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Charles Eisenstein Responds to Reader Comments

I am surprised by how many people did not understand the distinction I tried to make between the meat industry, which stands guilty of all the crimes many of you mention, and the eating of meat. I consider it a given that today's meat industry is an abomination.

My main point was two-fold: (1) That meat eating can be consistent with a sustainable world where everyone is fed; and (2) There can be another basis for ethics besides minimizing death. The arguments for the first point are impossible to lay out in detail within the requested format; suffice it to say that animals should generally not be fed grains or other crops, but pasture, and that they should be part of a sustainable farm ecology. And it is true that much pasture land is not suited for horticulture. Some visionary thinkers in agriculture think it is usually destructive to "break ground" at all, an insight which is one of the inspirations of the permaculture movement.

As for the second point, doesn't anyone else think it is silly to assess the ethical weight of an act by adding up the total pounds of death it causes? Of course I am aware that animals eat plants, so that by eating animals I am eating lots of dead plants. But my whole point is that minimizing death is not the only possible basis of ethics. I place a higher value on harmony, wholeness, and beauty. These are harder to quantify than death; hence my digression into "what feels right". I am not saying, "Forget about ethics, do what feels right." I am saying that this is what underlies any system of ethics. And if we seek to live by ethics, we must sometimes return to that feeling level to reconnect them with our hearts. The purpose of ethics is to bring wisdom to situations when we are out of touch with feeling. It is not a replacement for feeling, but more of an aid or extension.

Most of the responses could be summed up as "Eisenstein just doesn't get it." Just doesn't understand the arguments for vegetarianism. Sorry, I've been there, done that. I've read John Robbins and I've read Frances Lappe. In my 20s I became fluent in those arguments and believed them fervently. Let's see, there was also "just doesn't get shamanism," thinks it is a single unified tradition. Just doesn't get Yoga, hasn't heard of ahimsa.

I would like you to consider that a thoughtful, compassionate, sensitive person could absorb all of this material and still eat meat. Have you read the counterarguments to Robbins and Lappe? I have read the best of both sides, and you know what? I gave up trying to decide based on reason who was right. I would have had to research their sources, gather my own statistics, maybe even do my own physiology experiments. That is why instead I went back to my own body, and my own feelings of what is beautiful, whole, and right. The result was that I returned to eating meat.

If you are a committed vegan, how can you explain this choice? Well, here are a few theories to help you:

1. Eisenstein has given in to self-indulgence, hedonism, and general moral turpitude. He has abandoned his principles to revel in his own selfish pleasure. Shame on him!

2. Eisenstein is just inherently deficient in goodness. He is of a lower moral or spiritual quality. He simply does not care.

3. Eisenstein is a person of crude sensibilities, and completely out of touch with his body. Maybe he doesn't understand about whole grains or complete proteins or other basic principles of diet. He thinks he is healthy now, but he isn't.

Generalizing these explanations, you can create a whole class of moral untermenschen to hate. I think people on this site, at least, should be aware of the dangers of that.

I have nothing against vegetarianism or vegetarians. However, if you suspect that a meatless diet is not supporting your health, I urge you to investigate the moral and ethical complexities of this issue. There are many thoughtful, compassionate, even spiritual people who eat meat. Moreover, I have met many, many people whose health radically improved after they began eating meat again. I do not attempt to generalize that to everybody. I am perfectly willing to accept that vegans can be healthy too (though I've met many who are not).

Finally, I want to thank everybody who offered comments, even the vitriolic and vulgar ones. I see behind them motivations we all share: a desire to find truth and a passion to create a more beautiful world.

Charles Eisenstein

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