The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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Never one for censorship, I support your right to publish “The Good Hunter: David Petersen on the Ethics of Killing Animals for Food” [interview by Jeremy Lloyd, December 2009]. I refuse, however, to support publications that diminish truth rather than build it. Please cancel my subscription.
David Petersen can rhapsodize to his heart’s content about being centered in nature and the spiritual experience of killing big-game animals with gun and bow, but the fact of the matter is that he’s trying to rationalize his lust for blood and death. He’s a wannabe Hemingway suffering from profound feelings of inadequacy and impotency. And I doubt that being killed with an arrow is almost “painless.” I would bet that most bowhunters are not highly skilled, and that most animals killed suffer grievously.
I agree with David Petersen that if we eat, we kill. Still, I chose vegetarianism because killing a plant feels far less violent than killing a creature. Both choices — to avoid eating animals and to eat them respectfully — are earnest steps away from violence and toward peace.
As a vegan and animal-rights (not “animal-welfare”) activist, I wish to affirm many of David Petersen’s observations and also to correct several serious misconceptions.
Petersen says that a vegan diet is “nutritionally extreme.” Wrong. Vegan diets are repeatedly endorsed by the American Dietetic Association and are increasingly employed by world-class elite athletes, including endurance athletes. I have been an avid backpacker, climber, and competitive tennis player on a vegan diet. Vegan cuisine is endlessly creative, delicious, cheaper than a meat-based diet, and avoids food products linked with stroke, heart disease, and cancer.
I agree with Petersen that many animal-rights activists haven’t sorted out the difference between humans and animals. But by the same token, the “animal-welfare” advocates like him have failed to sort out what considerations are ethically relevant. My position on animal rights precludes me from eating bacon, unlike Petersen, because I refuse to view the pig as a commodity that humans confine in cruel conditions, castrate, tail dock, mutilate, and kill just for gustatory pleasure.
Petersen makes a valid point that veganism has environmental impacts too, and we should understand what they are so we can minimize them. But veganism has fewer adverse impacts on the environment than meat eating does. Factory-farming operations — which kill 10 billion chickens yearly in the U.S. and millions more goats, sheep, cows, and pigs — require millions of acres of forested land to be converted into crops to feed the animals, spreading desertification and reducing biodiversity. Factory farming is a major source of global warming and a leading cause of water pollution and soil depletion.
This society’s addiction to eating animals at any cost is sinking us and the environment. The answer is not to send everyone into the woods with a gun to find their own food. Evolution toward a vegan existence will minimize suffering and holds the potential for true sustainability.
I assign David Petersen’s writings on ethical hunting to my students alongside other works critical of hunting. In general I find his views considered, respectful, and thoughtful, but I take issue with a few of his misleading comments.
First, if every family in the U.S. were to follow Petersen’s lead and kill their “deer for the year,” we would exterminate the species before the year was out. Hunting, ethical or otherwise, is not sustainable for 300 million Americans, let alone the 6 billion-plus people on the planet.
Second, Petersen believes that veganism is “nutritionally extreme,” but numerous epidemiological studies reveal that vegans are generally healthier: they are far less likely to be overweight and have much lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and type-II diabetes, three of the biggest killers in the West. Several large studies have shown that vegans live longer than meat eaters.
Petersen asks whether veganism is “worth the bother in the big picture of life and death on earth.” To those of us who are ethical vegans, it is not a “bother.” We choose not to participate in the egregious torture and suffering of farmed animals because we want to minimize the harm we cause. That Petersen eats bacon, knowing, as he must, the ways in which pigs are raised and slaughtered in the U.S., surprises me. Would it be a bother for him to choose pancakes or oatmeal for breakfast in order to stay true to his principles?
Perhaps the most disingenuous part of the interview comes when Petersen describes the environmental costs of “fossil-fuel vegetarianism.” In study after study a plant-based diet, as locally and organically grown as possible, is the clear winner, leaving the smallest carbon footprint by far. Many pounds of feed must be fed to farmed animals to produce a single pound of flesh, and these grains are grown on deforested land, fertilized with massive amounts of chemical fertilizer, sprayed with toxic pesticides (which show up in the meat or milk), and irrigated with huge quantities of water (far more than is required for a plant-based diet). It is dishonest to point the fossil-fuel finger at vegans when Americans’ meat-based diet is responsible for the lion’s share of the harm. Even the UN has cited animal husbandry and meat eating as a bigger contributor to global warming than all forms of transportation combined.
Finally, Petersen points to our origins as a species to justify hunting. First, it is unclear what percentage of our food was meat in our earliest history. Given our lack of claws and fangs and our inability to kill large animals without weapons, our most distant ancestors probably acquired most of their calories from plants, nuts, fruits, seeds, and perhaps insects, like our closest ape relatives do today. But what if they didn’t? Why must we point to our early ancestors to justify our behavior today? If we discovered that rape was commonplace among the early humans, would we argue that it’s OK to rape someone now?
One of the best things about being human in the twenty-first century is our huge array of choices. Wouldn’t it be nice if more people did “bother” to make choices that do the least harm not only to themselves but to other people, other species, and the environment?
It sounds like David Petersen lives and hunts with the mentality of some Native American tribes in past centuries, which is admirable, but his statement that all humans were hunter-gatherers at one point is just speculation. There is no nutrient the human body needs that is found only in animal products. Nor do we have a “natural craving” for flesh. Hunting has been a choice, not a necessity, for all of human existence.
I’ve just finished reading “The Good Hunter.” The timing is appropriate, as it is deer-hunting season in southwest Wisconsin. My husband and two older sons are sitting in the woods right now, hoping to get a deer. The younger ones wait to be old enough for the ritual of rising at 4 A.M. to head out into the woods with Dad and bring home the meat that will feed us all winter. We have two bucks hanging from the tree in our backyard right now; one more will see us through till spring. Then fishing starts, and Dad and the boys will head to the trout-springs every Saturday morning.
I used to be one of those obnoxious antihunting, anti-meat-eating people. Then I met my husband, who had no time for that. We proceeded to raise and butcher all our own meat: chickens, pigs, goats, and cows. Our children have been a part of this and are wiser for it.
Hunting is one of the last rites of passage for young men, as fathers teach their sons how to sit quietly for hours in the cold with a gun and wait, and also how to gut a deer and drag it out of the woods, cut out the tenderloins, and marinate the meat in olive oil and garlic for an excellent, fresh, locally produced meal.
I am a conservative, old, fat, rural white man in my sixties, and I have been reading The Sun for well over fifteen years. More often than not I disagree with the political and social sentiments expressed in your magazine, but I read it because I love the fine writing and the passion. Literature — liberal or conservative — seems to be growing less and less common these days and should be cherished wherever it’s found.
I was fascinated by the interview with David Petersen. I have, in the past, hunted deer and other animals, and I made it a point to eat what I killed. Like Petersen, I was prone to killing does rather than bucks — largely because I think they taste better.
The fact that your “la-la, foo-foo, hippy-dippy, far-left rag” (as a friend of mine once characterized The Sun) would publish such an interview leaves me with a happy feeling. I bet you’ll get a lot of angry letters, though.
I am a thirty-five-year-old vegan and haven’t worn leather, wool, or silk since I was a teenager. The sense of entitlement of many hunters, who plunder the natural world with little thought to the cost, angers me.
David Petersen is clearly a different kind of hunter. He is bothered by the irreverent attitude of the above-mentioned “outdoorsmen.” I am a different kind of vegan. Although I believe in nearly every principle they stand for and share their sense of urgency, I am embarrassed by animal-rights advocates who use extreme tactics that only alienate the people they hope to convert.
Animal-welfare and conservation issues are complex. We need independent and progressive critical thinkers on both sides of the fence. In Petersen I see someone who, like me, cares about nature, feels an intense spiritual connection to it, and is fiercely protective of the dwindling unadulterated parts of our world.
Sometimes vegans aren’t flaky kooks. Sometimes hunters are reverent and philosophical. Sometimes we’re even on the same side.