Years ago, when my children were little and I was zealous about breastfeeding, my eldest son and I took a trip to a local dairy farm. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me until that moment, but the farmer explained how we get milk to drink: a cow must be impregnated and then her baby must be taken from her so the milk that flows comes to us.
Um, really? I asked the farmer.
Well, you want your milk, don’t you? She replied.
Sure. But as a new mother at the time, I hadn’t put two and two together that if I want to eat dairy products, some baby calf somewhere has to be fed chemicals by a bottle and not receive the nurturing of its mother.
Years have passed since then and I have continued consuming dairy. I eat meat, fish, eggs. I eat it all. I am the quintessential omnivore.
But at lunch the other day with a vegan friend who abandoned animal-eating so he could get healthy – and he did – I started to reconsider it all.
And then I watched the documentary, Forks Over Knives, where convincing research shows the direct correlation between all the diseases of our modern western world and the consumption of animals.
Like, really compelling research.
And I went back to the breastfeeding conversation for a very compelling reason.
Four years ago, I went to Bali with a client and spent a very brief time walking through the Monkey Forest. True to its name, monkeys ran wild and climbed all over the humans who would allow it (not me).
As we made our way toward the end of the forest, I remember seeing some stone ruins and a monkey with a baby clinging to her chest. She walked bent over on all fours as monkeys do, and her baby clung to her underside, both by paw and by suckle.
The baby breastfed as they moved about their day, as babies in nature do.
And as I began rethinking why we eat what we eat and its resultant problems, I began to revisit the milk question.
Every species has a natural and embedded way to feed its young. It would be really weird for a dog, say, to nurse at a human’s teat. It would be equally strange for a human baby to suckle at any animal’s breast.
And thus begins the unraveling of my question about why we eat animals.
Yes, they taste good. Yes, we are conditioned to do so.
But as the thinking goes, animals who eat other animals are predators. So many species are herbivores.
So, by deduction, are we predators?
I’m not just asking about the food question. I’m asking because I think it is in our conditioning as a species to prey on others.
We can be mean, vindictive and malicious. Just look at our current political election.
We can be sneaky and dishonest, looking out only for ourselves in the race to the top.
We just spent weeks watching humans compete to be the fastest and the strongest and the best. And we see some of those competitors thinking they’re better than others, making up stories about theft and attack when really they’re the bad apples.
I don’t know if it is truly in our nature to be predatory. When I think about my innocent little babies mewling to be held and fed and changed, I don’t see them trying to elbow another baby out of the equation.
I remember my children at young ages being open to whomever shone a kind smile their way – regardless of how they looked or sounded or smelled. People were people, animals were animals, and all were full of curiosity and relevance and interest.
None were ripe for conquering.
But at some point, we lose that unabashed desire to connect – or perhaps we are taught to suppress it – and we become predatory. We want to win. Be the best. Conquer.
Rather than play with the dog and sleep beside it, we want to kill.
Or do we?
I don’t have a desire to kill anything, truth be told. The very idea of hunting turns my stomach.
And yet, I’ve spent 45 years eating animals.
If I know it is healthier for me and for the planet to eat produce and grains and legumes, why don’t I do it?
Today, I’m just asking the questions. I have no answers. I just think the questions will lead us to be better, to be who we are meant to be, to get to the root of our authentic selves, which I believe does not mean trying to dominate everything else in our paths.