I want to tell you a story. A story about permaculture, food chains, friendship, love and death. People are storytellers. We transport information through stories, or narratives, to use the more sophisticated term.
Actually I wanted to go with my good friend Cengiz to a political event, a meeting of the initiative aufstehen (stand up) about the resistance of the yellow vests in France. However, Cengiz decided to spend the evening with his newly hatched chicks, his cats and a good friend whom he looks after because she has addiction problems. He is one of the finest characters I have ever met. I taught him how to kill. We have already taken the lives of many proud roosters together.
At the same time, I have never met a person who cares more about his animal friends than he does.
Without him, I had no desire to go to the event. I wanted to spend such a wonderful spring evening in the garden. That was a good thing, because I think I learned much more there.
I heard voices all around me. It was the voices of the toads that migrated from the forest into my garden to perform their ecstatic mating rituals.
The three ponds I have built over the last few years were suddenly full of toads, talking loudly to each other. I consider it a great honor that they lay their eggs in my ponds.
Derrick Jensen says:
“So many indigenous people have said to me that the fundamental difference between western and indigenous ways of being is that even the most open-minded westerners generally view listening to the natural world as a metaphor, as opposed to the way the world really is.”
Listen. In medieval fairy tales, toads are a symbol of wisdom. In many tales there is the hero who suddenly understands the language of the animals after a magical initiation event. Medieval people still had a relationship to the natural world and an understanding of the wonders of life. What the toads tell me is that whether we call ourselves quite immodest Homo sapiens sapiens, the wisest of wise, wolves, bears, bison, toads or any of a thousand other names, we are all sitting on the same boat.
The world speaks. They all speak. The chicks who are calling for food. The toads with their mating cries. Trees communicate with each other and certainly with us. If we had not forgotten how to listen and if, as members of this culture, we had not largely given up our empathy, we could never allow this mass murder to happen.
It was not right to exterminate the wolves. The only way we can all permanently exist together is to recognize the needs and lives of others as as important as our own lives and needs. Moreover, life is sacred. All life.
This is, in my understanding, the core statement of permaculture, and the only way for us and all other species to survive. We can fantasize all we want about colonizing Mars or other planets. All this is pure technocratic ideology. It has never worked. We are still all on the same boat.
The toads are much smaller than the ones I saw 10 years ago. Through the war of our culture against insects, we are depriving them of food. Insects are the animal basis of the food chain. To exterminate them is an abysmal stupidity and will cost us dearly.
Last year, I wanted to participate in the toad rescue operations that environmentalists carry out every spring. The toads have to cross roads on their way to their spawning grounds; the toad rescuers collect them in buckets and carry them safely across the road. Last year, the toad rescue was canceled because there were too few toads.
They live in warlike conditions, but life wants to live. They still migrate, sing, mate and lay their eggs.
I had to think of the film Life is a Miracle by Serbian director Emir Kusturica, which takes place during the Bosnian War. The protagonist wants to commit suicide after his son was taken prisoner of war. But then the Serbian militia hands him a young Muslim woman as hostage, with whom he falls in love. They sleep together while bombs fall in the background.
Life wants to live.
Recently I killed two quails. It was hard. I cut their heads off with sharp poultry scissors. The eyes and beak opened a few more times in shock. The little body twitched in my left hand in agony. I cried. Then I plucked them, gutted them and ate them. It was the best meal I’ve had in months.
If you are a self-sufficient chicken farmer, you usually have to perform the ritual of slaughter only once a year. In autumn, you kill the surplus roosters and the hens that no longer lay. Since all my wonderful chickens, turkeys and also my young peacock were massacred this winter by a hungry marten, I have given up breeding chickens for the time being and now try quails. Quails are smaller, but they are much more efficient feed converters and have a better ratio of body size to egg size.
All processes are much faster in quails than in chickens, which means for me that I will have more meat more often, which in turn means that I will have to kill much more often. I breed them in my incubator, I raise them, I feed them. Like all children, they are always hungry. They always want to eat and grow so fast that I can almost watch them getting bigger. With big, intelligent eyes they look at me and shout “Feed us, feed us”, as little chicks all over the world call out to their parents. They scream for life. I love these little, sweet, intelligent birds and I love raising them. Most of them I will slaughter and eat one day.
I often feel like a cannibal eating his own children. But so is the harsh reality, adult knowledge, true wisdom: As long as we live on this earth, we consume the lives of others. Even the great Homo sapiens sapiens is biologically nothing but an animal. And as such, we are part of the archaic food chain that we in the west destroy so diligently.
The whole history of the world is the history of eating and being eaten. One can explain the whole world in food chains, and understanding food chains means understanding the world. The real world, not the artificial structure of civilization that we have created from ideologies, slavery and exploitation. Civilized people tend to think they can cross any natural boundaries, including food chains. A fatal error.
I consider vegetarianism and especially the extreme form, veganism, to be fundamentally wrong. I myself grew up mostly as a vegetarian, fortunately only from an age of about 8 years. I understand the moral arguments very well, but my body always said something different. I always had a ravenous appetite for meat, and stuffed it into myself wherever opportunity presented itself. I think I might have grown bigger and stronger if I had consumed more meat as a child. Vegetarianism and veganism are modern phenomena with a religious character. The way our culture is treating our fellow creatures is a sin, without any doubt. But the vegan is pulling out of the affair, washes his or her hands in innocence and often tries to convert others with religious zeal and a moral club.
Never before has a human society existed that could do without animal products. The Inuit, who consume almost exclusively raw meat and fish (Eskimo means raw meat eater) have the best results in blood panels ever measured in humans.
A friend of mine and her daughter, both of whom have been vegetarians (not even vegans) for several years, have very poor blood panel results. The doctor explained two options: either eat meat, or take a handful of vitamin supplements every morning. The 21 year old daughter chose the latter for moral reasons. She is an attractive young woman, but her pale skin and glassy eyes speak of malnutrition.
One last argument: Does any of you know a second generation vegetarian or vegan? I met one once. A three year old girl, whose mother was a very dogmatic vegan. Even her shoes featured the inscription “VEGAN” in capital letters. Her little daughter was severely physically and mentally handicapped, could hardly speak, had glassy, squinting eyes and such weak bones that her legs had grown crooked and she could not walk. On my stove, the bones of the slaughtered quails simmer slowly for a long time to later feed my own as nutritious broth.
I think that this woman will never free herself from the vegan ideology, because if she had to admit what she did to her daughter she would have to spend the rest of her life in the hell of immeasurable guilt.
We all have to eat.
I can’t imagine a more intimate relationship than eating someone else. Your flesh becomes mine. We unite. This must be seen as a sacred act. The least I have to do is to give my quails the best possible living conditions. And I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to worship them with rituals as holy animals. Haven’t indigenous people always done this, with salmon, bison, and many other animals that were their food source before the Europeans exterminated them (the salmon, the bison, and the native humans…)?
When I take someone else’s life to eat or otherwise utilize him or her, I am responsible for the wellbeing of that species. Both for moral reasons and for pure self-interest. I want to continue eating in the future. Seriously, I think that a hunter-gatherer culture is the most respectful way of dealing with our fellow creatures. Stable natural communities from which healthy, strong, wild animals can be hunted when needed, to whom appropriate respect is shown in cult and ritual.
I would like to hunt, and in a healthy culture I would certainly be a hunter. But the completely degraded ecosystems no longer allow this. Animal husbandry therefore is a necessary compromise.
From a permaculture perspective, the final solution of a reasonable culture would be a large-scale and worldwide ecological restoration, solely for reasons of morality and justice. The restoration of habitats and the transition to a respectful, strictly taboo- and ritual-regulated extraction by hunting as source for meat.
If, for example, the American prairies with their 100 million murdered bison were restored, humans could have a considerable amount of high-quality bison meat every year, without the enormous ethical problems and environmental hazards of factory farming.
Currently, the United States spend about 69 million dollars per hour to finance its gigantic military apparatus. In Germany, this sum amounts to a paltry 5,023 thousand dollars per hour and rising.1https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/157935/umfrage/laender-mit-den-hoechsten-militaerausgaben/ If we would spend these gigantic sums not for imperialism, war, murder and destruction, but for ecological restoration and thus for the future of our children, projects like the vital cleaning and regeneration of the oceans and the regeneration of healthy, game rich forests, meadows and prairies would appear quite feasible. Unfortunately, our culture seems to strive for the apocalypse as the final solution.
Preventing it from destroying the food chains and ultimately all life on the planet must be our common and most sacred duty. For moral reasons, for reasons of justice and for pure self-interest. Because we all have to eat. Now an in the future.
For further reading: The best books I know about food are Richard Mannings “Against the Grain”, Lierre Keiths “The Vegetarian Myth” and Michael Pollans “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”.