Whole Life Magazine

October/November 2014

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42 wholelifetimesmagazine.com W hen our son Gavin was about seven, we indulged his fervent and longstanding request for an ant farm. He was at last old enough to understand that ants, as one of the ant farm seller's FAQ pages quips, "do not like earthquakes." In other words, they cannot be shaken; they must be carried with great care. They should also not be fl oated, chilled, thrown, painted, poked or subjected to any other such humiliation or abuse. I was not prepared for the horror that the Plexiglas prison would infl ict on my own psyche. The ants lived without a monarch, since federal law prevents shipping or selling the queens. They ate the gel in which they created tunnels. They ran about, seemingly with a sense of purpose but with no hope of propagating their kind, munching their way through the chemical goop that was their home. No real food, no water, no variety, no climate, no exit. As comrades began to die, the survivors sequestered the corpses in a special room they dug into the matrix. Eventually everybody died in the stale air. I still get wildly claustrophobic thinking about that "educational" display on my little boy's bedroom dresser. I couldn't wait for the grinding descent to come to a merciful, motionless close. I hope those ants were capable of bringing each other comfort in that hellhole. Because it was a stark reality, regardless of the all-you-can-eat, all-expenses-paid glutinous buffet, regardless (or perhaps because) of the fact that the prisoners' life span was on par with that of ants in the wild. Since then, we have created a ritual of putting a spoonful of sugar out for the "wild" ants. We watch the sugar for a while, wander off when the actionless scene becomes intolerable, and then accidentally come upon it again later, the white pile entirely obscured by ants partying with gregarious and grateful gusto. We are the source of manna from heaven in that particular slate- step universe, partial penance for the ant farm from the ninth circle of hell. Further food for thought came last year to our family in the form of the documentary Vegucated, in which the director educated a group of omnivorous New Yorkers on the vegan life, in part by taking her novitiates to a movie about animal factories. This short-form essay doesn't have room for a full-blown rant, nor is it the place to house a litany of shocking statistics. But here's the thing: the soul-sick feeling I got reminded me of that blasted ant farm. Eating meat from factory farms is like the way I implicitly condoned the ant farm, just by having it in my home. When I look at the issue squarely, I can't fi nd a rationale for regularly abusing animals before they even get to slaughter, or for the copious spilling of water and grain to make bigger cattle when our earth is hurting and one in eight of us, globally, is chronically undernourished. It is fi tting to invoke the ninth circle of hell when referring to ant farms, as well as factory farms. This is the circle of treachery— defi ned by a commentary on Dante's Inferno as "fraudulent acts between individuals who share special bonds of love and trust." It's fraudulent to pretend that industrial animal farming is not rife with systematically cruel practices. Those of us privileged enough to make choices about our food are faced with some decisions. The reality is that my hectic working-mom life is not compatible with a lot of homework on scrutinizing all meat sources, and veganism at this point sounds like another full-time job. So for now I'm pescetarian, which always sounds to me like yet another Protestant offshoot. I eat fi sh but no meat and am hoping to wean off fi sh, too. Maybe being vegan is on the distant horizon. My newly Buddhist husband is joining me, since he's having trouble resolving hamburgers with the ideal of "respecting and aiding all sentient beings." And Gavin, who's never loved a vegetable, is the most motivated of us all. He manages an extreme feat: avoiding meat at the highly carnivorous Boy Scout campouts. In Twelve by Twelve, William Powers writes that, "Everything comes from the earth. It's fi ne to grasp this intellectually, but to once again touch, breathe and eat this reality feels like reconciliation with a loved one after a long feud." Reconciliation, although an unfamiliar fl avor, tastes good. —Katherine Hauswirth is writing a book of essays on her rambles outdoors. backwords ANTS, PLANTS AND PESCETARIANS By Katherine Hauswirth How my kid's hobby changed what I eat

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