My Thoughts on Veganism … and Why I’m Not Vegan

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Am I Vegan?

This is a very common question that I receive, and I believe that this question deserves a very thorough response. It is a simple question, but generally there is a lot behind this three-word question for those asking me.

The simple answer is no, I’m not vegan. Throughout my life, my diet has changed quite a bit, as it does for most people. In 2011, I awoke to the destruction of our globalized, industrialized food system. Documentaries like “Food Inc.” and “Earthlings” opened my eyes to the truth about where the meat I was eating was coming from and the harm and suffering that I was causing to these animals as well as to our Earth, our global humanity and my own body through eating this meat. I was deeply disturbed by factory farming and decided to take a strong stance and remove factory farming from my life. I didn’t do it overnight, but over the next few years, I transitioned to a more plant-based diet.

Along with the changes in my diet, I made dozens of other changes in my life and I found myself becoming healthier and happier. I was in my mid-twenties and was finding myself to be the healthiest I’d ever felt in my life. I attributed much of this to eating a more plant-based diet, but just as much to eating far less processed and packaged foods, giving up alcohol, being more physically active in my daily life rather than just through “exercise” and to living a life in alignment with my passions and purpose. It was a beautiful transition in life of breaking free from oppressive, exploitative systems and striving to live in a more harmonious way with Earth, humanity and our plant and animal relatives.

Over a period of a few years, I ate less and less factory-farmed meat, eggs and dairy and shifted into a fully plant-based diet. In about 2014, I transitioned to a nearly 100% vegan diet. I considered myself to be vegan at that time.

I remained “vegan” for about two years from 2014 to 2016 and then things shifted for me – both in my health and in my beliefs around veganism. I’ll share more here on the health aspect.

At this point, I want to share clearly what my intentions are for writing this article.

I’ve been deeply immersed in understanding the food system for over a decade, and I have done this by truly immersing myself in my food. My experience has included:

Why? Because I’m a seeker of truth. I want to understand how I impact the people, plants and animals I am involved with, and the Earth as a whole, through my daily actions. I want to understand the world I live in and the society that I am a part of. I want to see an end to oppressive, exploitative systems – like the globalized, industrialized food system we have today – and see it replaced with systems that are truly harmonious for Earth, humanity and the plants and animals we share this home with.

And as it stands, veganism can be a part of these systems of mass destruction that I seek to overcome or veganism can be a part of these systems of deep harmony that I am embracing and striving to help others embrace, too. Veganism can exist anywhere on the spectrum between mass destruction and deep harmony.

Yet, in the mainstream society and even on the fringes of society, the conversation around veganism is rarely treated as the complex subject that it is. Instead, there are often just two polarized viewpoints of “right or wrong”, “good or bad” or “better or worse” in the discussions. When it comes to headlines, short videos and much of the media, the content is focused around supposedly concrete statistics that have a much deeper story behind them to explore. The two different sides often have a strong agenda, and sometimes it is just stubbornness that drives the conversation. But, often it’s a stake of millions or billions of dollars that drives the conversations around veganism in the mainstream.

I’m sharing this writing with you because I believe that I have a well-balanced viewpoint on this often polarized topic. I don’t believe that any issue is black or white. I believe that there are many shades of gray behind every topic – and that includes veganism. There are about eight billion humans living in an incredibly diverse number of biomes and habitats and there are thousands of cultures of humans living upon this Earth. We interact with millions of different species on this shared home we call Earth, with an infinite number of relationships being carried out at every second of existence. This is an incredibly complex interwoven thing we call life.

As someone who has been immersed in the basic rights for Earth and humanity for over a decade, veganism is one of the most heated conversations that I have come across. My intention is to be a balance to this heat.

I am not trying to get anyone to stop eating meat or to get anyone to start eating meat. I am an advocate for a diversity of diets – and that can include a diet with or without food from animals.

My agenda in this writing is to:

  • create critical thought around our food system and veganism
  • contribute to humanity in a way that moves us into a more harmonious way of existing with the animals and plants we share this home with
  • share my personal reasons for choosing the diet that I have and why I am not vegan
  • provide my views that counter some of the polarized beliefs commonly shared by the vegan movement


I Support Being Vegan

I want to be clear, I am in support of people who choose to be vegan, vegetarian or embrace any diet that reduces harm to animals. I agree with an incredible amount of what the vegan movement stands for and I am part of this movement. I stand against factory farming, torturing of animals, animal slavery, speciesism, mass extinction of species and the pollution and destruction of our shared Earth. I honor all who are choosing this path to live in harmony with our animal relatives. I believe that boycotting the factory farming of animals is one of the most important and meaningful actions that we can take as individuals for the benefit of all – Earth, fellow humans and the animals and plants.

I Don’t Believe that Veganism is Inherently Superior or Morally Ethical

With my support of the choice to be vegan and my support of much of the vegan movement, in the pages ahead I will also be providing my strong rebuttal to the beliefs that:

  • Veganism is inherently the most ethical diet.
  • Veganism is inherently the most sustainable diet.
  • Veganism is inherently the most wholesome and nourishing diet.
  • All humans would benefit from a vegan diet.
  • All meat and food from animals at any level is unhealthy for the human body.
  • All meat and food from animals at any level is environmentally destructive.
  • Meat is murder or slavery.
  • A person can’t eat meat and be an environmentalist at the same time.
  • Simply being vegan is a wholistic solution to the problems we are facing as humanity.
  • Veganism versus eating animals is as clear cut as it is often made out to be.

I am not refuting the many benefits a vegan diet can have for many people and many animals. I am not refuting that veganism can be the most ethical and environmentally harmonious diet in some cases. But I am clearly standing up to the black or white viewpoints that some vegans take in a world that is not black or white. Before going further, I want to acknowledge that these black or white viewpoints do not represent all vegans, and if I had to guess, it is likely the minority of vegans that hold these polarized views. I think that perhaps some of the most vocal vegans have these views and that a great number of headlines utilize this polarized stance to get more views, which has resulted in these perspectives becoming a larger representation in the discussion than the beliefs the general population of vegans actually holds.

I also think that the demographics of vegans in the USA and Western countries has changed substantially over the last few decades, and many more people are vegan for environmental reasons than in the past. I think that there is a whole spectrum of beliefs that vegans have and that people who eat a vegan diet are a diverse group of people and so are their beliefs.

For the many people who have asked me why I’m not vegan, and for the many people who question how I can possibly not be vegan as an environmental activist and someone who respects all animals, here is a simple summary of this, which I expand on more throughout this article.

I believe that:

  • Meat and food from animals can be eaten while holding a strong set of morals and ethics and that killing an animal is not inherently morally wrong.
  • Meat and food from animals can be eaten in an environmentally sustainable way.
  • Meat and food from animals can be part of a wholesome diet and that it has been for billions of people for countless generations of humanity and still is for billions of people today.
  • That we can regenerate our ecosystems through working with animals that we eat.
  • That humans can have harmonious relationships that do involve the death of animals.
  • That living independently of globalized, industrialized systems is central to living truly harmoniously and that most, if not every, culture that has ever lived independently of these systems has worked in localized systems with animals in a way that included eating animals, dairy and/or eggs.
  • That an industrialized and globalized vegan diet – which represents the vast majority of vegan diets today – is far more destructive than is portrayed in vegan narratives and often indirectly kills and harms as many or more animals than the diet of people who raise, hunt or locally source their meat, dairy and/or eggs.
  • That personally my body is in peak health with meat and food from animals as part of my diet.
  • That personally the most ethical and sustainable diet for me includes meat and food from animals.
  • That embracing the practice of nonviolence toward animals that some spiritual practices hold, including sects of Buddhism, is not the only path to spiritual evolution or enlightenment.

For those of you who made it this far, I would understand if you chose to stop reading here. You’ve heard a fair bit of my viewpoint already. However, I invite you to keep reading. This is where the depth begins.

One small note: You may notice that I do not say “animal products” which is a common phrase for dairy, eggs and cheese. Instead I say “food from animals.” The reason why is that I don’t look at any of my food – from plants or animals – as products, but rather as intricate life forms.

The Polarized Focus of Factory Farming in Many Vegan Films …

Through five years of transitioning to being plant-based/vegan and being vegan and now another seven years of being an omnivore, I have been quite immersed in this topic and lifestyle. I am no longer vegan, not due to a lack of education, but due to having taken my education much deeper, opening my mind more, and taking a much broader, global humanity perspective on the issue. When we learn how awful something is, we often have a tendency to be drawn to the polar opposite. I see this trend commonly across the consciousness movement. I myself did this to a degree when I became vegan. But the polar opposite is rarely the truth either. Life tends to be far more complex than that.

My view is that much of the popular environmental and health-focused vegan content out there today is based on a narrow perspective, and that perspective is factory farming. Factory farming is inhumane, torturous, a highly misguided human act, and in my perspective would be criminal in a society that was truly guided by basic rights of life. The disturbing visuals of factory farmed meat, eggs and dairy are enough to make millions of people sick to their stomachs. It’s enough to turn a lot of people vegan overnight. I have met a large number of people who indeed went vegan immediately after watching “Cowspiracy,” “Earthlings” and other documentaries.

I understand why these films are so deeply focused on factory farming. Most meat consumed today in the US and much of the world is factory farmed. However, this is a limited perspective on human’s relationships to animals for the eight billion people alive or for the billions of humans who’ve lived in our long history as a human race. It doesn’t make sense to paint broad strokes of the entire omnivorous human relationship to meat, based on this sole portion of human’s relationship to animals, that only began in recent history. Factory farmed meat, dairy and eggs simply do not represent all meat and food from animals. It is not that simple.

For many of these documentaries, one of the main objectives is to get people to stop eating meat and convert to veganism. I understand why this is the objective and follow the logic. These documentaries would not be remotely as successful at converting people to veganism if they showed people living with the land, connected to the animals they depend upon. In fact, many people would watch that scenario and perhaps even gravitate toward eating animals. The more direct correlation of what these films show is to end factory farming, not that veganism is the only ethical and sustainable way for humans to live.

On the effects of factory-farmed meat on human health …

A main focus of the popular vegan philosophy is the effects meat and food from animals has on human health. One of the main focuses is how unhealthy a society we currently are – and indeed, we are a very unhealthy society. The extreme levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer in our culture are in large part due to our diets. And the popular vegan narratives often put the bulk of the responsibility for that disease and sickness on the consumption of meat and food from animals. There is a lot of truth to this. However, the focus of these films is on people who eat an industrialized diet that includes a large proportion of factory-farmed meat.

The call for being vegan in these films is more directly related to combating illness that is induced by people who are over-consuming factory-farmed meat and eating a very processed diet with minimal fresh fruits and vegetables. The focus of these documentaries is not on the substantial number of people who are in good health and eat a balanced amount of meat that they hunt, raise or source from regenerative farmers, along with high quality fruits and vegetables. The fact is that the health of the animals that humans eat makes an incredible difference in the health of the humans. Factors in the health of the animal include what they eat, their ability to move freely and live their natural lifestyle, whether they are pumped with pharmaceuticals or not, and numerous other factors. The focus of these films is not on healthy people eating wholesome meat (which yes, they do exist and there are millions globally), it’s on a sick society that is out of balance and out of connection with our Earth.

The more direct correlation is that people who are eating too much factory-farmed meat need to change their diets if they want to become healthy. Not that veganism is needed if someone is already healthy and doesn’t eat any factory-farmed animals. Or even that veganism is the only way to break free from the extreme levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer in our society. There are a lot of other factors in these industrialized diets that play a role in these diseases.

This is what I am referring to when veganism is portrayed as a black or white issue with a black or white solution, being a short-sighted way of thinking. Again, I’m not saying that being vegan is shortsighted in itself. I’m stating that the extreme black or white viewpoints and conclusion that I shared above are shortsighted.

On the large studies that point to veganism as the healthiest diet …

To continue along the lines of health, I’d like to point out a few things.

Studies are used time and time again to “prove” that veganism is the healthiest diet. But when I really look at the studies, the most common theme is one showing that eating a diet with drastically less meat and food from animals than is standard in Western diets is typically the healthiest. It doesn’t prove veganism. It proves a predominantly whole-food diet that includes substantial fruits and vegetables and some meat or food from animals such as dairy and eggs. Those are two different diets. The studies point to balance, not strict veganism.

Blue zones, which are regions of the world where people live much longer than average, often to the age of 100+, are often referred to by vegans. They are considered some of the healthiest cultures on Earth. However, the majority of their food is from plants, but not all of it. Again, this points to a balanced diet, not strict veganism.

Absolutism is a central theme to this extreme vegan viewpoint that has taken over much of the headlines today. But when we really look at what we know, there is no absolutism. It always points to balance. A common narrative that I’ve heard goes something like this, “Meat is making people unhealthy. Studies show less meat makes a person healthier. Therefore, eating NO meat will contribute to the healthiest people”. But I hope anyone who reads that logic can see where it falls short. Here are some examples that would not be true using the same logic.

Exposure to the sun for long periods consistently can burn our skin and result in skin cancer. But small quantities of sunlight provide vitamin D, an important vitamin, and are part of overall good health. The answer is a balanced amount of sun, not no sun.

Exposure to a powerful bacterium in large quantities can kill someone. But a small amount of that bacterium exposed to a functioning immune system can improve the immune system’s defense to later exposure. The answer is not to create a war on germs and hide from all bacteria, the answer is to create systems of balance with bacteria.

Quantity is relevant. Quality is relevant. Situation is relevant. None of this is black or white.

Seeing Health Declines from People Who Became Vegan

As I’ve said, I’ve had years of experience in the vegan circle. And again, on a personal note, veganism did not turn out to be the healthiest diet for me. Since I began speaking about this openly and publicly, I have been truly amazed by the number of people who have shared similar stories with me.

I’ve seen a scenario play out quite a few times where someone says they tried veganism for a while, but they started to see a decline in their health and well-being. Sometimes there’s a minor reduction in health and sometimes there are substantial repercussions. These are often highly privileged people with access to the highest quality foods and education. They are often people who have put in substantial effort and dedication to a vegan diet. Vegans on the internet jump on them and say that veganism is right for everybody and that they were just doing it wrong.

Lately when I discuss veganism with my vegan or formerly vegan friends, over half the time I hear a story of how they found themselves feeling depleted, tired, and lacking vibrancy and sometimes much worse. Many of these people took substantial vegan supplements, including vitamin B-12 and many of them did not. Then once they (often reluctantly) introduced some meat, eggs and/or dairy back into their diet, they started to gain their health back (often to their surprise). I’ve heard this from hundreds of people over the last seven years and I heard this from people when I was vegan, too. I just didn’t believe them at the time. I would estimate that of all the people who I have spoken to who are vegan or were vegan, well over half of them started to feel a decline in their health after one-to-three years of strict veganism. After years of talking to people who are vegan or who have tried veganism, it seems clear to me that veganism works well for some bodies and not for others. If our bodies are designed to be vegan, then logic would tell me it shouldn’t be so complicated and difficult for intelligent, well-resourced and dedicated people to pull it off for a long period of time. But it is.

When I was a vegan, I never would have wanted to admit that about myself or believe it from others. And I don’t have a desire for that reality to exist for so many people who did choose veganism. It’s an objective observation that has come up time and time again, provoked or unprovoked, and an observation that I believe is very worth sharing.

The Global, Industrial Vegan Diet

When we zoom way out to look at the 21st century human’s relationship to food, whether vegan or not, we see that we are part of an extremely globalized and industrialized agricultural system. This very system encompasses factory farming – of both animals and plants – and is the source of an incredible amount of destruction to our Earth and the species we share the Earth with.

That is a perspective that many vegans have. But the perspective that many of them may not have is that veganism is a product of this very industrialized and globalized food system and is dependent upon it. The modern vegan exists not in spite of Big Ag, but because of Big Ag. I have searched for examples of vegans who are largely independent of this system and I have come up with just a very few isolated examples. On the other hand, there are countless examples of people and societies that work with and eat animals that are completely or largely independent of these destructive systems.

I believe that by living a life that involves the direct death of some animals, a person can actually cause less indirect and total deaths of animals. A person, community, or larger society living largely connected to their land, hunting and/or raising animals, can live in a manner that harms and kills fewer animals than a vegan or vegan community/society that lives in a city that is entrenched in the globalized, industrialized food system. Sure, that vegan or vegan community does not see any blood on their hands directly when they eat and they don’t have a death tally from direct killing for their food. But when we look deeper, we all have death on our hands through the food we eat, and far more death than most of us would like to believe. The more entrenched we are in these systems of globalization and industrialization, the more death that is happening in our name, out of sight, out of mind.

Let’s ask a few questions:
Are oil spills really vegan?
Is plastic really vegan?
Are pesticides or herbicides (organic or not) really vegan?
Is farming grains, vegetables and fruit on land where animal habitat has been cleared really vegan?

From a deeper perspective, the answer to these questions is undoubtedly no.

But sure, from this definition of vegan: “a strict vegetarian who consumes no food (such as meat, eggs, or dairy products) that comes from animals ; also, one who abstains from using animal products (such as leather)” those scenarios above are all vegan. From the The Vegan Society definition, “Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” These scenarios still sort of pass, but only at a glance.

The idea of veganism is to not kill animals and to not put animals through suffering or be cruel to them. But our globalized, industrialized lives kill animals and inflict immense cruelty and suffering upon them in hundreds of ways that are much more complex and easier to ignore, than to just whether we eat them, eat from them, own them, use them for labor, or wear them.

To dive into those questions a bit:
Routinely there are 10,000 oil spills every year. We all know what oil spills do. They kill billions of animals and creatures. Oil spills happen routinely, as we fuel our cars (even most electric cars, because most of our electricity is made from fossil fuels), to build our homes and cities, to provide our entertainment, to provide us with internet and so on. The second definition of veganism says “to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable”. Certainly flying is 100% possible and practicable for most vegans to exclude. A single flight in an airplane causes harm or death to far more animals than eating many meals with meat. Any food that is produced using the production of fossil fuels is not truly “vegan”.

We’ve all learned about how our oceans are filling up with plastic to the level that in our lifetime there may be more plastic in the ocean than fish. We’ve all seen how plastic kills fish, seals, turtles, birds, and countless other creatures. Indeed, most of our plastic goes to landfills and does not make it to the ocean, but huge quantities make it to our ecosystems and it all comes from fossil fuels, which clearly harms and kills animals. Any food that is packaged in plastic is not truly “vegan.”

Most of us would be surprised about how destructive our fruit, vegetable, nut and grain farming is and how many animals have died for this food to get to us. Most, if not all, vegan foods have a footprint for how many lives have been ended. The honeybees that pollinate much of the nuts and fruits at the store are treated with immense disregard and cruelty. USDA Certified Organic food in our grocery stores isn’t nearly as pure as one might imagine (read The Omnivore’s Dilemma for the truth of this). First, all farm land was once animal land. All of those animals were exterminated or displaced (which results in a lot of death) to provide us with that land for growing vegan food. Then that farmer routinely prevents animals and insects from eating the crops that end up as food at our grocery stores. Farmers do the killing for the vegans and for any of us living this modern life. If it’s organic and vegan, animals are still dying to grow that food. That’s just on the farms, not to mention everything it takes to get the vegan food to the distributors, then to the retailers, then to the person who’s going to eat the food. For those that shop for vegan food at the grocery store, that think they do no harm, I would say take a visit to all those farms, visit the factories (and the laboratories for some of the food), sit in those semi-trucks, and don’t forget to check for rat traps and poison at the grocery stores.

Now, I’m not saying that we need to give up all of these foods. What I’m saying is that for vegans, death is on their hands, too, perhaps just not as directly. Our world, our relationships, our ecosystems are far more complex than any label or generalization can protect us from.

Part of me wishes there was a death calculator that showed the true total number of deaths for each of our modern actions. The new electric car … a flight in a plane to see our family … the new cellphone, tablet or computer … a year’s worth of hosting my videos and articles online. I think the death toll associated with many of our modern actions would be astounding and the total deaths from all our modern actions in a given year would be an extreme wake-up call. I’d love to see the death counts for a vegan and a person who is not vegan and I’d venture to say that you would not see a correlation between the two. But, of course, we can’t do that, because life is too complex for a calculator. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if someone creates this death calculator one day. I’m sure it would make headlines and be accepted by millions of people. But, in truth, it would just be a repackaging of the false narratives making the headlines right now.

“You can’t be compassionate and eat animals.”

I’d like to continue with a few more of these viewpoints that are used to argue that veganism is the only way you can be a compassionate human being or an environmentalist. I’m again using these viewpoints to demonstrate how this issue is not as black or white as the documentaries, videos, and articles may make it appear. The purpose of laying these out is not to later argue each of these individual points. This is about the bigger picture and demonstrating that our diets and life on Earth is far more complex and interwoven than simply a diet without animals versus a diet with animals.

“Going vegan saves 100 lives per year.”

I’ve seen statistics like this floating around on the internet. I get the sentiment, but consider this:

An average deer or wild boar yields around forty pounds of meat. That is over 200 three-ounce servings of meat. One hunter could get all of their meat needs from one or two deer per year. That’s one or two lives, not one hundred. (Not to mention all the organ meat, bone broth, clothing and tools that a deer can provide beyond the forty pounds of meat.)

One cow could provide enough meat for a family for an entire year. That is a fraction of one life ended per person.

In any of these scenarios, if these people chose to go vegan, they would not be “saving enough lives” to form a statistic worthy of discussion and certainly not usable as a headline.

“Our global fish stock is exploited, so ALL fishing is unsustainable.”

In “Cowspiracy,” they share that “roughly 75% of all of our fisheries are either fully exploited or over-exploited”.

This means that the oceans, lakes and rivers are being pillaged for fish, and humans are taking far more than the ecosystem can regenerate. This is true. But Kip Anderson then says that since the global stock of fish is so depleted, there is no such thing as sustainable fishing anymore on Earth, anywhere. The logic is that any fishing contributes to the depletion of our already depleted global fish stock in the oceans and it is, therefore, wrong to fish under any conditions.

I get the sentiment, but we live in a diverse world where there can be abundance in one ecosystem while there can be a dire shortage in another. In one region of the world, we can have desertification while in another region we can have extreme flooding and in another we can have an ideal balance of rain and retention of water in the soil. With animals, we can have populations that grow substantially – and even out of ecosystem capacity – while there is a decrease of other species or the changing of the ecosystems. This is standard in biological cycles. Fish stocks can be depleted or pushed to extinction in one region, while other regions can have a substantial abundance. Of course, there are also “invasive populations” of fish. Fishing for “invasive” fish, and eating them, can actually contribute to habitat regeneration for native fish and be an ecosystem service.

Simply put, global statistics can’t be used as a blanket statement for every community across the world.

“A pound of meat takes “x” gallons of water to produce.”

For example, it takes 2,400 gallons to produce one pound of beef. Chicken and pigs also have substantial water footprints. It is truly astounding how much water it takes to raise factory-farmed meat. These are statistics that I would like to have widely known. However, these statistics are based on industrial factory farming. In truly regenerative systems, which can include ecological farming, agroecology, food forestry and silvoculture, water cycles are worked with in a manner that utilizes local water without overdrawing from the aquifers and without returning polluted water into the ecosystem. Through understanding and working with animals, not a single drop of water needs to be “used.” When two million wildebeests travel hundreds of miles across Africa, not a drop of water is “used.” When millions of buffalo roamed the Great Plains, not a drop of water was “used.” In both scenarios, the water was cycled in a way that created biodiversity and a thriving habitat for life. And humans were eating and working with these animals. Today, humans still know how to practice agriculture that cycles water in this manner and many are currently doing this through traditional practices as well as through newer approaches that are ultimately based on traditional practices. In fact, through cycling water and nutrients in this way, a substantial amount of fruits and vegetables can be grown with high yield and biodiversity while also raising goats, sheep, cows, ducks, rabbits and many other animals for food, clothing and insulation for shelter. The water can be cycled right into the soil where it is naturally returned to a pure state before it enters the drinking water supply. Simply put, the water statistics used in support of veganism come from the industrial system and do not take into account the alternatives that exist and are being practiced by over one billion people globally, especially small-scale farmers in the global South.

“It takes ten pounds of grain to make one pound of meat.”

It’s commonly stated that it takes up to ten pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat. Therefore, we should only eat grain, and it is immoral to eat meat when we live in a world of food insecurity and food scarcity. Again, this is based on the factory-farming models. Raising cows or sheep for their entire life on pasture requires no grain at all. Raising pigs on food waste requires no grain at all. Hunting wild animals, such as deer or wild boar, requires no grain at all. These are just a few examples of meat that does not require grain. In many of these situations, no crop needs to be grown at all and no water needs to be “used” at all.

Equally important, a pound of grain is simply not the same thing as a pound of meat. Meat is densely concentrated with vitamins and minerals that are either not found in these grains or found in much lower quantities. Red meat is one of the most nutritionally whole foods that exists. Many traditional cultures have been based on grain crops that have sustained them over thousands of years. Grains are often worshiped as food of the gods. You and I might not be here today without grains. But grains are not meat. They are different. A pound of kale, although highly nutritious, is not a pound of moringa or a pound of coconuts. A pound of carrots is not a pound of B-12 supplements. A pound of grains is not a pound of meat. One is not better than the other. Both can be loved, cherished and part of a human diet.

“If we stopped eating meat, we would reduce the production of industrial corn and grains.”

A common talking point is that we grow all this corn to feed the factory-farmed animals. If we shut down the factory farms by not eating meat, then we would end the need for this corn and put a nail in the coffin of Big Ag. This would free up millions of acres of land to re-wild. As much as I’d love this to be true, this is fundamentally incorrect. The factory farming of animals began due to an excess of corn. The glut of corn came and then the factory-farmed animals. The animals did not drive the corn. Corn is simply the building block of the protein manifested in a cow, chicken or pig that the industry can sell. But the food industry and the military industrial complex have many ways to use that corn and turn it into money, and already a large portion of corn is used for other purposes, like biofuel. If we stopped eating factory-farmed animals, the food industry would find other avenues to turn that corn into products and thus money.

“Eating one egg per day is the equivalent of smoking five cigarettes per day.”

In ”What the Health,” they claim that eating one egg per day is the equivalent of smoking five cigarettes per day. There is a scenario where I could see this being accurate. That is, if someone is already so out-of-balance – suffering with diabetes and extreme obesity – through an over-saturation of their body with factory-farmed and processed foods. If they are existing in this state of toxicity, each factory-farmed egg could be substantially detrimental to their body. However, at this stage, their body is in a very different state from someone who is at a balanced weight and does not have any health issues. For those with a balanced diet, eggs – especially eggs from chickens that live active outdoor lives and eat balanced, natural diets – can be truly beneficial to the body. An egg a day can contribute to their health. Five cigarettes will not.

“You don’t have to be vegan to eat vegan food. Or buy vegan stuff. But every time you invest in vegan merchandise, you invest in the health of the planet and the animals that live on it, including ourselves.”
– Brian May, guitarist for Queen

I love Queen and I love Brian, but this oversimplified belief system is just not accurate. Most vegan merchandise may make some investment in the planet, but often it causes greater destruction. Today, through veganism being a multi-billion dollar industry, much “vegan merchandise” has no true investment in the planet and causes only harm. I would confidently say that the vast majority of vegan merchandise available on the market today has a net negative impact on the planet and the animals we share this home with. With this simplified form of thinking, all of humanity could go vegan tomorrow and we’d still be seeing the mass extinction of species that we are seeing today and we could be just as close to extinction ourselves.

The Vegan Label – A Safe Zone

In our increasingly oppressive and exploitative society, those seeking harmony may feel a desire to gravitate toward a practice (or label) that removes them from the destruction. Vegan is a label that can allow us to feel like we are not causing harm. It’s a label that can help us to take some of the weight off our shoulders knowing we’ve done a really BIG thing to stand against the exploitation. It’s a label that can help us to make sense of the hard-to-comprehend globalized, industrialized food system. And it’s a label that can help us belong to a group of like-minded people and to distance ourselves from the oppressive group that we no longer want to be a part of.

But labels are just human-made constructs and behind every label there is a lot of complexity. There is a lot more depth than a label could ever truly define. Behind every label there is still destruction. There is still harm. There is still oppression and exploitation. Truth does not fit into any label. Truth has far more complexity than any one label or grouping of labels can signify.

Less Death by Eating Animals?

I’m certain that many people share the belief I’m about to share, but I have not heard it frequently vocalized. I believe that a person can live a localized lifestyle that results in less death and suffering of animals, through embracing and taking part in the direct death of animals in their life. When I say less death and suffering, it is compared to a vegan diet that is involved substantially in globalization and industrialization, which in my experience is the vast majority of all Western vegan diets.

Simply put, a person wanting to contribute to less death and suffering of animals can do this by choosing to give up factory farming and eat meat from local, ecological sources rather than by embracing the vegan diet that is generally shared as the solution in Westernized nations by vegan culture.

I’ve already shared that there is a death toll behind every food or product that we buy at the grocery store. But when removing ourselves from these industrial systems and embracing closed-loop natural systems with the Earth – which involve animals – we can actually increase the population and biodiversity of animals through the killing (the cycling) of life. This is undoubtedly how natural systems work without humans – and as much to the contrary of modern humans’ belief – how natural systems can work with us as a part of the system. After all, we are animals, too. We came from the earth and we return to the earth just like the rest of the animals. We are not inherently separate and we can embrace our interdependence with these natural cycles of life.

And yes, theoretically we can do this in a vegan manner, but when you examine humanity on a global level and deep into our ancestry, that is not what we find. I have yet to find a currently existing, or historically reproducing society on Earth that is strictly vegan and lives in an environmentally sound manner. I have researched this in depth and not found an example. I also have called out to the vegan community in search of examples. I have indeed received many examples from vegans, but with just a slight bit of research on my end, I always find that these “vegan” examples eat some meat or food from animals. There are plenty of societies that eat minimal – a balanced amount – but I have yet to find any strict vegan long-term existing societies. I’m not talking about loose-knit communities of individual vegans living in the city, of course. I’m talking about any society that lived for multiple generations, and lived a 100% vegan life for their lifetimes. To me, this points to the reality that veganism is not the one and only superior form of eating, given that it doesn’t seem to even exist in the bigger picture. And even if we do find just a few examples within the eight billion of us, that still doesn’t provide much of a reason to believe that veganism is the one and only way.

Indigenous Foodways

To the contrary, when you look at the societies that have lived most harmoniously with Earth and who live the most harmoniously today, you see diets that included or include some meat or food from animals, and often substantial amounts.

There is the common saying in the vegan movement that “meat is murder.” If meat is murder, then all indigenous people – the 500+ cultures that existed in a more harmonious way before the arrival of the colonizers on the land we call the United States — were all murderers. All of the indigenous people of Africa, of the Amazon rain forest, of every region of the world, were and are murderers. All indigenous people today that have retained their traditional foodways are murderers. The people of coastal Africa who harvest fish as an integral part of their diet and lifeways are murderers. The people living in the high Andes, who subsist almost completely from llamas, and do not destroy anyone else’s land, are murderers. But the wealthy Western vegans buying quinoa, who have caused the locals of the Andes to no longer be able to afford their staple crop of quinoa and are forced to convert to an industrialized diet, are not murderers. In my view, this is very short-sighted and polarized thinking. In my view, this veganism may actually be a form of white supremacy (though not likely known to anyone who is holding this belief).

When I refer to Native Americans, I am not doing this in any way to justify the actions of any modern white person. Urban vegans who have very little relation to indigenous people have accused me and others of this many times. I’m bringing it up because this modern vegan knowledge, without actually stating it, claims to supersede all indigenous knowledge, because meat eating is absolutely central to their existence and to the culture of most every indigenous peoples. So, to say that veganism is the only ethical, compassionate, acceptable way of living, says that veganism supersedes all ancient wisdom, all indigenous wisdom, all traditional ecological knowledge. Ultimately, the logic says that Native Americans and indigenous people globally need to leave their traditional foodways behind and assimilate into the industrialized Western culture. On this stance of veganism that “meat is murder,” I disagree with every ounce of relationship that I have to Earth and our diverse humanity. Equally, I stand against the often-recited vegan belief that raising animals is animal slavery. Although much of modern human’s relationships to animals is one of slavery, this does not represent all of humanity’s relationship to animals. There are many mutualistic and symbiotic relationships between humans and animals. There have been for a long time and there still are today, especially among communities who are people of the land.

And as much as mainstream society believes indigenous people are people of the past, this is false. They are people of the present. The land where I grew up is Anishinaabe land. Although they have lost much of their knowledge of their traditional ways due to colonization and genocide, they have never stopped holding a deep relationship with the land. We do live in a disconnected society, but indigenous lifeways and foodways do still very much exist across Turtle Island and all around the globe. I am fortunate to be a part of the Anishinaabe foodways through my Anishinaabe friends and colleagues. We eat a lot of plants together, with Manoomin (wild rice) being one of the central plant relationships and we also eat deer and fish. In these foodways that are connected to Earth and have continuously existed for many, many generations, the eating of plants and the eating of animals is not separate. They are inseparable.

My firm belief is that if we are to have a habitable future as humanity on this Earth, it will come by listening to and embracing the practices of indigenous people, not the modern science that has created laboratory meats and exists dependent upon the industrialization of our food.

Note: when I’m using the term “harmonious,” I am not speaking of some Utopian place where nothing ever died or suffered. I believe that suffering is as much a part of life as is the state of non-suffering. I believe that dying is as much a part of life as living. Any Utopia I ever dream up will include death and will include much of what people consider to be suffering.

Privilege and Accessibility of the Vegan Diet

What we do see as the common theme in the vegan diet is that because veganism is largely a product of our globalized, industrialized systems, it is almost exclusively a privileged group of people that are vegan. It is mostly the top percentage of the wealthiest people in the world that are vegan. It might have to be noted here that someone who is a broke college student in the USA, or even someone living at the federal poverty threshold in the US, is still in the top percentage of wealthiest people in the world. (If you’d like to dive deeper into the topic of privilege, I write about that here: On Understanding and Acknowledging My Privilege.)

When vegans say that anyone can or should be vegan, I take substantial issue with this statement. Ultimately, what I see is a very privileged person telling all underprivileged, who don’t have the same access as they do, that they are inherently immoral, as well as just about every culture that lived before them.

Veganism is not very accessible – or more often is completely inaccessible – for people living with low income in an area without access to wholesome vegan options. I once tried to live off $4/day in a community that lacked wholesome food options, which is the average amount of money someone gets from SNAP. It was when I was vegan, and I did manage to eat a diet with no highly processed foods, no chemicals, no “food-like substances” and no meat, eggs or dairy. But, I had a very substantial amount of time on my hands to dedicate to my diet as well as many other privileges. And I had no money left for any supplements. The diet was incomplete even with my high level of food education. Although I didn’t see it clearly at the time, it became very clear to me later that my nutrition was depleted through this diet and that I was struggling.

Sure, there are people with substantially less privilege who manage to eat a wholesome vegan diet, but it is incredibly challenging for most underprivileged people and fully inaccessible for many.

It’s been a little while since I said it, so I want to say it again in case someone may have forgotten. I support veganism. I don’t support the black or white thinking that veganism is the only ethically or environmentally superior way of eating or living. I have to go to these depths to explain the shortsightedness of this thinking, because the shortsighted thinkers have gone so far as to say they are right and everyone else is wrong. The environmental movement has in some areas been hijacked by this way of thinking. And I know a lot of people who are probably only vegan because they feel like they have no other choice due to pressure from the pushing of these polarized beliefs in their circle.

Veganism as a Product of Globalization

Today, fake meats is one of the crazes of the vegan movement. It is seen as great progress that fast food restaurants are serving these fake meats as alternatives to factory-farmed meat. However, in my view, this is actually contributing to the power of corrupt multinational corporations and contributing to the industrialization of our food. It is also contributing to globalization. These fake meats can be made in a lab anywhere and shipped anywhere in the world. It is part of the homogenization of our food. For a deep dive into ultra-processed fake meat, read this article: The FoodPrint of Fake Meat.

This globalization – including the industrialization and homogenization that goes hand in hand – is the very source of the human race’s systematic destruction of entire ecosystems, mass extinction of species and animal slavery, and has been a detriment to billions of people throughout the last few generations of humanity. I see modern veganism not as the solution it is hailed to be, but as a contributor to these problems.

As I shared earlier, history finds no vegan cultures in existence. There are no long withstanding cultures of humans on Earth known that consumed solely plants. Not only that, but to go further, every culture ever known was dependent on animals for their very survival. Culture was largely created out of the basic necessities for life. Animals were an integral part of the basic necessities of life, and thus culture.

It is well known that biodiversity is one of the single greatest factors in the survival of any ecosystem and thus in any single species or individual. Globalization is the antithesis of biodiversity.

Globalization is what has allowed for the creation of veganism. The 20th/21st century humans have been able to become vegan by standing on the foundations of globalization. This includes slavery. This includes the outlaw of cultures that lived in balance with their land, with animals. This includes a global trade of foods that pillaged the land of people who weren’t white, for the sake of affluence for white people. This is, in my view, the foundation of what allows 21st century veganism to exist.

Any idea that “the world should go vegan” and that “veganism will save the world” depends on the very system of globalization to continue and to continuously strip away the indigenous cultures that have existed in a much more peaceful manner with the world than the 21st century Western privileged vegan. This mindset is a continuation of colonialism past and present. The idea that “meat is murder” blindly states that white 21st century wisdom is far superior to every culture of humans that existed before us.

I am not understating the value of choosing to live a vegan lifestyle for those for whom it is within their means. But I am deeply repudiating the idea that veganism is what is needed to save human life on Earth and the millions of species that the human race is putting in danger of extinction.

Going vegan does not solve the control of our food by the mega-corporations that have power over Washington, via lobbyists and a revolving door of Big Ag representative turned politician turned back to Big Ag representative.

The power is in the processing. The power is in the value-added products. The power is in the advertising convincing consumers based on catchy packaging and slogans. The power is in campaigns to spread misinformation and create confusion, via food scientists telling us what our body needs to be healthy and optimal. These multinational corporations aren’t ignorant. People want vegan? Their response is to simply ask how they take what they are doing and market it as vegan, while changing what they are doing in the field, factory and warehouse as little as possible, but while changing the consumer facing end drastically to meet the desire of the shopper.

Does not eating animals solve these problems – the deep root of the problems? No, the industrial-packaged vegan does not cut to the roots of the problem. Whether it is factory- farmed beef or the vegan fake meat, the milk-based protein powder or the plant-based protein shake, super food supplements, vegan or not, or the vast majority of any plastic-wrapped, long-distance shipped foods at the grocery store, it is Big Ag and Big Oil that are coming out on top. Not the animals, not the little guy, not our communities, not you or me.

So what does solve the problem?
Local food from small and medium-sized farms, practicing regenerative and ecological agriculture. Growing our own food at home and in our communities. Right relationships to the land through foraging, hunting and animal stewardship. Whole foods that need no ingredient list, marketing or explanation because they are simply one ingredient. Those ingredients are then turned into slightly more complex foods by local artisans, bakers, herbalists, cheese makers, butchers and chefs. Add to that, these people having a connection to both the grower of the food supplied to them and the eater of the food they make from it. A movement that is dedicated to self observation, critical thinking, nonviolent communication and community building.

This is what comes together that takes away maximal power from Big Ag and puts it back into the hands of the people, strengthening the systems, day by day, year on top of year, creating a positive feedback loop in the growth of healthy, sustainable food systems, while chipping away at the foundation of Big Ag.

Vegans Return to the Land

There has been a very common theme that I’ve seen over the last decade of being involved in the movement of people trying to live more harmoniously with the Earth and animals. That is a desire for reconnection with Earth and to live on the land.

What I’ve seen is that when people move closer to the land to live more sustainably and cause less harm to Earth, more often than not, they find themselves working with animals. Ecological agriculture, permaculture, regenerative farming and indigenous foodways work with animals in their systems and typically involve eating animals, eggs and/or dairy. I’ve met many vegans who have left the cities to live on a farm or homestead and, much to their surprise, realized that it made sense to eat meat, eggs and/or dairy. Not because they were craving the meat, but because it was the way to produce food in the most environmentally sensitive manner, that utilized resources to the fullest extent, and therefore, caused the least animal suffering in the bigger picture. At the same time as there are many people converting to veganism, there may be just as many vegans converting to raising animals, hunting, or sourcing meat, eggs and dairy from within their local community of farmers, gardeners, fishers and hunters.

What I’ve generally seen over the last seven years is that once people gain a deeper connection to the Earth, by becoming deeply part of a variety of cycles of life – not separate from them – veganism no longer seems to hold the moral high ground or to be the most sustainable option for them.

People are realizing that it’s not just what we eat, but what we eat eats, too. Meat, eggs and dairy from the factory is wildly different from animals that spend their lives on the land eating directly from the land. Not only is this food not detrimental to the human body, but it is a life-force for the human body.

What most find is that permaculture, regenerative farming and indigenous foodways typically do not go hand-in-hand with strict veganism. On the contrary, they generally exclude one another.

What they realize is that when they learned about the problems of factory farming, they hadn’t fully explored the alternatives of relating to animals, because the sources they learned from completely left them out of the conversation, or entirely wrote these options off. They realize that the viewpoint that there is no ethical alternative to factory farming is a view that can only be held through a lack of wholistic education and understanding of our biological cycles and food systems. It becomes incredibly clear that factory farming of animals is not the same as the local, ecological farming or hunting of animals. And when one starts to explore not just their community, but communities across the nation, they find that these alternatives are widely out there. In fact, in many areas it is easier to find regenerative beef than it is to find regenerative vegetables.

Once freed from the mindset of compartmentalization, through feeling connected with their ecosystem, they realize that it makes sense to scrutinize our fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes and vegan vitamins, supplements and fake meats just as much as we scrutinize our meat, dairy and eggs. Through this big picture lens, they no longer feel that grocery store veganism provides the comfortable place at the dinner table that they once thought, as it is not the humane treatment of Earth after all. And that the safe self-title of vegan allowed them to disconnect even further from the intricacies of human/animal relationships, through a false belief of moral high ground and superiority.

My Personal Transition To and Away from Veganism

I have waited to share my personal experience with veganism until this late in the article in order to reduce the focus on the experience of just one person. I share my personal experience with veganism to do just that – share my personal experience – not a belief that my example represents the global population. As I’ve shared, I believe that humans are a widely diverse group of people and that our diets vary within this wide diversity. Depending on hundreds or thousands of years of genetic evolution, regional ecosystems, cultural practice and many other factors, a vegan diet may or may not be a match for different humans or groups of humans. I don’t want there to be too much focus on me, when my experience is largely irrelevant to the bigger picture of veganism and our global humanity, but I do also have a desire to respond to the thousands of people who have asked me if I’m vegan, why I’m not vegan or for my general stance on eating meat and food from animals. With that being very strongly emphasized, I will share my experience with veganism.

As I shared earlier, over a period of a few years from 2011-2014, I began eating less and less factory-farmed meat and foods from animals and shifted into a substantially plant-based diet. In about 2014, I transitioned to a nearly 100% vegan diet. I considered myself to be vegan at that time. The primary reason I chose veganism is that I thought it was the most sustainable diet that I could eat for the planet. And that given the circumstances in which I was living (in the big city of San Diego) it was the way to practice noncooperation with the exploitation of animals through factory farming and to carry out the most ethical relationships to animals.

I remained “vegan” for about two years from 2014 to 2016 and then things shifted for me, both in my health and in my beliefs around veganism. I have shared about the evolution of my beliefs in great length already. Now I will share about the shift in my health.

My health was at the prime of my adult life in the beginning stages of transitioning to veganism and then being vegan. This came through many other lifestyle practices as well, as I had shifted a substantial amount of my habits and practices including my food, water, exercise, usage of alcohol, usage of chemicals, my thoughts and so much more. After about a year of veganism, my health started to decline. I wasn’t seeing it clearly at the time, but over the next couple of years, I could look back and see the decline quite clearly. I started to have less energy. I was constantly tired, never feeling like I could get well-rested. I was much more agitated and easily annoyed. I had lost my sex drive. My body was often achy. I had lost a lot of my strength. I felt that I was constantly just below an ideal weight for my body. I remember thinking that I felt like an old man. This was at the age of thirty. During that time, I never thought it could be because my body was deficient due to my diet. I was pretty sure that veganism was the healthiest diet for me and that I didn’t need to eat animals or any food from animals.

In Fall of 2016, I was embarking on a new project, Trash Me, where for a month I’d live like the average US American and wear every piece of trash that I created. The purpose was to create a striking visual of how much garbage the average US American creates and inspire critical thought and self-reflection. To make trash like the average US American, I chose to eat like the average US American, which meant eating meat for the month.

Before the project began, I got a basic blood test so that I could compare my health before the month and after the month. We were creating a short film, very much like “Supersize Me.” That’s when I learned that I had a B-12 deficiency. I was very deficient, and this, in part, explained why I’d been feeling the way I did. Note: I didn’t end up having the funding to do blood work at the end of the month like I planned.

It was a coincidence that I discovered this just days before I was about to immerse myself in this project where I’d be eating meat. I was not excited to eat meat and was only planning to do it for the month, and then go directly back to veganism. I felt sure that the impact I could have through this project was worth the harm I’d do by eating this way for a month. (The project reached millions of people and changed many relationships with consumerism in a direction of more harmony and less destruction.)

One might expect me to feel horrible eating the standard US American diet, after multiple years of eating a primarily plant-based, whole foods, organic diet. I certainly expected to feel horrible and, in some ways, I did. But to my surprise, my body started to feel better also. I quickly started to feel more energy. I gained about four pounds during the month, and a good portion of that was muscle. I was less tired, less agitated, less achy and had more of a sex drive. I didn’t feel so much like an old man. This was a wake-up call. For a vegan to become healthier by eating factory-farmed, low-quality meat — the exact food that they have rejected publicly for multiple years — is not a comfortable place to be.

After “Trash Me,” I did not go back to being vegan, even though that had been the original plan. For the next two years, I still ate a primarily plant-based diet, but not vegan. I avoided factory-farmed meat, eggs and dairy almost completely, but I would eat meat that would otherwise go to waste so that I could still source my meat without contributing to animal cruelty. Overall, I rarely purchased food that wasn’t completely made of plants, whether at a grocery store or restaurant. I ate some local meat, eggs and dairy, whether it was from a small farm or a friend I was visiting, or fish that I caught myself. Although my diet was substantially more sustainable than the average US American’s, it was still a largely industrial diet. I found that incorporating meat, eggs and dairy into my diet felt in alignment for my body. My health was far from perfect (what is perfect health anyway?) but I felt substantially better than during my chapter of being deficient on a vegan diet.

My diet radically shifted on November 11th, 2018, when I began a year of growing and foraging 100% of my food. I removed myself completely from the global, industrial food system. For one year, I was my own farmer, my own grocery store and my own food processor. There were absolutely no food scientists in my kitchen and I grew and foraged my medicine as well, so I was my own pharmacy. This was a truly radical shift from my time as a vegan and the few years after that.

Note: When I began this project, I did a full blood work panel and found that I had numerous deficiencies, including being low in Vitamins A, D3 and E, Omega-3, Manganese, Carnitine, EPA, DHA and BUN. This was primarily due to my mostly plant-based diet. I have shared the lab results here. The simple solution to most of this was to eat more fatty fish and red meat. Note: I didn’t end up having the funding to do blood work at the end of the year like I had planned for comparison.

My Non-Industrial Diet

I ate a lot of plants during this time. I grew over 100 different plants in my garden and foraged 100+ from a wide variety of ecosystems. But meat became much more central to my diet. I fished, I ate squirrels from my garden and I harvested deer that were hit by cars.
I didn’t choose to eat more meat solely because of this immersive project though. I chose to eat meat because it is what I felt was ideal for my body and most harmonious with Earth, and therefore, animals. Unlike what some vegans claimed, I did not make this change primarily for the taste, nor for pleasure. My favorite foods and the foods I craved the most at the time were all plants. I made this choice not out of a lack of education on our food system and human health, but out of having deepened my knowledge.

I did struggle to meet all of my needs at times throughout the year. It was fat that I struggled the most to get enough of. However, I finished the year feeling the healthiest I’d felt in my entire adult life.

Through immersing myself deeply in my food, my world views changed substantially. I became certain that the means for being in my best health and living most harmoniously with the animals and plants that I share this Earth with includes eating animals and food from animals. The statistics used by mainstream environmental veganism and the majority of the talking points simply no longer applied to the food systems that I became involved in. I had broken free from the industrial food system that makes up most mainstream food conversation, even in the vegan movement, where one industrial food is compared to another.

The Meat I Eat Now

Since 2018, my primary source of meat has been deer that are hit by cars. In Wisconsin alone, 20,000 deer are killed by cars each year. This is a far more sustainable source of food than going to the grocery store and buying any vegan food. I harvest these deer with a deep reverence for and connection to the earth and animals. I pressure can and dehydrate the meat so that I can take it with me on my travels, or freeze it if I am staying in one location for a time, thus being able to eat from the deer for months. I often make bone broth from the bones and sometimes render the fat to use as cooking fat. I have many friends who were formerly vegan who eat deer that are hit by cars as well and I have many vegan friends who gladly make exceptions to their veganism to eat the deer that I harvest. In fact, I’ve had numerous vegan friends say that meat from a car-killed deer was the most truly vegan thing they’d ever eaten!

I also eat a substantial amount of fish, primarily that I catch myself. I often catch the fish that are not desired by most of society and are in abundant populations: mullet, ladyfish and jacks in Florida; and bullhead, rock bass and suckers in Wisconsin. I also eat a substantial amount of whitefish, lake trout and Coho salmon in times of abundance when I’m staying in my homeland on Lake Superior. I generally eat almost the entire body of the fish by pressure canning the meat including the bones or pressure cooking fish broth. In this way, I can be nourished by the meat, skin, organs, eyes, brains, bones and cartilage. I also eat the eggs and the semen from many fish. This is truly nourishing food. In fact, there’s really nothing that feels more nourishing or more connected to Earth than eating the fish I harvest. I catch most of these fish with friends who also love to fish or while I’m alone on the water. Sometimes I purchase fish (white fish or lake trout) from a local fishery. These are fisheries that have no bycatch and distribute the fish locally.

I have many friends and people in my communities who raise beef, sheep, pigs or chickens for meat. I have many more friends who raise chickens for eggs. I also have a few friends and people in my communities who raise cows and sheep for milk and cheese. I eat these foods with gratitude and contentment in how the animals are being raised, my support of the local community, the satiation I feel and how the food contributes to my overall well being.

I often render my own fat from locally raised cows and pigs, rather than purchasing industrial plant-based oils, like coconut oil and olive oil, although I love these oils as well and source relatively sustainable options of them at times. Rarely are these plant options ever as sustainable as the local animal fat though, in my opinion.

Across most all communities that I am involved in, there is a substantial amount of waste from hunters to vegan farmers. I utilize this waste quite often. Most fishermen and fisherwomen only take the fillets of the fish and discard the rest of the body. For me, what is left are the most nourishing parts, and often this makes a substantial portion of my diet. Most deer hunters discard the organs and many of the bones. I eat these organs and make broth from the bones. The organ meat is more nutritionally dense than the meat and traditionally has been the most important part of the animal for many cultures. Bear hunters often hunt only for the sport – something that saddens me greatly. I can go to the meat processor and ask for the fat to render. A single bear can produce my fat needs for an entire year. In this way, I have not had to be involved in the industries of agriculture, processing and shipping, while meeting my nutritional needs.

In Florida, I eat some wild boar and iguana, which are both species that are not native to the region and whose numbers have become extremely out of balance in these ecosystems and with the plants and animals they share these ecosystems with. Harvesting species that come from other ecosystems and are out of balance in their new ecosystem cannot only be done sustainably, but can contribute to habitat restoration and quality of life for the plants and animals native to that land. Thus taking a life of one of these animals can actually be an ecosystem service and an act I can feel in full alignment with. By taking the life of one of these animals, I feel no guilt or moral qualm, but rather believe myself to be a steward to that land and the plants and animals that live on that land, and even a steward to the species that is out of balance and thus the individual animal. I take my focus from beyond the individual life of the animal and put my focus on the well-being of the species as a whole and the well-being of the ecosystem in relationship to that the species and the relationships this animal has with the other plants and animals within that ecosystem. Some would potentially argue that all lives are equal and therefore it is not right to take any life, but with this further understanding that taking a life can actually make way for more life and more harmony, we see that reality is not as simple as this thought process. We can have equal respect and reverence for each individual and each species, while taking different actions, including both the taking of life or the protection of life of different individuals or species, without it being a moral quandary.

These are some of my relationships with animals in which I am very happy to be living closely with the earth and in deeper harmony than I ever lived as an industrial vegan. I rarely feel a moral qualm with these food sources because I have a deep relationship with, and understanding of, these foods. You know when I do feel a moral qualm? With every trip to the food co-op or health food store. Every time I am eating a packaged food that will leave trash behind. Every time I read the ingredients of a processed food and do not have an understanding of each ingredient. Every time I think about the semi-trucks that the food came in on or the conveyor belts that it traveled on before that. Every time I’m eating a food that I don’t know the source of, or worse yet, when I do know the source and I know it’s not in alignment with my values. For example, the strawberries from Big Ag that were sprayed with pesticides by workers that suffer from cancer and respiratory diseases from exposure to these pesticides and even the organic carrots that were grown in the desert of California where the dwindling and finite water source was further exploited. Grocery shopping is rarely an enjoyable occasion for me, even though everything in my cart is usually plants.

My Experience with Killing

Many hunters like to give the hunt a measure of respect. I’ll take it one step further and call it, for me, a measure of reality. I’m sure that many of my readers are curious about my experience and relationships to the deaths of the animals that I’ve eaten, so I’d like to share on this.

In 2016, I killed a chicken for the first time as part of my Permaculture Design Course. I was basically vegan at the time, but I saw value in the experience. Much to my surprise, killing the bird did not disgust me and I did not find it to be difficult. In fact, once I had the feathers off, I felt my appetite growing.

Did I enjoy the act of killing the squirrels in my garden in Florida? No. There were a few times when I watched the squirrel die in the trap as it shrieked out. That was painful for me. Yet, I did not confuse this internal pain with guilt. I had no moral qualms about eating the squirrels from my garden in Florida. I found deep meaning and purpose in the entire process of sourcing my food locally while protecting the food in my garden, which included trapping, killing and eating some squirrels. I’m even comfortable saying I was generally excited to get a squirrel in the trap and add it to my stew.

When I catch a fish and kill it on the spot, I feel a connection to the fish, a connection to Earth and a connection to myself. Not sadness or pain. Yet, on the occasions where a fish that I catch dies and I do not keep it, I can feel pain or remorse. When I see my peers handle the fish with a lack of care, killing the species they simply don’t like, or not fully utilizing the gift of the animal, I can feel outrage, disgust and sadness.

When I am harvesting deer from the side of the road, I don’t feel disgust with touching or cutting the animal apart. (If the animal’s stomach cavity is ruptured that can be gross, just as a rotten piece of broccoli in the bottom of the fridge can be gross.) My first time harvesting a deer, I was amazed that the meat actually smelled sweet. I have become hungry in the very process of butchering a deer on the side of the road. I’m comfortable with sharing my truth, even knowing that these are not popularly expressed sentiments in my circle, and that some vegans may possibly not believe my truth.

My feelings with the taking of a life vary depending on circumstances. There are few things that infuriate me more than the needless and reckless killing of wildcats, wolves or coyotes or sport hunting for bears. There are few memories that pain me more than when I accidentally stepped on a frog as a child, when I killed a pigeon with a BB gun in high school and left it to die on the concrete, the time I hunted squirrels for fun but not to harvest them or when my friends and I blew up bullhead fish with firecrackers. There are few things that frustrate me more than hunters who eat only the breast of the birds they hunt or the fillets of the fish they catch, and especially when I learn that instead of returning the rest of the animal to the earth, they put it in the garbage can. These are not right relationships to the animals. Humanity’s relationships to our animal relatives and Earth are not being honored by these actions. I would be haunted today if I killed a snake out of fear, a raccoon solely out of frustration or a possum out of a lack of understanding. Yet, when I harvest in right relationship from a place of consciousness of my relationship to that being, I can tap into an overwhelming sense of gratitude, oneness and connection.

Yet, I do not confuse these actions by my fellow humans that I do not condone with the human reality of eating, and that our food must come from somewhere. I have nurtured a deep connection to my food, to the land and to the creatures that give me life through the process of harvesting my sustenance. This is not based on ignorance, delusion or cognitive dissonance. It is not based on mental trickery. This is based on experience backed by a deep understanding of my actions and my relationship to these animals and the ecosystems which they are inseparable from. I have found that experience, connection and relationships are the true teachers for me and that mere intellectual education is likely to leave great blind spots in thinking and understanding. That is why it has been just as important to me to see the industrial farm where the grocery store vegetables come from, to foster a non-delusional understanding of the alternatives to sourcing my food, including meat, from the land.

My body feels excellent with these sources of animal foods in my diet and I expect that I will continue to eat these foods for much of my life. Depending on what ecosystems I live in – which includes what the local animal populations are, what the farming practices are, what the climate is and more – my diet will likely continue to vary throughout my life. At times, my diet will incorporate a substantial amount of meat and, at times, I will have no meat. It is unlikely that I will ever adopt a strict vegan diet for any extended period of time, but if the circumstances with Earth call for it, I will welcome those relationships to plants and foods into my life.

Over the last decade, there have been thousands of vegans or vegetarians who have decided that I am a person of low integrity or that I am a hypocrite because I eat meat and food from animals. My actions do not align with their belief systems and thus I am an immoral person in their minds. I’ve come to expect this. In this difficult and confusing time we live in today, I understand how topics can become so polarized as to write someone off entirely simply for not being vegan. Polarization is often a subconscious coping mechanism used to make sense of life or create ease in life in difficult times. I simply don’t fall for that coping mechanism. In challenging times, I commit to critical thought about society and deep self-reflection. Although many vegans who could be colleagues in this service have chosen to no longer associate with me and to look down upon me because of our differences in diets and beliefs, I know that they are the exception. I’m confident that more people, vegans and non-vegans, read my viewpoints and come away with a deeper perspective and understanding. Especially as they very clearly see that I have nothing to gain or lose by sharing my viewpoints on this matter. I’m not running a business and I don’t make money on these beliefs. If anything, I have suffered from sharing my truth with transparency as thousands of people have unfollowed me and written me off.

I have dedicated my life to being of service to humanity, plants, animals and Earth. I know that I will cause harm in my existence, both directly or indirectly. My goal will always be to live in a deep level of harmony, and to be open to the different methods and practices of life available to me that facilitate this harmony. I can be counted on to live an examined life and to look much deeper than any one narrative or way of thinking. I won’t please everyone by doing this. I won’t fall into simple categories. But I will be truthful, and I will be transparent. I will share my true feelings and my struggles. You can count on me for that.

I’ve said it many times in the last 14,000 words, but I want to say it again … if you want to be vegan, I support you in this choice of yours.

This article was written originally in 2014 as “An Argument Against Veganism from a Vegan” and was updated to “My Thoughts on Veganism … And Why I’m Not Vegan” in November 2018. The article was substantially updated in December 2023 and again in May 2024.

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