This is normally a column about my life's work: garden design. I am never short of finding ways to help my readers be better designers, and I remain grateful for the opportunity these past three and a half years.
I am occasionally, though, given leave by a tolerant editor to veer off the garden path. During the holidays, especially, I will sometimes test her patience. This week, the issue of turkeys and Thanksgiving is very much on my mind.
As always, my column is my own point of view. I encourage those who disagree — most of you — to post comments either below the online version of this column, or on my own website (www.msadesign.com), which is at long last back up and running. And of course you may email me about your design or plant problems, or anything, really: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mr. Clinton's waistline
Former President Bill Clinton has famously reduced his girth and improved his heart health by considerable amounts, according to recent reports. He did this by appealing to a 'plant-based diet'.
Clinton consumes nothing initiated within the animal kingdom (there are some similarly minded people vexed by honey, and silk, I should mention). His guru — and mine — is Dr. Dean Ornish, a physician well-known for claims that diet change can actually reverse heart damage. He's not alone; Dr. John McDougall has been in the choir for decades.
Are these changes extreme? Life changes can be difficult to make. For Clinton, the alternatives are very poor indeed. His heart disease risks are dramatically lower. And he looks great.
Clinton is forevermore a vegan. Your Design Pundit is a vegan, too, along with Mrs. Pundit. Yes, we eat a plant-based diet. That is what vegans do. Say it loud, say it proud, people! Vegan! Vegan!
Catch and release?
Curious people want to know why we would eschew the "natural order of things," which includes the notion that animals were some how put here so we could eat them. Reasonable questions, all better answered elsewhere. My cousin Paul needs no explanation for the observable mess of creation. He simply points to dentation as evidence that we are designed to eat meat: "why do you think we have those canine and cuspids?", he asks. He does not wait for the answer because there certainly could be no satisfactory answer. But there is.
Horses also have huge cuspids. And as to those human canines, they are laughably small, inadequate, as Dr. Richard Leaky explains, " not suited for tearing flesh or hide. We don't have large canine teeth, and we wouldn't have been able to deal with food sources that require those large canines." Translation: We are not obligate carnivores, according to a world-renowned paleo-anthropologist.
There are several other reasons for veganism, too.
One of those reasons comes from recent research about how animals perceive the world, and about how they feel pain. Victoria Braithwaite Ph.D. shows that fish aren't simple cold-blooded automatons in her book "Do Fish Feel Pain?", published by Oxford University. Fish are surprisingly intelligent creatures that do indeed suffer. Consciously suffer. Yes, Fish.
At this point, thinking people become a bit squeamish, looking away, questioning methodology. All natural reactions. Braithwaite's work is a sort of misplaced vindication. Not for the fish (or turkeys) but for long-held views about animal parity.
Plainly, we have here the factual beginning of a moral imperative. Thinking people will wonder, as they should, about suffering, and food choices. Some will say, as they should "well, let's do it humanely." It's a great beginning. There is abject cruelty in modern animal farms. Ordinary people assume that humane slaughter is the rule. It is not. The 2002 "pig-crate" amendment here in Florida did help to raise awareness levels, but then again, Upton Sinclair similarly exposed cruel practices — in 1906!
This Thanksgiving, about 45 million turkeys will be slaughtered, and were bred solely for this market. They are huge flightless creatures with an unnatural expansion of desirable body parts. They will consume more than 13 million pounds of antibiotics, chiefly made necessary by crowded conditions that make disease rampant. They will live short, crowded lives, debeaked, given barely a body length in any direction.
There is nothing natural about this process. As to slaughter, description is a step too far even for this columnist.
A big mountain to climb
Is there a way forward? Of course. Simply talking about it is first. Humane, respectful treatment of food animals follows. Finally, we will learn to understand all animals for who they are — like your dog, your cat, your ferret.
Over time, over decades, centuries, perhaps, we will come to terms with the meaning of living on an Earth populated by animals with rights. Not today, not tomorrow.
This Thanksgiving, Paul will make turkey. Suzie and I will have tofurkey and we will sit at the same table as families do. We will be glad to be there, as we always are, and we will love the entire family.
Try making a tofurkey with your turkey. You'll sleep better. The animals are waiting.
Michael Spencer, ASLA, has been practicing landscape architecture since 1979 and is president of MSA Design Inc. Learn more at www.msadesign.com or contact Michael by email: email@example.com. His website is www.msadesign.com. And watch for his forthcoming book on tropical plants.