When you get older, you start to realize how fragile life is. My best friend from high school when I moved to Michigan my senior year of high school passed away a few years ago. But I had just found out last week. He died of a heart attack. I will express some memories of him soon because I feel its good to write. But you realize it could be "you" or "me" at any time.
Can I tell you the truth? A few years back late one Summer, I caught a weird lung thing. I think it was borderline pneumonia. In the heat of Summer, you would think its weird to catch something. But then I think of something like Legionnaire’s disease or the like and you know its possible. I developed a dry, weak cough and started to feel very fatigued. Who knows, it could have been a corona virus because the symptoms were similar. The truth is, I got so weak and light headed some times that I think I could have easily passed out and that would be it. It actually wouldn’t be a bad way to go. I was at total peace. I wasn’t panicked or scared. I just accepted where I was at the time. When elderly people die of pneumonia, which is super common, I wonder if that’s how they feel? I think I could easily have written and said my goodbye’s with clarity. And then just gone to sleep. It would be that easy.
Don’t get me wrong, I love life. I love all of life. I don’t want to see anyone or anything die. As a soldier, I would still have felt the conviction to defend my brothers and Nation. I wouldn’t savor taking a life, but war is terrible. Sometimes you have to take a life to save lives. I know that’s what happens in war. I would feel intense pain for that, but no regrets.
I am an omnivore. Yes, I kills plants to eat. I’m a biologist and I know what life is. I don’t mix up social issues of convenience or the "bothersome" responsibility of bringing a life into the world. Its not an option to kill for convenience. I know what fertilization means across all organisms. I would have gotten tests wrong if I said that when zygotes unite, undergo meiosis and genetic recombination, and create uniquely different life, wasn’t life. Yes similar to parents but different. The point is, when those gametes intermingle, its life. I don’t kill that life. But I do.
Do you eat fruit? A vegetable is a "vegetative" part of a plant. It may be a leaf, branch, parts of a flower, but not the fertilized egg. The fertilized egg is new life. A "fruit" is a fertilized egg. When you eat it, you are eating life. When you kill it, you kill life. People don’t seem to have any trouble eating strawberries. Ethically, they are OK with it. They are OK with killing a mosquito or fly that’s bothering them. They spray repellents to kill termites and ants. They are even OK with aborting a child for convenience. But are against killing an animal. Their moral justifications are hypocritical. One person explained to me that eating an animal takes its "soul". OK, so now you are saying that we, as humans, now get to determine which animal has a soul. So a puppy dog has a soul but a shellfish does not? A dolphin has a soul but a fly does not? Who are we to say that? And how do we really know? Is the the presence of a central nervous system the standard? Who are we to say? Did you know many plants feel touch? They can sense CO2 changes. They can see sunlight and water. Are you telling me cows have a soul but plants do not? Who are we to say that? Ethical justifications always fall apart.
I love animals. Even hunter’s love animals and their beauty. I would encourage you to expose yourself to more. Watch a show like "The Last Alaskans". You see how people who live off the land marvel at life. There is so much beauty and life to cherish. But you also know how valuable it is to have food. In remote places, like parts of Alaska or places where indigenous people have lived since the beginning of time, you can’t go to the grocery store and buy whatever you want. You have to live off the land. Sometimes those lands don’t have growing plants in Winter. I studied field ecology where bioavailability, assimilation coefficients, coevolution, symbiosis, and other aspects of eating for life come into play. Do you know what dietary fiber really is? Its undigestible pieces that we as humans don’t have enzymes to break down. So we say we like that they are scrubbing our intestines and arteries, but its because we can’t use them. There is no assimilation or nutritious value in fiber. On the other hand, ruminants have cellulases that are capable of breaking down grasses and plants that we can’t use. Its almost like cattle are made to coexist with humans because of what they can eat and provide to us.
Yes, I love animals. But everything has a purpose. Sometimes the strawberry gives hundreds of progeny for our consumption in one fruit. Sometimes, cattle and other animals are used for food. Its like they were made to give up themselves for us. "Domesticated" animals wouldn’t exist without humans. Most roaming free Schnauzer’s, poodles, and Dachschunds won’t live for long on their own in the wild. A coyote or wolf would see them as very easy to obtain food sources. Same with a cow. They wouldn’t roam wild like their ancestors, like a water buffalo, bison, or wildabeast.
Speaking of wildness. I studied field corn for my Ph.D. I had to know all about corn, its history, and its survival. The truth is if we stopped cultivating corn, it would likely die out as a species in just a few years. If you left a field of corn to the wild, the wild would take it over. Weeds, native species, trees and shrubs would take over. Same with soybeans. Yes, a majority of our world’s food consumption comes from these two crops. We have flours, oils, proteins, and other products from these crops. Most processed food has corn or soybean products in them. Yet, without human interaction, these species would go away.
Life is fragile. Its amazing how we ever last a day. If you knew biology and chemistry and physics, you’d know what a miracle we are. Study even just one cell. Study how it survives. Study all the organelles, plasma, and how membranes interact with their environment. I’ve had not only courses in microbiology (single-celled organisms) but in cell biology too. I’m fascinated by the miracle of life. Where we get life wrong is in human thought. We get mixed up in origins, evolution, consumption, and ethics. Its us who get it wrong.
What spurred these thoughts? I just killed a fly; and I felt bad about it. Yes I did. Why? Not because it was living. Not because it was in my house. But it annoyed me. And I felt I was a higher creature that couldn’t be annoyed by such a simple life form. It buzzed in my face and on my computer screens. So I killed it. Isn’t that sad? But we all do it every day. Most of us aren’t Buddhists. And even in that ideal, there are hypocrisies. Because some life is considered less than others. A Buddhist has to eat just like we do. Some things are OK to kill and eat while others are not. Life is fragile. Its a social construct to think otherwise. We all draw lines in the sand of what is OK and what is not.
Life is precious. All life. No one more than another. But life couldn’t exist without nutrients. And those nutrients come from life. Giving one life supports another. Fungi and bacteria that consumes debris that we no longer want or need supports their life. A cracker crumb that slips into the carpet is consumed by microorganisms even if we don’t know it. Life supports life. Its the cycle of our existence.