Archive for March, 2010

Zombie Cattle Hell: An Argument for Sentient Food and a More Sentient Life

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

An Argument for Sentient Food & a More Sentient Life

by Jesse Wolf Hardin
Anima Lifeways & Herbal School

It seems terrible to me, to think of ingesting any creature or plant that wasn’t in its own natural way enlivened: vital, alert and responsive.  And for centuries among many indigenous, land based societies the belief has been that we take on the energy of whatever we consume, gaining some of the strength of the bear by partaking of its flesh, or the litheness of the deer, the courage of the lion, the awakeness of the wide eyed hare.  Such people may likewise insist on avoiding eating much beef, in order to keep from becoming either slowed or borderline oblivious like a majority of domestic cattle.

To the contrary, a growing number of food industry researchers and managers hope to assuage the guilt feelings of empathetic consumers by developing and promoting meat sources that are increasingly dulled, denatured and deadened.  These “knockout livestock” as they are sometimes called, would potentially be unaffected by the worst that was ever done to them, normal looking in every way yet clearly somehow not quite right.  They’ll be just a little too accepting of indignities, and a little too much like the glib, easily appeased, conformist, unaware, barely feeling and unnaturally obedient human populations, stumbling from their own metaphoric feedlot to slaughter house under the influence of calming drugs and the “helpful” control of Big Brother regimes.

Welcome to the world of Frankenburgers, from Zombie Cattle Hell!

Throughout most of my lifetime the line seemed more clearly drawn, with the bulk of conservationists and ecologists, spiritual types, liberals and those into alternative culture have all tended to be vegetarians, and with meat eaters largely either stereotyped or self-stereotyped as redneck right-wingers with no regard for their own cardiovascular health let alone the health of the planet and the suffering of their fellow creatures.  While there were always exceptions, today the dietary divide is more blurred than ever.  For decades I’ve asserted that strict vegetarianism – while well intentioned – is both unnatural and unhealthy, with our ancestral, low carb omnivore diet actually being the closest to an optimum diet for us even today, but these days I am joined by thousands of adherents of high protein and so called primal diets.  The result is an increasing number of consumers of meat who insist on healthy grass-fed animals, raised under cruelty free conditions, cleanly dispatched, and the rise of small farms devoted to compassionate husbandry.

Meanwhile, the few multi-national corporate conglomerates controlling the entire food production of the United States, were seriously stung by criticism that has followed the public exposure of the horrific conditions of corporate farms and factory slaughterhouses, mostly clandestine video shot and released by animal rights activists.  Most anyone who views this sort footage is turned off at least temporarily to eating anything but free range creatures, after the seeing the disregard with which our sources of pork chops and beef steaks are treated, and after witnessing the degree of sheer terror and sometimes acute agony of livestock as they are automatically but clumsily terminated.  Management’s solution, needless to say, has not been to improve the conditions the animals are raised in or to improve the methods and means of the slaughter, but to assign their industry funded laboratory researchers the goal of genetically lowering the animals’ threshold of pain!  Why go to the expense and trouble of increasing the size of enclosures, they reason – reducing the incidences of illness, or improving the methods of killing – if the livestock has been altered to no longer feeling any discomfort or anguish?
To these industry heads, what matters is not vitality but product viability, including the perception of potential buyers.  They recognize that image and marketability are the main impediments to future consumers purchasing muscle tissue grown in cell cultures, providing them with animal protein that has bizarrely never thirsted for water and gone into heat, never known the feel of sunshine, pranced in the grass or even stood up on four feet.  This would satisfy the desires of the industry to produce quantities of a product with as little effort and cleanup as possible, while simultaneously meeting the animal rights groups’ goal of ending the suffering of other lifeforms… at least those which have been engineered to be something less than alive.

It’s been known for some time that the brain has two different pathways for perceiving pain, a sensory avenue that registers the location, kind and intensity, and another “affective” pathway that translates the same impulses as unpleasant.  The reason why people under the influence of opium poppies and their chemical derivatives don’t suffer this unpleasantness, even when being operated on by a physician while awake, is that the opiates chemically disable this second route, resulting in little or none of the normal arousing of what is called the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex.

Neuroscientists from the universities of Washington and Toronto have more recently discovered how to genetically manipulate animals without the peptide proteins necessary for the operation of this cortex.  Livestock engineered in this way would still be able to sense a cut or heat, but it would no longer be experienced as something to be avoided.  Industry heads remarking on this developing technology, have already gone to some length to assure the public that the steaks and chops from such animals would be plenty safe to eat.

Anyone partaking of even burgers and hot dogs, should rightfully have at one time or another killed their own food with their own hands, and have experienced what it’s like to take another creature’s precious life.  Even if the vast majority of someone’s meat intake continues to come the form of disembodied, furless and largely formless factory cuts sold in styrofoam and cellophane packages, we would still do well to have on at least one occasion held the fried chicken prior to its being dispatched and plucked, dismembered and fried, and to have personally stared into its ancient dinosauric eyes, extending its neck over a block of firewood and chopping its head off with the wings continuing to madly flap as it fitfully dies.  Or else we need to have been at one point or another anointed with the spattered blood of a wild animal, a beautiful beast more noble than many people that we nonetheless dropped with a rifle shot, filled with equal measures of awe and sadness, profound gratitude, alliance, and something closely akin to love.

Only in this way can we possibly know deep in our hunter-gatherer souls what it feels like to give the pain of death, the way that mothers give the gift of life… or to empathize in the moment while taking full responsibility for the act, the result, and our inherent place in the food chain.  Only then can those of us who are practicing omnivores begin to grasp at a gut, bodily level the price that is paid by other beings in order that we might survive.  And I believe it is only through a deep awareness and sense of connection, responsibility and gratitude, that we’re made worthy of the decades of nourishing meat that makes it on to our plates.

When it comes to this taking and remaking of life, it’s certainly incumbent upon us to do all we can to lessen the suffering of those sensitive creatures we eat.  I’ve watched as a coyote showed neither mercy nor concern for a crying young elk calf it had wounded and dogged, one example in nature that I’d rather not follow.  Instead, I’ve always went out of my way whenever I hunted to make quick, one-shot kills, stalking stealthily until in close range, or leaning on a branch to consider and steady my aim.  That aim was always to pierce a skull or bust a backbone, immediately disconnecting the wires connecting wound to brain, saving the meat from the bitter hormones released by fear, but mainly going to such extremes out of an intuitive awareness that animals can hurt every bit as poignantly as people.  And when I partake of vegetables, it is with respect and gratitude grounded in the certainty that they, too, suffered in the process of taking its life into mine.

For all of us non-engineered beings, plant and animal alike, painless simply isn’t an option.  Nor would it necessarily be a benefit to either us or our foods.  After all, the intermittent experience of pain stretches and expands our capacity to feel and to intensely take note of what we are feeling, just as do occasions of extreme ecstasy and moments of inescapable bliss, serving as measures of our sentience and hence as indicators of just how truly alive we each are.  Pain can awaken our ability to empathize.  It informs our compassion, adds weight to our mistakes and importance to our decisions.  And it helps us to identify and then either resist or move away from those things that are harmful to us.  In the case of us humans, without struggle and distress it becomes all too easy for us to take things for granted, whereas we can be sure that whatever we do at the risk of suffering is something that we must feel very strongly about, taking more certain satisfaction from whatever we accomplish in the face of – and regardless of – any pain.

The spirit of the child, at home in its body, not yet suppressing pain or denying the causes of deprivation, mishap or suffering, thoroughly celebrating the pleasures of sensation in every non-traumatic moment between.  This is the spirit of wildlife, acutely aware of their surroundings as if their lives depended on it, because indeed they do.  The spirit of plants that have been proven to flinch from trauma like cuts and burns, but that by their very nature remain committed to fulsome growing, expanding, fruiting and bearing seed in spite of of any painful fires, drought, flood, mowing, fires, grazing and pruning.

It is this spirit that we might better look for in the foods that we draw nourishment from, but also in the fabric and experience of our day to day existence… the evidence of, condition of, and intensity of life wholly and sentiently lived.

(Forward and post freely)

Fox Magic, Calligraphy, Botany… and Recorded Me! – by Rhiannon

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

Hello Everyone!!

When I was on my alone time, I saw a very amazing thing!  A fox!  It was very beautiful and graceful.  I at first thought it was a coyote, but Mama Loba and I discovered by measuring the tracks that it was a fox.  When I saw it, I had been with my stuffed animals looking at a pretty tree and thinking about making a nice home for them.  Then I heard the sound of little feet pattering on the sand behind me, and I turned round and there it was staring at me looking very interested.  I’d seen one before but it had been far away and not close up like this.  What a lesson it taught me, getting near before I noticed because I was so busy talking to my stuffed friends.  I felt so excited, I couldn’t wait to run back up and tell everyone about my magical visitor.

Not too long ago I went on my first dentist appointment! Well I’ve had a dentist appointment before but that was when I was so tiny I can’t remember it. It was rather fascinating, cause I had never spent that long in town with lots of people around me for a long time. I have to say though I rather enjoyed it. I missed home though, and was happy to be home when I got home. Town is very interesting to me for I’m not used to it. I also love going on rides 🙂 I was happy and relieved to not have any cavities except for to two in my baby teeth which will fall out so we don’t have to worry about those. One of the things I found strangest at the dentist was the moving chair!!  It felt very strange lying in a chair that the dentist pushes a button on and it moves up or down. They warned me it was going to move first of course. I found it very particular though. I also got to see a picture of my teeth I could see the insides of them and everything. I was quite fascinated indeed.

While we were at town Papa showed me something he had ordered off the internet for me and Mama Loba a Chinese Brush Painting set! It looked very old fashion too. It had an ink stick with pictures of dragons all over it. An inkwell or grinding stone to grind the ink stick into. A tiny mini teaspoon came with the set too, you filled the teaspoon with water and it into the inkwell the make the ink you have ground into liquid. There was two brushes and paints and a plate to put the paint in. Last of all there was three books instructing how to chinese brush paint. Our friend Resolute before that had also sent us a calligraphy set. There was bottles of ink the color of black, blue, red, and burgundy, there was two quills that we can dip in the ink and write on the special paper with. Also there was this special was you melt then pour on a envelope to seal and before the wax hardens you push the sealer thing into the wax leaving a beautiful picture of a fish or flower engraved in the wax. So we are sooooo enjoying our calligraphy set.

Lately I’ve been studying botany. A friend of Mama Kiva’s – his name is  7Song – is coming to teach me and Mama Kiva more about botany. I’m very exited to meet him. Botany and herbal lore has been quite a source of interest for me these days. Mama Kiva got me a book on herbal lore and botany not that long ago with pictures in it I can color. I’m very exited about it too.

Papa recorded me speaking this blog too, I hope you can download and listen to it!

I really hope you all are doing well.  I will try to write another blog post soon.

Love, Rhiannon Cadhla Hardin

To Download an Audio File of Rhiannon reading portions of this blog, click on:

Rhiannon’s Recording

(photos (c)2010 by Jesse Wolf Hardin)

Old Houses and Heartful Homage: Mama Taught To Seek More Than Just Shelter – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010


Mama Taught To Seek More Than Just Shelter

by Jesse Wolf Hardin


I often think about my precious mother, years after her passing, and especially the attitudes and behaviors that most characterized her… things like her great joy in the process of creating as well as her seeming inability to linger and savor what she had created or accomplished, the unfortunate penchant to endlessly migrate but also the meaningful ways she felt about the various places where she stayed.

She had barely moved into what was to be her last house when her uterine cancer reappeared, and yet she never regretted using up the last of her meager assets to make the requisite down payment… not even for a second!  She rationalized the move as a way of situating her  closer to a hospital and advanced medical care, but more than anything else she wanted a larger space for all her pretty collectibles and artsy second hand furniture.  Neither convenience nor size were factors.  As with each of her many previous transitions, she had been looking “not for a house” but for “a home.”

House1There’s no doubt that even a brand new doublewide mobile can be such a home, as soon as it’s furnished with one’s treasured belongings, and decorated with the personal touches that mark it as our own.  And a structure becomes enriched whenever it’s filled with laughter and gratitude, and its energies deepened once blessed by the holy-water of its residents’ tears.  But Mom had always preferred either unique handmade houses or else the really old ones, thick with memories, marked by attention and love.  Such as converted barns and Victorian bungalows.  Spanish ranch houses and adobe casitas.  Gingerbread cottages for enchanted grandmothers, with trellising gardens and glad teasing flowers.

house adobeAnd it’s much the same with all vintage houses.  Whether a hundred year old East Coast structure with its basement and attic or a moss covered Oregon fishing shanty – we usually experience a “take off your hat and lower your voice” kind of reverence when we first enter.  Once inside we can feel the accumulative emotions and moods of the previous generations of residents, sense their own devotions to place in the handiwork in each board and brick.  Weathered oak floors polished by the shuffle of sock-clad feet, tongue-and-groove boards reflecting the busy shifting images of families growing, dying, and giving birth.  The fence rails absorb the sweat of little hands reaching up, as well as crippled hands struggling for a helpful grip.  They soak up and then radiate with the intentions and dreams, loss and gain, love and anger, desire and satisfaction of those who have called it their home before.  You can take out all the heavy wooden furniture and the dark floral drapes, the faded woolen rug and the leaded glass light fixtures hanging from the center of the ceiling, and bring in bright acrylic pile or modern art with aluminum frames – and still an old house will resound with the echoes of its history.  Repaint the walls as you like, but something of the past will continue to show through.

House adobe pink

The last house that Mama bought was a New Mexico adobe that had been more than a shelter for the preceding generations, and it proved to mean far more to her as well.  Like every other building she had ever lived in, it quickly became her refuge and her castle, her consolation and her reward.  Her playground and her kingdom, her service and her glory.  Like all truly good things, it made her not only more happy but more grateful.

Perhaps this could be the real definition of the word “homage”:  honoring the source of all blessings, through the reverence and care of one’s own home.

(For a personal exploration of related issues, consider enrolling in the Anima “Sense of Place and The Search For Home” correspondence course:

(Feel encouraged to Forward and Post this piece freely)