A Sacred Thing

We just finished our main season for harvesting animals, and someone asked me recently if it makes me sad to kill them.  Most people, even meat eaters, can hardly imagine killing an animal themselves.

    After many years of growing both the meat and the vegetable part of our food, I have come to realize that modern people have a prejudice about their plant foods, as if they are somehow inert and not alive.  It is generally thought that plants are only a step above rocks, with no sentience or feeling.  Interestingly, this is how people viewed animals until recently.
    The herbalist Stephen Harrod Buhner has written extensively about plant intelligence, and I highly recommend his book.  It is now known that plants do indeed sense and feel.  They have nerve tissue which is chemically and structurally identical to our own.  A single rye plant contains enough neural tissue to dwarf our big brains that we are so proud of.  

    And plants display emergent behavior.  They are aware of their surroundings, they make choices and cooperate with each other.  They will send compromised plants around them sugars through their root mycelia, and they are constantly exchanging detailed information via volatile organic compounds among themselves and with their insect allies.


    Even with this knowledge, I go into the garden, where all my carefully tended vegetables are growing in nice rows.  I have saved their seeds, planted them, protected them, weeded them, tended them.  And now I go into the garden with intentions of death.  It is time to prepare the evening meal.


    I find a huge, beautiful turnip, comfortable in life and thinking of soon putting forth flowers.  Without a pause, I lean down and rip it from the matrix.  All the pain-sensing neural hairs cry out as it leaves the earth with a root-tearing “grunch.”  I remove the leaves, tearing its body apart while it is still reeling from the harvest.  I turn its root in my hands, noticing how it almost looks like a face.  I smell the delicious vegetable smell that wafts from its freshly torn top.  To me it smells like food, but it is really a shriek of pain and distress, a desperate message of volatile organic chemicals, screaming to the other plants who wait, planted in place, for their own harvest.

    I carry it inside and peel its skin away while it is still living, chop its body into pieces with a knife, and toss them into boiling water.  As I do this, I am aware of this organism, this being, that has met its death by my hand.

    Grazing cattle

    It does make me sad to kill our animals.  They are very much a part of our lives, and I miss them when they are gone.  

    Beef harvest

    But they are our cows, and we are responsible for them.  What I mean by that is that we have sheltered them from the forces of nature that would have brought them death.  We have unnaturally protected them from famine, predators, and parasites.  And because we live in a world of limited resources, we are responsible for the impact of our herd.

    Beef harvest 2

    When we cull them, we say farewell to every animal, and we kill them by our own hand.  Someone else would not have known them from birth.  Someone else would not love them as we do.  Someone else would not say to them, “We are sorry, but this herd can only stay a certain size.  We honor your sacrifice,” and see with joy the space that is made for new life.  

    Because we know it is a sacred thing, they die by our hand.



    18 Comments Add yours

    1. Denise says:

      Angie, this is an amazing, thought-provoking and beautifully written post. Thank you


    2. I totally agree. I’m trying to work myself up to slaughtering our own animals, but you’re right, I find plants easier. That being said, most of the plants we’ll be growing we would only be taking te fruit rather than the whole plant. The acception of course is root veg. But I plan on treating it with the same respect and mind frame as I do the chicks were raising.
      Side note, have you see the documentary The Secret Life of Plants? Not only is it beautifully filmed but it’s super interesting too. I highly recommend it!


      1. I have not! I will certainly look into it, that sounds interesting! I wonder if it is based on the Stephen Harrod Buhner book of the same name?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It might very well be. I’m almost certain it’s based on a book. It’s a bit older, I think it was done in the 70’s. But it’s absolutely stunning. I first saw it on Netflix, but that was a fair few years ago


    3. Ravenna says:

      Well said. Thank you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    4. tonytomeo says:

      Although much of what you say about plant behavior is surprisingly accurate, they do not have nerve tissue that is structurally and chemically identically to ours. That would be impossible, since plants are too chemically different for any sort of nervous system to function. Nor would such nerve tissue be of any use to them. Their behavior is not emergent. It has been around much longer than animal life has been around. They would not have survived long without it. Although vegetables do not ‘want’ to be eaten, most fruit does. That is what it is for. Much of the fruit that we are familiar with is designed by the plants to attract animals that take the fruit and disperse the seed within. It is something like fragrance and nectar that is designed to attract pollinators. Modern fruits have taken it one step further by getting humans to breed and perpetuate them in ways that the plants would not have dreamed of on their own, . . . although that is questionable. In many ways, plants ‘know’ what they are doing, but it is not like we know ‘knowing’.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You should definitely read Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. tonytomeo says:

          Perhaps rye plants should do so.
          As a horticulturist, I know that plants are very different from humans. Plants do not think like we do. In fact, they do not think at all in the way that we ‘think of thinking’. They are on their own different plane of intellect that works for them. It is like two completely different languages. Many of my colleagues are aware of such intellect, but do not communicate directly with plants. I would compare it to watching two people converse in a foreign language and understanding some of what is being said from how it is presented, even though the words make no sense at all. I often explain to clients why some plants do things that seem strange to us, and how plants know what they are doing. People do not understand that some fire-dependent plants are pleased to burn, some riparian trees are pleased to fall over, and how some plants do not care if we cut major limbs off. It is difficult for humans to understand. The violence of the flora in some forests is difficult to see in slow motion and inconceivable to those who want to believe that nature is so peaceful. Doctor Buhner would get it because he understands such behavior. However, plants and humans are very different, and certainly do not think similarly.


        2. Very well said! Definitely, and just because our cows or our plants are different than we are, doesn’t mean we can’t honor the sacrifice they made to give up their lives.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. tonytomeo says:

          Don’t you think that honoring their sacrifices would give people more of an appreciation for the food that is so unceremoniously consumed with no though about the origins? I always thought that we would eat less mean (in a healthy way, since most of us eat too much) if we knew where it came from, or had to kill it ourselves. I think that growing vegetables and fruits gives more of an appreciation for them as well, and makes us less likely to waste. I know that it makes me take better care of my fruit trees. I really do not want to wast the fruit that they put so much effort into producing. (Although, some would say that none of it is really wasted if other organisms get it, even if that means rotting on the ground.)


        4. I have thought on this and noticed it as well…

          Liked by 1 person

        5. It gives an impression of low value when we have the same foodstuffs available all year round, with a low price value attached. It tells you exactly how much value the “product” has, whether it’s beets or carrots or milk or beef. The value of things changes so much when you begin to have a relationship, i think because like all relationships, it goes beyond money. You could never put a price on what your beloved would cost to you, because a real relationship like that exists beyond money. It’s such a different thing to go into the grocery store and see cucumbers for sale for $x per lb, and being in your garden harvesting, fresh from the vine, knowing that these cucumbers you have saved seed from and grown year after year, until you feel as if they know you and know your garden, and you look forward to seeing them grow and produce every warm season. Likewise, it is so different to eat a hamburger or steak from a cow who not only did you know from birth, but you were there when their mother was born, and you saw her grow up until she gave birth to this calf, who you fed from your hands, and scratched between the horns and cared for over 3 or 4 years. When i eat meat from somewhere else, i always find myself wondering what the animal was like and what it’s life (and death) were like.


        6. tonytomeo says:

          Even turkeys or deer that wonder into the garden get more regard than meat in the store. Even if we are not acquainted with them, we appreciate their sacrifice more because we know that they came from ‘somewhere’. I really dislike turkeys, and I do not like to eat them much either, but I see them wondering out and about in the forest, and I know that they are like other wildlife. When it comes time to process one, every useful bit gets used. None of the meat gets discarded. Taking the white meat and discarding the rest (as some people do), in a way, is worse than wasting bits of meat that were purchased in the store! Taking only some of the best fruit and leaving most to rot, and neglecting a tree that worked hard to produce it, is so unappreciative! Wow, I really do not mean to rant.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. threeaunties says:

        Isn’t that cool how fruit wants to be eaten! Flowers want to be visited! I was really tickled when I found out that bananas not only are high in tryptophan, but also in B6, iron, and riboflavin, needed to produce serotonin. No wonder primates like humans like them so much! Also about how grass, which you might think doesn’t want to be eaten, but it has adapted so perfectly to being grazed that it can only really thrive when grazing animals visit regularly, but not too often. I think the part about identical nervous system means the chemicals in the nervous system are identical, in many cases. Nature is magnificent!

        Liked by 2 people

        1. tonytomeo says:

          Nature is much more intelligent than it gets credit for, that is for sure.

          Liked by 1 person

    5. tonytomeo says:

      Oh goodness! I do not mean to get carried away. I had to go tour a newly reconstructed facility known as a multiversity to compare the work that was done there to the facility where I work. It really was grand. However, it was so grand that it was . . . uncomfortable. The many huge architectural beams were almost mocking the destruction of the trees that produced them. I am certainly no tree hugger, and I believe that trees need to be harvested to produce lumber. Yet, this was so wasteful and so consumptive and so . . . unnecessary. It was like decorating the buildings with the dead carcasses of a forest. What was worse is that this is a place where people go for spiritual enlightenment! It is very expensive to go there! Seriously, we can go out to the forest for FREE!

      Liked by 2 people

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