We were meat eaters who had never taken personal responsibility for the fact that eating meat means killing. We had tried to be responsible consumers of meat as a commodity by buying the flesh of humanely raised animals, but we had never borne the personal burden of consuming meat as a being, of killing to eat, and we felt there was something deep and undeniable, even inexcusable, about this contradiction. My body and mind need some meat to function properly. I didn’t want to convince myself that killing for food was ethical by reading, arguing, or philosophizing. I felt that I needed to know if it could feel ethical, feel sacred, in my heart.
But in our endeavoring to raise meat animals ethically, I realized we were capable—through laziness, ignorance, circumstance, or spite—of creating real suffering long before any killing happened. This project was intended to unify our values of spirit, justice, culture, and sustainability into a coherent and ethical way of being in the world. Instead, it shocked the central nerve of our work until the body and the spirit, the land and the vision, the practical and the principled felt inexorably pitted against each other. My confidence in our ability to continue righteously was weakened. In my dreams, I was gnawed at by a grinding sense of irresponsibility. One night, awakening panicked in the darkness, I was struck with the knowing, like a blast of thunder in my heart, that while there are important differences between the horrors of industrial factory farming and what we were trying to do, no animal wants to be confined. No animal wants to die.