Pagan Kosher: Pastured Meat

One of the most important beliefs that Pagans hold is that life is cyclical. We are born, we live, we die, and are re-born. Death is not escapable. No one gets out of here alive. Mortality is part of existence, but all things return. Relationship is another aspect that defines Pagan attitudes. For Pagans, deity is immanent in the world. Every rock, every tree, everything that moves and breathes is sacred. Including what we eat. It is very common for Pagans to feel a deep kinship with both animals and plants. This creates an ethical dilemma that conflicts with the natural cycles of life and death, and is not easy to solve. How does one eat one’s brother? Industrial farming is repugnant to anyone who takes the time to look. But even more so to a Pagan who claims kinship to all living things.

Veganism – the practice of eating no animal products at all – has been one solution to the relationship problem, although, as with the general population, vegetarianism – not eating animal flesh, but consuming dairy and eggs – is more common. For physiological reasons, veganism is extremely difficult to maintain, and generally requires far more asceticism than is generally acceptable in Paganism. Vegan Pagans don’t get much sympathy in a religion where enjoying one’s food can include exclaiming over bacon and groaning over a chocolate confection. Although most Pagans still eat a standard American diet, vegetarianism is common. I have yet to go to a Pagan event that did not have some sort of vegetarian option for food.

Another aspect that defines Paganism is the sacred earth. Modern Paganism was deeply influenced by the environmental movement, and as a religion based on the seasonal cycles of nature, we honor the health of the planet. Sadly, modern methods of meat production are bad for every living being directly involved with, or anywhere near the process. A great deal has been written about these issues and it is not my intent to re-cap them here. Nor is it my intent to convince anyone to be a vegetarian. Our ancestors ate meat, and every culture seeks access to more if they do not have a ready supply. This is not a failing, it is part of being human.

Cattle, pigs, and chickens did not evolve in sheds, jammed one on top of the other. Cattle did not evolve eating grain but grass, and chickens are omnivorous. When these animals and other ruminants are fed on grass instead of being placed in CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations), they are more healthy, and happy. But this is not the only benefit.

It is possible for farming, when done in a way that mimics the cycles of nature, to heal and restore degraded grasslands, green up areas that have fallen to desertification, and balance overgrown forests, and tie up carbon. The thick layer of soil on the American prairies at the turn of the century was the result of patterns of movement by the bison. They gathered tightly together to protect against wolf predation. They left piles of manure and trampled ground behind them. A day or two later the birds came in and picked the larvae out of the muck and scattered the manure. The grass shed some root – which broke down into loam – and then re-grew, thicker than before. This pattern can be mimicked, which is the concept of biodynamic farming or permaculture. Not an ancient concept, but a new one that demands considerable conscious attention to the land. This is a vision of cattle, chickens, pigs and other domestic herd animals being raised and cared for with respect on small farms, and in a way that allows them to express their essential being: Ruminants eating grass, chickens eating bugs, pigs rooting in forest-lands. This supports the health of the planet, of food animals, of forests and grasslands, and last but not least, humans.

And yes, I advocate eating them. If humans did not eat them, they would, like kudzu, over-run the planet. Largely because they threw in their lot with humans, domesticated animals are terrifically successful, and they are not going to control their breeding if we stop eating them. Humans are population control for cows and chickens, as wolves are for elk and other deer. Culling is not just a part of nature that we in the industrialized world can ignore, it is inherent to it. All things eat, from humans to wolves to chickens to microbes to fungi. And in the end, we too will be consumed. To honor and acknowledge that which dies in order to nourish us, acknowledges the cycle of life and death in its entirety.

Our spiritual ancestors lived close to the land. They farmed, they hunted. They raised cattle and pigs and chickens and these too thrived (at least when there were not drought conditions) from what the earth grew. Manure and kitchen waste was returned to the soil because the plants grew better when nutrients were returned to it. This is the cycle of birth, life, death and renewal that we celebrate.

About selinarif

Selina came across Paganism around age 15 and it felt like coming home. She has been solitary, and worked in numerous circles, both formal and informal in several different traditions. She is a massage therapist, home-maker, amateur home re-modeler, and a martial artist, and ties all of these things into her spirituality.
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5 Responses to Pagan Kosher: Pastured Meat

  1. Dr. Claire says:

    “This is a vision of cattle, chickens, pigs and other domestic herd animals being raised and cared for with respect on small farms, and in a way that allows them to express their essential being..” So glad you’re writing this! It’s a very big sticking point with many vegetarians (understandably so) that raising cattle is not a viable environmental endeavor. At best, your information sates that worry and presents a workable solution; at worst (and worst is still pretty darn good) it sparks debate based on more than a visceral reaction. Now…if only we can keep the debate intelligent and civil.
    Great post, Selina!

  2. Lillian Bopep says:

    “One of the most important beliefs that Pagans hold is that life is cyclical. We are born, we live, we die, and are re-born.”

    …except the many (many!) that do not. Generalizations about ‘pagans’ are very difficult to assert with any real accuracy.

    • selinarif says:

      I agree completely the generalizations are difficult. I know Northern Traditions often do not concern themselves with things like reincarnation, but we do all celebrate the return of the seasons. These cycles are very important in food production.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    If humans didn’t eat “domesticated” animals they would over run the earth! Are you kidding me? That is the dumbest argument for consuming animals. Do you even know what domesticated means? Yeah, it’s animals that cannot survive without human care!!! Duh! If left alone to fend for themselves they would most likely become extinct. Oh, BTW, the earth is already over run by one species, should we start eating them? Yes, I am talking about humans! I’ve been a vegetarian almost vegan for 24 years. I am sick of people making excuses for contributing to so much violence in this world. Killing, the word alone is violence. Just admit that you are too selfish to give up eating animals, instead of excusing the death, violence and destruction of our earth that you are taking part in. I may have more respect for you if you were more honest about it!!!!

    • selinarif says:

      Elizabeth, that is only one argument among many. When any animal that is prey ceases to be eaten, they multiply out of control until they crash their environment. No doubt you are correct in that some breeds of domesticated animals would expire. Industrially produced turkey’s for sure, since they no longer know how to breed, but there are breeds that would continue to produce offspring and if we did not eat them, something else would. I do not accept your position of moral superiority. Factory farms are wrong and cruel, but eating other animals is what humans do as predators. That some of us consider the well-being of the animal we consciously consume, is the difference between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom, but it does not eliminate our survival instinct. Without such instincts, we would not survive as a species. I respect your desire to avoid violence and sincerely wish you luck in your quest.

      What I find a bit odd is that you seem to be advocating eating humans. I assume you mean after they had expired naturally? While there is certainly precedent for this in the human experience, it is often not a good idea since it is a marvelous way to pass on diseases. Better to compost them and return to the soil those vital elements that get removed when we grow plants.

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