"Hunter Safety?" ~ Why I am not a Vegan

"How have I come to be here" I asked myself as a late March Saturday slips by, the 3rd and final day of the Maine Hunter Safety class.What a long and unlikely story it is, and as I reflect over all that has transpired, I feel deeply honored to be here.  Let me explain... I grew up in a little college town in Southern New Hampshire and no one ever exposed me to hunting. It would be more appropriate to say no one ever exposed me to food. I grew up in a strange distortion of the cookie cut mold of the lower middle class of New England.  We ate "food" from the supermarket, and did what our doctors told us to.

Our dinners were Kraft macaroni and cheese and Hamburger Helper.  Brands of foods but not really types of food.  After all, they were really just made of a few things... ultimately corn and soy.  Or animals raised on corn and soy.  Or animals raised on corn soy and each other.

We ate these animals and drank their milk too.  Homogenized and Pasteurized, two words I grew up with but couldn't have defined. We drank the chemical digestive aids, called sodas, cans of phosphoric acid to "wash down" the  industrial age food that we had eaten. Antibiotics were administered regularly to prevent the outbreak of plague within the confines of our over-populated school.

I, like so much of my generation, was a factory farmed human in turn of the century America.

But this was all to change....

My first experience with Vegetarianism took place when I was just a boy, probably age 10 or 11... It didn't last long, maybe a week or so, but I was deeply drawn to it.  There was something about the concept, and of what it communicated, that spoke to me.  It was something about taking a stand for the value of life,  something about caring...  I was then too young to articulate it but I could sense the importance of my food choices and how they are about so much more than just feeding ourselves.I came to know that our food choices are about who we are and how we live, together, on this planet.

By age 15 I had developed the independence necessary to make my own dietary choices.  A friend and role model had re-introduced me to vegetarianism, tofu (it was still a 'health' food then) and juicing...  I was heavily influenced but not totally changed.

Another year goes by and I got my first real job working at Wendy's manning the grill.  I had gotten pretty overweight, and was living on fast food.  Literally.  Little did I know then that my entire body was being constructed of corn, soybean, and potato, either as fries, buns and oil, or as factory farmed animals that form the meat portion of the menu...  There was an all-you-can eat salad bar there too...  Consisting of mostly iceberg lettuce and dressings made from the oils of corn, soy, or canola (which means Canadian Oil, and is a trade name for rape seed) oils.

But just then came the light of revelation!  Partly exotic pharmacology (I will let you guess), partly a teenage crush ( I was really self conscious about my weight), and partly destiny... I was ready for change!  I bought a membership to a gym, and overnight I become a vegetarian.... or more appropriately a "Nutritional Vegetarian".  My choices were based solely on the belief that this was the nutritionally superior diet and nothing more.  Well maybe a little more, as my ego liked it too!

It felt good to be doing something different, something against the grain.  It felt evolved and honorable and even monastic.

Those first few years were confusing...  it was the days of fat free and high carb.  It was the days of soy 'milk' and...  well... soy everything (even the so called soy 'cheese' and fake 'meat'). I used to go to the Health Food store which was really just a grain depot with lots of cereals, dried fruits and vitamins. I trusted that everything there was good for my health.

Ooops!

By age 18 I was getting hungry, really hungry, and wasn't sure what to eat...  And so I decided, rather hesitantly, to begin reintegrating some meats.  This lasted just a week or so and I was feeling guilty, like I had gone back on my vows.  Just then someone handed me a book by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (strange stuff indeed!) and there was a little section in there about their dietary rules.  It said that they abstained from meat.  This was the confirmation I had been waiting for, so I set out to research more.

These was the early days of the internet, back when you had to listen to that high pitched squeal as you 'dialed-up' with a phone line.  I visited the library to use what was then an exotic and uncommon technology. I began researching the Krishna's which led me to information about Animal Rights and Veganism.  To say I was shocked would be an understatement.  Strangely, after years as a vegetarian, I had never really considered the plight of the animals nor had I thought about the conditions that they were raised in.  I had never seen a or even heard of a factory farm.  The videos of animal slaughter and the cruelty of the farming conditions revolted me.  I vowed then and there to never to participated in this profane carnage again.

To be honest I felt dirty...  contaminated.  I wanted to be absolved and cleansed from the sins of my culture.  And I knew that I would dedicate my life to unraveling this secret to reveal the truth of where our food was coming from.

And so now I was a Vegan.  A "Moral Vegetarian".

I started spending each and every day at the library, starting with the squeal of the internet dialing, and ending with the "Sir, your time is up" when my hour had gone by. I discovered 'Raw Foodism' and felt immediately connected to it, like it was what I had been looking for.  It felt perfect, a combination of ethics and nutrition.  Its Mythos closely mirrored the Christian one I grew up with.  It is the story of a fall from grace.

The  Raw Food Vegan diet says that we once lived in a paradise where there was very little sickness or disease.  That it was cooking that led to our banishment from this Utopia.  Cooking was the proverbial "forbidden fruit" of good and evil that led to our fall from health. The idea was that cooking not only "killed" our food but rendered it toxic with denatured and deranged molecules and deactivated enzymes.

Over the years this toxicity increases (or bio-accumulates) making people sick, and this "toxemia" can only be cleansed by water fasting, juicing, and eating Raw Foods.  With enough cleansing you can be restored to the state of health enjoyed by the human of the golden age, and be free of all that is vile about life. Ultimately we can wash our hands of death altogether, living in a state of purity and moral righteousness, where nothing ever dies to sustain our lives (perhaps plants are not alive?).

I aspired to eat a Frutarian Diet, where not even a plant would die for me to live, where only the fruits and seed of plants would feed me, and I would escape the wheel of Karma to which I had been born a slave. I felt a renewed sense of purpose and set out upon a new adventure.  I was taking the Road Less Traveled  and it was the moral high road, the nutritional high road, and yes, even the world-saving political high road too.

Cooked food was dead food... and you are what you eat.  Therefore eating "Living Food" must lead to more Life Force, and so I would now eat my food as whole and intact as possible. I wanted to be cleansed, and so cleansed I was.  The first three days were like nothing I had ever experienced before.  It was almost psychedelic.  The experience of eating so few calories and eating such light and easily digested food allowed my body to mobilize energy to cleanse itself of industrial, pharmacological and chemical bio accumulated waste.

Many of the old injuries and nagging pains that I had lived with quickly subsided, as my body, with its new surplus of energy, could now focus on some much needed repairs. In what felt like an instant I was changed from a 175 lb muscly athlete (Thanks to that gym membership!  I am 5'5" so that was a bit stocky) to 145 in just a few weeks, my body burned off tissue, shed water and salt, and cleaned house in ways I never knew possible.  My eyes glistened, I felt light and easy in my body and mind. It was like my need for sleep diminished and I awoke each morning with a kind of excitement and zest for life that I had never known before!

What looked like a bizarre if not dangerous dietary experiment had deeply troubled my friends and family, and really isolated me socially, but it was worth it!  It was like a religion... like a Raw-ligion!

Today I look back in amusement.  I was a radical and even militant raw foodist.  It was the only thing that mattered to me for years.  We were a movement, and the internet was our rallying point!  We marched with the mantra constantly at our lips... "Cooked food is poison!"

Fast forward just over half of a decade... That shiny, energetic feeling had faded and had been fading for years.  My teeth ached and I had recurrent fungal problems.  I was chronically hungry (actually the correct term here is "starving"), and powerfully addicted to fruit sugar.  The more I "learned" about the dangers of food the more foods I cut out of my diet. There was so little left that I "could" eat.  At this time I didn't eat oils or salt, I didn't use herbs or spices, just fruits and vegetables...  seeds and nuts... and oh, so many nuts!

Just getting enough calories to stay alive was a struggle.  My digestion was poor and getting worse.  No matter how bad I felt the experts, books and websites of the Raw Food gurus assured me that these were just symptoms of "toxicity", that soon I would be fully cleansed and would experience the heavenly health that was my birthright.  I believed them.

Then, enter the Superfood movement.

The term isn't new, but rather a re-emergence of a term from earlier in the 1900's.  This renewed version was born out of "health food" marketing, and strongly influenced by the Raw Food movement.  I, like so many Raw Food eaters had hit the wall.  We knew there was something missing, we just couldn't determine what it was.

After all, we were so sure that this was the perfect diet of humanity.  That it was the original diet of our species.  It was perfect in both practice and philosophy.  What else could there be.

The Superfoods came into our community with some suspicion.  Many Fundamentalist Raw Food eaters viewed them as a weakening of our dietary values, and as toxic and even poisonous.  Still, they took hold and spread through our community like a wild fire.  Is poisonous a bad thing?  Check this DVD to hear more about the connection between "poison" and "medicine"

With them came a renewed interest in Herbalism.  This was in direct opposition to the earlier raw foodist beliefs of the 19th and 20th century (then called "Natural Hygiene"), which said that all herbs and spices were toxins (read "sinful") and exited the appetite as they overstimulated the nervous system.  This created a rift in the RawFood community that split it into factions....

Ha!  It really does read like a cult, right?

I chose to go the way of Superfoods and Herbalism.  It was much more fun, exciting, and far more sustainable.  Actually, for years it was like a party!  With foods like oils (especially coconut oil), and sweeteners (like agave), I now was getting enough calories to sustain a healthy body weight (wanna lose weight fast?  try living on celery. apples, carrots, and almonds), and with herbs I could begin addressing the health concerns that the more rigid Raw Food dogma always blamed on toxicity (this is your fault and you must be cleansed (repent) of your toxicity (sins).

Now, here is a twist in the tale...  Towards the end of my 20's I had been handed a book by Dr. Weston Price called "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration" (Get it free online here!).  This book had a profound influence on me, and proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was in fact a need for animal food in the human diet.  This was very challenging to embrace, as I had literally crafted my entire identity out of the things that I didn't eat!

...But the evidence was irrefutable...

Dr. Price had studied the teeth and dental arches of 12 cultures around the world, comparing the teeth of those who had eaten the traditional diets of their people to those who were raised on the modern diet of the West.  We are blessed that this research was done, as today it would be nearly impossible to repeat.  He had shown that our species was degenerating quickly on our modern food, and for reasons that I hadn't expected.  Not because of toxins, and not because of cooked foods.  In fact, it was because of the inclusion of the poorly grown and highly refined products of agriculture (primarily refined carbohydrates), and the lack of high quality wild or pastured (grass fed) animal foods!

While the book is a must read, even more valuable are the images, which page after page show the teeth and dental arches of both people raised on their indigenous diets and their children who have been raised on the foods of the West.  Of course our own foods have degenerated by orders of magnitude since 1939 when this book was first published!

Remember that teeth are modified bones, and the condition of the teeth and dental arch are a window into the skeletal structure itself, as well as the health of the rest of the body.

This, by the way, is where we get the saying "don't look a gift horse in the mouth"...  which essentially means that it is rude to examine something closely to see if its good enough when it is a gift freely given. But I digress....

This research was conducted at a time when many of the indigenous and traditional cultures of the world were being rapidly assimilated into our Western mono-culture.  These pictures (of which there are many) show us a comparison of one generation to the next.  Please imagine what the mouths of "modern developed" people here in the West would look like without the use of braces to disguise the reality.  I know it challenges the political correctness of our day, but Weston Price called this "Degeneration", and with this I must agree.

What an inner turmoil this created for me.  I wanted to act on this new information, but I was so indoctrinated into the beliefs of the Raw Food movement.  I had spent years meeting others, who like me ate Raw Foods.  I had attended workshops and retreats, read every book that I could, and even organized local potlucks.

It was a very difficult thing for me to incorporate.  I began eating raw cheeses and sometimes eggs.  I did this for years though I barely allowed into my awareness.  It was something that I was hiding, not from others, but from myself...  There was a dissonance, two opposing views held within my mind.....  I just couldn't fully accept it...

I carried on, over the course of a few years, sometimes eating cheeses, then slowly eggs, and eventually even fish.  All the while I still lived amongst and traveled within the Raw Food community...  I was not alone, as many others were doing this as well.

Strangely we all just sort of hid it.  It was treated like a weakness or an indulgence.

Slowly I began to awaken to what was happening.  I began to study chemistry and anthropology.  I began to study wild foods and to harvest medicines from nature.  Over the course of time I was making peace with my need for animal food.

About a year and a half ago I was introduced to the "Primal Diet"...  a diet based heavily on raw meats, as well as the idea of "Traditional Diets" which includes unpasteurized grass fed dairy products...  For the first time I gave myself permission to really begin exploring this.

The premise is that we are a product of the ice age.  It is a diet that is based on anthropology rather than on a Garden of Eden tale of our ancestral diet.  After all, when we look at cave paintings of our ancestors it is images of the hunt that we see.  When we visit the still living "primitives" of today, our window into the past, we find diets largely based on animal foods.  The plants that we grow today are a product of an agricultural lifestyle that is a mere 10,000 years old!  Before this our entire species was hunting and gathering for its subsistence!

It was as if this way of thinking provided the much needed balance to the extreme end of the nutritional spectrum to which I had swung.  By incorporating this information I was able to find an equilibrium, and was able to restore my health.

And so I began to open my worldview, and release the dissonance....  I began to eat animals, and I began to eat them without guilt.

This was a world of difference from the animals I had seen tortured on factory farms that I had seen all those years ago.  These were animals I could meet.  Farmers I could talk to.  Pieces of land that I could visit.

What struck me immediately was that I could actually go to the farms to get my calories.  I live in New England, so my Raw and Superfood Vegan diet had been based almost exclusively on exotic foods shipped all over from distant lands.  There were foods that I could get locally, some fruits and vegetables, but my calories, the stuff that really sustained me, seemed always to come from distant lands!  This was a less than comforting conclusion to reach, and one that most who eat a Raw Food diet are shy about looking at!

Now I could consume calories raised here where I live, sustainably.  This brought me a peace of mind that comforted me almost maternally.  It felt like I had been plugged back into the source, into the Mother Earth herself.

Now I could eat fats and protein that took me out of the blood sugar roller-coaster that I had been trapped in cyclically for so many years. I could finally have the lean body mass that I used too, and maintain the activity level that I knew I was capable of.  And finally, I was releasing the food Raw-ligion that I had bowed to for more than a decade and a half!

Actually, it was like coming back to life.  I don't mean like waking up, I mean like coming back to the Life-Cycle.  Like leaving a virtual reality and coming back into Nature.  My days of eating the Raw Vegan diet was like living in a fantasy world.  I was totally ignorant of the scheme of life and to my place within it.

Where, after all, was my Raw Vegan food really coming from?  What fertilized the soils for my "organic" produce if not the manure of farm animals?  And if I wanted a truly vegan world, what then would fertilize the soils for my food?  Synthetic NPK derived ultimately from fossil fuels and natural gas...  What pollinated these Organic Vegan produce if not Factory Farmed Bees? Where did I think my food was coming from?  I guess I had not really considered it honestly.

During those last few years I had become very invested in Wild Food and Wild Water.  Through my studies of Herbalism I had created ElixirCraft, and began wild crafting herbs and mushrooms.  I had also become deeply passionate about Wild Spring Water and created Find a Spring.

With the inclusion of meats in my diet it just made sense...  I wanted to eat Wild Meat. I began to receive gifts of Wild Meat from hunters, and fishermen.  Many of the Fishes alvailable in markets are still wild as well, so these became staples.

I had come to the understanding that the bones and teeth of "primitive" Hunter/Gatherer societies are far more sturdy and dense than those of agriculturalists.  And that dental cavities were largely unknown to these so called "savages".  That the "Natural Foods" we eat today are anything but.  That we are really eating hybrid foods, whether plants or animals, foods bred over the course of centuries, many of which cannot be found in nature anywhere today!

Just this year I was truly moved by the book The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability by Lierre Kieth.  Her story parallels my own in many ways, even down to the encounter with Weston Price's book.  She laid out so beautifully how Vegetarianism is more than just destructive for our bodies, it is destructive to our eco-system.  Farming is what turned the fertile cresent into a desert, what turned the Nile Valley into sand dunes...  and remember, that was Organic Farming!  They did not have the "Commercial" or "Industrial" farming practices that we do today!

The most powerful conclusion of her book is this...  That the beginning of Adult Wisdom lays in accepting that something must Die for you to Live.  This is universally true for all humans...  We may put many layers of middle-men, of industry, of smoke and mirrors between us and this fact but eventually, to truly mature, we must embrace it.

With this Wisdom I was resolved to hunt my own meat, and to develop the relationship with the animals that this requires.  To see them face to face, from start to finish.

And so, I find myself on a Saturday in Maine, sitting in a Hunter Safety class.  Something I never expected, but I must admit, feels so good.  It is not the romanticized Hunters Initiation I would have dreamed of.  But it is something.  It is a start.  It is the beginning of true food soverinty and relationship to the web of food and cycle of life.

I am grateful to be here, and grateful to those who came before me.  Mostly I am grateful to the animals in body and spirit who give their lives to sustain the ecosystem and those of us who dwell within it.

I am humbled by the many years it took for me to arrive at this place, and the circuitous path I took to get here. And....  I am excited for the ancient Rite of the Hunt.

After the many years I invested as a Raw Food Vegan I cannot deny that I have gained much that is of value.  I learned, what I feel, is one of the true secrets of cleansing, and no doubt an important part of a healing path.  It offered me a path of transformation that I will cherish eternally.

Today I see it as a fast, as a cleanse.  I see it as something to do short term.

And I see it as something beautiful too... But for me its just not a diet to live on.

How about you? ~Daniel