I needed some air after trying to record a podcast episode. My guest hung up on me. I spent some time pulling weeds in the carrot bed, including very nutritious and delicious purslane, which grows well in many parts of the world. I’m a big advocate of including more wild foods in the diet. Weeding is quite therapeutic.
My guest had a great conversation a few months back about veganism that I really enjoyed listening to, and an off-the-grid type lifestyle that is quite interesting to me. He had spent many years as a vegan himself and now he hunts and gathers the majority of his food. The rest of his diet, he explained, comes mostly from organic farms.
The show was off to a great start. He talked about his background and overall philosophies. He said that people in the ancestral health world don’t talk about it, but the produce available in supermarkets is just as domesticated as our meat is. None of it grows in the wild, and the quality of nutrients in wild plants is far superior. I agree with him and talk about the importance of eating wild plants and hunting in my book.
He definitely dominated the conversation and it was hard for me to get a word in, but because he has his own show that often includes a long monolog, I didn’t think it was rude. But as the conversation continued, I realized that he seemed to assume I’m not educated or have never contemplated anything he was discussing. The fact is, I’ve read most of the books on his online bookshelf, and have spent a lot of time thinking about most of the topics he was schooling me on.
He then talked about how agriculture has led to the downfall of man; that civilization is the worst thing that has ever happened and it’s all because of agriculture. Hunter-gatherers, he explained, are able to keep their populations in check due to things like infant mortality. He grouped all agriculture into “bad” and seemed to feel that only hunter gatherers were “good.”
Now, I agree that humankind saw a huge shift since the beginning of agriculture, and that overpopulation is an issue on the planet. I totally agree with everything in the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, especially that we are overly human-centric, not recognizing that we too are animals, and that hunter gatherers were “leavers” and as soon as agriculture happened, we became “takers.” I’m not sure my guest realized I was on his side here, but I wanted to challenge him on one point. There are actually some benefits to domestication of animals and plants.
When I got a rare chance to squeeze a word in and said, “Well there is some nuance here, agriculture isn’t all evil.” I figured since he said in the beginning of the show that he did eat some food that wasn’t wild, we’d be on the same page here. I brought up a conversation I had with Joel Salatin last summer. I was asking him what he says to vegans when they accuse him of “taking advantage” of animals by keeping cattle and then harvesting them for his food. He told me that he sees nothing wrong with providing a good life for an animal, keeping it safe, and providing a humane death for it. Compared to hunting, Joel continued, where you’re not sure if you’ll actually catch anything and have to spend hours for the possibility of no returns, raising domestic animals allows him the freedom to read and write books. It would be a lot of work to hunt and gather all his food.
This is when things started to heat up. My guest didn’t like this at all. He asked me if I hunt. I told him that I fish, but I don’t actively hunt for all my food. He then said that hunting is much more efficient than all of the time you have to spend taking care of animals, that the farming of animals is incredibly labor intensive.
Really? Because that’s not my experience at all. Growing organic vegetables is pretty back breaking, but pasture-based animals are actually pretty easy.
I asked him if he’s ever raised pigs on pasture. He said no. I explained that they require very little maintenance, and practically take care of themselves. If I can give it a good life in the woods, very close to it’s wild habitat, yet keep it healthy and safe from predators, provide it with a quick and humane death, then feed a lot of people, I don’t see how this is “bad.”
He hung up. Then he messaged me on Skype that he’s not a good fit for my show. He was able to challenge me on the hunting but when I brought up a counterpoint, showing nuance and context, suggesting there might be another way of looking at things that disagreed with his viewpoint, he was unwilling to discuss it.
I really am not trying to pick on this guy. I’ve never invited someone on the show in order to embarrass them or set them up for a ambush debate. The fact is, I do think that we should eat more wild plants and animals. I also think that spending more time in nature is something that would benefit us greatly. Modern, industrial agriculture is pretty horrible for sure. We are destroying our soils, poisoning our waters, destroying biodiversity, and killing ourselves with too much processed food.
But, there are alternatives to chemical mono-crop farming and animals raised in factories. On our farm and many others like it, we’re building top soil and sequestering carbon by raising ruminants on grass. We raise a wide variety of unique organic vegetables and they’re much more nutritious than their grocery store equivalents. We harvest weeds. We give people a connection to their food. We teach young people how to farm and appreciate the need for community-based agriculture. Because I don’t have to hunt and gather all of my food, I get to advise people on how to save their health through eating better food. I have time to write books, to actually make a difference (I hope) on a big scale.
Because of agriculture we have specialization. This means we have things like technology, like… podcasts and websites where my guest sells supplements, clothing, broth protein powder and ghee in order to support his lifestyle. Is selling an organic cotton t-shirt with his slogan, or bone broth powder made from CAFO chickens that ate grain more noble than raising pastured pigs? If he is directly benefitting financially from mono-cropping and “domestication,” then perhaps there’s a slight disconnect happening.
This also reminds me of a certain ethical vegan CEO of a large natural grocery chain that sells quite a bit of meat, most of which is not pasture-based. In this video, at 20:40, Mackey explains how he has no power to stop selling animals in the stores, because that’s what customers want. If he does truly believe that animals should not be raised for meat because of ethical reasons, then how can he profit off it?
I completely respect and agree that living closer to nature is important, but I also feel it’s critical to meet people where they are. Not everyone is going to give up their entire lifestyle and become a (mostly) hunter and gatherer. For those who aren’t, what can be done? How do we attempt to make change in our modern society? My strategy is to help people heal themselves by eating real food through my nutrition practice. Through my podcast and blog, to raise awareness that we don’t all need to be eating factory farmed meat and chemically grown vegetables and grains. This is why I support companies like Maple Hill Creamery, Epic, and The Good Kitchen. They are making radical change through building a clientele that appreciates and wants to support regenerative agriculture practices. (No, they didn’t pay me to say this, I actually am thrilled about what they’re doing.) So while I think that living in the woods and being a hunter gatherer is awesome, intriguing, and commendable, I don’t think that life is black and white. I don’t think this is the only noble path in life. There are better and worse ways to do everything.