grow. As my dad likes to tell my kids while we’re fishing, “The big fish eats the little fish, and that’s what makes the world go around.”

This all crystallized in my mind this week, so I had to speak up. I’m a consistent Grist reader, and there has been a lot of discussion over there recently about whether or not you can really be a good enviro while eating meat. Should we really rid the world of cows since they burp and fart methane? Is PETA really targeting small-scale, farmer-friendly butcher shops with billboards about the ethics of meat eating?

I think a lot about the practice of raising and eating animals. I struggle with the ethics of living the way I do. I am not comfortable with how agriculture is sometimes dependent upon the death of other creatures.



But then again, this week began the annual cycle on our farm of newly born babies from momma animals that need our care. Two of my goats birthed in very cold weather. Like it or not, these creatures require me to help them with feed and protection from the elements. They require me to separate them from predators and even from their goat friends so they can have their children in peace. They need me to give them clean water to drink.

I’m not even sure what all of this means. I’m not trying to be too high and mighty. There is no way that the common act of raising a few animals and some produce is heroic. Instead, I’m trying to explain a confusing situation. I’m sure the more PETA-minded would liken me to some kind of dictator. But that’s not how it feels when I’m playing nursemaid to a first-time goat momma who’s trying to make sure her babies are alive and well. That’s not how it feels when I hook up a heat lamp that gives these goats warmth and a chance to survive a harsh winter’s night. That’s not how it feels to live with the creatures I live with, despite the questions and conundrums of living an agricultural life.

Now, I don’t expect these words to talk anyone out of vegetarianism. I don’t even expect most people to understand my point of view. I don’t fully understand it myself. There’s a lot more to say on this topic, but I guess I want people to understand that even us farmers might not feel glowingly about our state of affairs. We have questions, too. At least, some of us do.

Bryce-OatesBryce Oates is a farmer, father, writer, and conservationist in West Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multigenerational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: to wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.


9 Responses to “HOMEGROWN Life: A Farmer Mulls Vegetarianism. Thoughtfully.”

  1. I really agree with the stance. Fo many years have struggled with eating meat – so barbaric. Then learned that no civilization through history actually chose to be stricly “veggie-oriented’. Humans, like it or not, are omnivores and, like it or not, need some nutrients from meat to fully thrive. That’s my opinion for what it is worth.

    I’ve made peace with myself about the ‘big fish eating the little fish’ and say a blessing at every meal for the animal who feeds us.

  2. Dear Bryce,

    I read your thoughtful article. Well done! I wish more could read it and understand that you are a man with a big heart and very well grounded in reality. We don’t live in a perfect world yet. So we must do what our hearts lead us too and use the good common since the Universe gave us. May you continue to live your life in peace, with abundance be at your door and joy at hearth each evening! You’re an amazing man Bryce the world needs more like you!

    Avis B.

  3. Great , thoughtful article that tells it like it is. Any human being who is not a psychopath will have the same thoughts and feelings eating meat. I have also raised and killed other living animals after having cared for and been a part of their life. If we respect and humanely dispatch for our food and sustenance it truly is the circle of life and one only has to look around our world to see that truth. All living creatures should have as good a life as we can provide and be respected within our consciences as that is what makes us human. Good Work.

  4. The word “know” is missing 4th word of 9th paragraph. Great article, I agree with you but, I still can’t eat my own animals because I raised them. I am still consuming meat from the store shelf.

  5. for me, it was a choice not to celebrate around the carcass of a dead animal every time there was a holiday, etc. Seemed odd to celebrate life in that way.
    Also, it’s about having control of my palate, and the willpower to say NO, I won’t eat what’s dead. BUT, you are a thinking man, conflicted with his choices, and I admire that you care.

  6. I am not sure I could kill an animal I had raised since birth, but this man is so good and gentle and questions it himself. Thank you for such a fine article, I truly respect this man and his way of life, and think these kind of folks are the answer to what ails our society. Three cheers and hats off.

  7. I enjoyed your article post so much. I have never raised an animal for food, sticking mainly to dogs and a few fish in an aquarium. I have wanted a goat for milk, but husband says no way!
    Anyway, we became full vegetarians about 25 years ago, then added back fish around 8 years later because I was pregnant and the doctors felt my diet needed more protein to support our growing child.
    Now, I am researching aquaponics to raise fish for food ourselves. Could I eat the fish I raise? Yep. Of course I will not be holding them trying to keep them warm, but still… is food and God put it on this earth as such.

  8. Great article! Thanks for sharing! I think all of life requires us to struggle in making decisions based upon our own personal values and ethics. It’s always good to hear that others struggle with the same issues as I do.

  9. Thanks for writing about this Bryce. I went from hardcore carnivore in my twenties to a vegetarian. I find I empathize too greatly with animals to eat them. Once I faced the simple truth that animals love their lives and their offspring like we love ours (and having two children really made this crystal clear to me), I have found life very comfortable not eating meat. Plus, my wife is an amazing vegetarian cook (that helps), and I”m learning. But the reason I’m commenting is I can understand your POV, and I’m grateful for your empathy in a world where our corporate culture has turned animals into commodities on a scale as we’ve never seen and imagined.

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