I Killed Kale: A Love Story…

 

What if kale were as idealized by vegans as backyard chickens are by locavores? 

What if the leafy greens conferred nobility, honor and a sense of purpose about us as much as the Michael Pollan’s elite crowd derives from eating their “special” dairy, eggs, and meat?

This piece was inspired by those who pursue spiritual enlightenment through another being’s death, those who cherry pick ephemeral Native American sentiments when they are of benefit to them. After reading a disturbing article by a journalist who traumatizes her children regularly (while patting herself on the back for her good liberal values, of course) by having them watch animals get slaughtered for their table, and yet another website dedicated to the life-and-death cycle of a flock of backyard chickens, I wondered what it might sound like if someone growing kale employed the same hackneyed, self-aggrandizing and narcissistic language and mentality. 

This is what I came up with in response.

It seems unbelievable that this life-force a few feet in front of me, past its prime but still standing proud and tall in my garden on this gray early December day, came to me as improbably tiny seeds delivered to my home. As dark brown miniature pebbles, smooth to the touch, these seeds would have been easily dwarfed by the average peppercorn. I held the seeds, little pipsqueaks rolling around in my palm, almost slipping between my fingers, when they arrived in the mail one happy day a few weeks after I’d outlined their picture in a catalogue with a heart, and I beamed with a mother’s pride. “They’re perfect,” I thought, clutching them close to my chest. The delicate seeds held within them the promise that they might eventually blossom into full-grown, hearty and vibrant kale plants that would stretch toward the sun, and after glimpsing their cousins in the catalogue, I immediately knew that I was meant to have them in my own yard.

Over the years, my husband has seen me dive into projects with great gusto only to abandon them within a week or two, so he was understandably skeptical of my plans to take this on and apprehensive about giving over a significant part of our yard, valuable feet to urban dwellers, to any new lark of mine. In my attempts to become more self-reliant, though, I began to reject the idea of buying kale from the grocery store: denatured, limp and lifeless, grown by strangers in unknown conditions (were they overcrowded? Sprayed with chemicals?), plucked from the earth too soon and shipped from far away. I preferred to buy it at the local farmers market, but even with that, I began thinking that I didn’t want to ask anyone to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself.

I started the tiny seeds indoors in early spring: poking my finger into the soil, I let a few tumble into each hole, then gently covered them back up, like tucking them into bed. I reviewed the instructions on the seed packet daily as though it was my lifeline to them; I watered them enough but not too much, turned them to face the sun equally, kept them warm overnight. I checked on them whenever I thought of it, which was often, scrutinizing the soil many times every day for any signs of life.

One bright Saturday morning, it happened. I woke up and saw that skinny green sprouts had sprung up overnight, right on target with when the packet said that they should. I did a little happy dance and went racing through the house, waking up my husband and son. The sprouts were tiny and fragile but they were the first indisputable evidence of my diligent care. I could do this! These sprouts would eventually grow up into big, bushy plants. At the moment, though, their future was the last thing on my mind. I was just so enamored of these tender little babies, especially proud as they began to mature into hardier seedlings. I showed off their pictures to the friends who indulged me. I sang to the seedlings, gently caressed the soft leaves between my fingers, and every day they seemed to get farther and farther from the little dependent sprouts they’d started out as just a short time ago. They were thriving – heck, they were born – because of me.

When it was time to put them in the garden, I was anxious. The seedlings had been so nurtured and protected in the sunroom of our home. Couldn’t springtime’s violent windstorms break their delicate stems? What about marauding squirrels, mean birds that might yank them out of the earth just for the sport of it? I fretted over them, so vulnerable out in the elements. I knew, though, that I had to let the seedlings out on their own in the sun, fresh air and soil as nature intended or else they would get strangled by their own roots. As much as I worried about them, my husband gently reminded me to stop being so attached, that these plants were eventually for eating. I tried to ignore him as I planted them outside to flourish.

Flourish they did. The plants seemed to grow taller and more mature, more into their own, by the hour. After just two weeks outdoors, they were clearly no longer wispy little seedlings: they were fully realized plants now, beginning to grow tall and luxuriate in their sheer kaleness. These plants, hand-raised from seeds, were now the essence of healthy kale. It made me choke up whenever I thought of their cousins, raised in unnatural pseudo-farms, stacked one on top of the next in boxes on the produce truck and transported to far-flung destinations. My thriving, beautiful plants were in direct defiance to that sickening approach to vegetable husbandry.

That spring through fall, we enjoyed the chlorophyll-packed leaves we clipped off the mother plant: shredded as salads, in our breakfast scrambles. The kale seemed to grow heartier and bushier with every clipping. Our son was proud of the plants, eager to show them off to friends and to collect leaves for our meals. We planted so many – too many, probably – and they took over more of our yard than we planned. Even my husband didn’t mind, though. Looking out into the garden, seeing their happy leaves swaying in the breeze, basking in the gentle early summer’s sunshine and gulping the cooling rains of autumn, we knew that we were doing the right thing. The natural thing.

It had become clear by mid-November, though, that the kale plants lived their full life cycle. The leaves, once so full and crisp, were spotted with holes and barely hanging on. There were so many bare spots now, the plants so vulnerable to autumn’s deepening winds, and they swayed so intensely with them I thought they might snap right in half. They held on, though it was becoming clear that I would need to assist them on their passage in order to ready the yard for the new life of next spring. This was the natural order, I told myself. They had lived good, complete lives, reveling in their essential kaleness.

It was time. In my heart, I knew that it would eventually come to this.
They had to die.

I steeled myself for the inevitable. They had given me and my family nourishment for months and now it was time for them to die a dignified death befitting such noble leafy greens. My son tried to dissuade me, tearfully asking if we couldn’t just bring them indoors for the winter. I repeated the mantra of what we had been talking about all summer: that living under the sky, their roots deep in the earth, was the natural life for kale. Living inside, they would have a shadow of their lives outdoors – austere, constrained, hermetic – far removed from their wild nature. We could keep them alive, but at what cost? His face wet with tears, my son reluctantly nodded, identifying with his child’s mind how it feels to be a hemmed in rugged spirit, but he looked away, unable to look at me. I cried, too. Part of his innocence was lost. Continue reading

Serve With Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti: The Hannibal Lecterism of Happy Meat

Feminist Primitivism

I was originally drawn to her because of the rare quality of her breeding. The moment I saw the young female, I knew that I was the perfect person to be entrusted to see her through to the end.

I had had a young female the year before, a close relative of hers, and her fine heritage took me aback. She spoiled me for life: I couldn’t go back to having those of an inferior caliber again. When it was time that I wanted to have another one, I knew I wanted one of her pedigree once more, but I didn’t want to just be a passive bystander in her death again. Something within me needed a different experience. This time, I had to actively participate in her death, until her last shudder, and follow that through to her complete disassembly. The entirety of the young female would be used…

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the myth of human the predator: Layla AbdelRahim

Feminist Primitivism

demonFirst there was the Word, then Came Civilization, and Crime & Reward from an Anarcho-Primitivist Perspective, by Layla AbdelRahim  exerpts:

Q: How would a society based on a different narrative work?

A: It’s not How it would work, but How it has worked. Because life on Earth goes back to billions of years. And that life was wild life. That species, and individuals within species, interacted in a diverse manner, their own manner, there was no anthropology, there was no geography, environmental science, or ethology to go observe and focus on one aspect that was disconnected. And that life, we were part of it and we are still part of it. Even today, in spite the 10,000 years of the domesticating or civilizing narrative, there still exist people, more and more difficult because of us, because we have taken over, but think of the nomads, think of the…

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The Mythical Predator, Layla AbdelRahim’s facebook discussion

Feminist Primitivism

layla…I posted the following update on my facebook wall:

“Reason 1 for NOT eating meat and fish should be compassion; not in the sense “I’ll kill and eat you compassionately”. That doesn’t hold in court when the victim is a human animal, and so it shouldn’t when it is other animals.

Reason 2: Our bodies are not intended for the consumption of our animal siblings. Our sleeping patterns and the proteins we best absorb show that we are meant to be berry-eaters, fruitarians with veggie supplements” (1st September 2010).

…The discussion that followed my FB post demonstrates how deeply people believe the lies that help civilised human animals rationalise murder and fear and construct them as “natural” and as “facts” and how self-contradictory and illogical the civilised rationale is. It also shows how much deeper and more dangerous it becomes the higher up the ladder of “success” the persons get:…

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Layla AbdelRahim on Domestication

Feminist Primitivism

shoeAnimal Voices, October 11, 2013 radio interview with Layla AbdelRahim, an anthropologist, writer, researcher and public speaker who holds a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Montreal, Quebec:

Q: First I wonder if you can define for us domestication, what it is, and why humans domesticate other beings, what’s behind that, tell us the story.

A: Domestication, the term itself, implies sedentary relationships, domestic is from the dome, from the home, it defines humans in terms of sedentary settlement. If we look at the history of humanity, most animals, in a larger extent, usually have to be nomadic, there has to be movement, part of the definition of life is movement, so domestication as an epistemological concept… the minute you define a certain territory as belonging to one species, and you look at everything in that territory and then surrounding it, the environment, as existing as resource for…

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3 cases for indigenous veganism

Feminist Primitivism

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Writings by feminist scholar Margaret Robinson describe Mi’kmaq legends and their relationship with animals as was one of dependence, not dominion. According to Mi’kmaq legends, human beings are intimately connected with the animal world and only survival can justify the killing of animals. These legends depict animals as having an independent life, with their own purpose, far away from simply existing for human consumption. Robinson contrasts this with the white hunter, whose view of animals requires population control, turning slaughter into a service. Many of the Mi’kmaq legends come with their own set of problems, such as the gendering of food production. Even the Mi’kmaq word for food is the same for beaver, embodying the meat-heavy food culture. However, within the legends the nonhuman animals are always characterized as independent peoples who have rights, wills and freedoms. As Robinson rightly points out, “if animal consent is required to…

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vegan is anti-speciesist is anti-civ

caveman & womanContrary to the man-the-hunter myth, hominids have a nature ethic of innate empathy and cooperativeness that manifests idiosyncratically in civilization. One such manifestation is veganism, whose central focus is the abstention from exploitation of animals. But, primitivist pigeonholing of veganism into a consumerist schema has distorted its authentic essence, overgeneralizing, misrepresenting, and stigmatizing it. {Ironically, in practice it is the trending ‘paleo’ primitivist ideologues who engage in more destructive consumerism than even mainstream vegans, and on whom there is a void of  primitivist confrontation.} Veganism’s supporting principle is the natural rights of all animals, with its opposite being human supremacy over all other animals, or speciesism. The primal ethic of empathy and cooperation, combined with the principle of innate rights beckons shifting the nature of humanimal-nonhumanimal relationships from domination and domestication to egalitarian and liberatory. Therein veganism fundamentally becomes an anti-speciesist viewpoint concerned not only with bred ‘pet’ and ‘food’ animals, but wildlife worldwide. This translates into vegan/anti-speciesist deeds like fighting to protect forests from consumeristic exploitation of fauna habitat.

Civilization has proven itself to be an ecologically destructive force, leaving all animals and all life communities damaged and doomed. The repeated, hard-to-accept lesson is that civilization is the cause of the problem, and cannot be the cure. Hopes for techno-saviors have been repeatedly dashed, often causing further harm with unintended consequences. This is the merging point of the speciesism and civilization premises. They are conjoined twins, born together on the artifices of hierarchy and oppression, power and control, maddening successions of human blunders along civilization’s catastrophic trek. They will be intrinsically eternally unified until their death, whether through intentional dismantling, unintentional collapse, or a combination. The conjoined counter approach calls for actions such as destroying apparatuses of totalitarian control, undoing oppression, rewilding native habitats, and some say, rewilding self.

A word must be said to those seeking to discover and reawaken origins, striving for some form of future primitive. The sect of primitivism focused on ‘hunter-gatherism’ (my term) seems plagued with patriarchy. Here’s an exercise to visually demonstrate the point: In your mind google ‘caveman’. Compare those images to a google search for ‘cavewoman’. Evolutionary narratives are value-laden, and play out in scientific studies and interpretations. Alternative narratives countering mainstream values, such as vegan primitivism, are silenced, scorned and sternly denied even before due consideration. Origin narratives are created, not objectively described realities. Hunter-gatherism naturalizes patriarchy by projecting it into our species’ origins. This is countered by seeking a broader ancestral life narrative, by undermining the values behind patriarchy and rejecting the rigidity of the evolutionary normative.

Sometimes wording means much. Foraging was the mainstay of most ancestral diets, and evidently a common female specialist activity as sex roles increasingly diverged. Many woman never participated in methodical hunting, and there were swaths of time with no hunting or foraging animals at all, humans subsisted off mainly foraged plants, etc., especially before the systematic usage of controlled fire. Yet, the term ‘hunter-gatherer’ is the generally accepted norm connoting the early human foodway. The term ‘forager’ would more accurately reflect the lived egalitarian experience of the vast majority of early humans. Another exercise: Imagine you had been born into a world where all humans had a plant diet. Would you have an impulse to bring back hunter-gatherism, or would you put that in a category similar to other early ‘natural’ doings, like cannibalism, or rape, or infanticide? Cherry-picking an animal-based diet from diverse past diets because you have been enculturated to prefer it, and regardless of biotic impact, is the mindset that led toward destructive civilization to begin with.

Earth needs an intuitive yet smart approach from fighting yet giving humans today. Adapting anti-civ, anti-speciesist veganism in today’s degraded wild world calls for an adaptation in our lifeway that protects remaining habitats, ends causes of civilization’s harms, and helps heal Earth. If a highlight of our species is our ability to adapt to our environment, may we select ways from our origins that enrich an ever-thriving wild future.

Read the title again. The logic works in reverse as well.

Ria