About 17 years ago, I stopped eating animals. A client at the veterinary clinic where I worked had put it that way — “eating animals.”
I was considering going vegetarian, where I’d stop eating “meat,” but Mick had put it another way, and it made me think. About the same time, I was reading a book from my mom on Zen thought and practice.
At the end was an essay titled, “One Less Act of Violence.” It was the author’s personal story of accidentally witnessing the slaughter of two sheep on a working farm close to her home in California. She posed the question, “If you had to kill it yourself to eat it, would you?”
I admitted I would probably not, and felt like a hypocrite thinking of all the animals I’d eaten in my life after someone else killed them and put them in pretty little packages in the grocery. The final straw came one day at a pet-sitting job. I was reading a book on animal communication, and this author had included a final essay, too.
Hers was on the karma that is passed on through the ingesting of an animal who has not likely lived a good life, and then is slaughtered, often brutally, in front of it’s fellow creatures. The stress hormones generated during that animal’s life and death remain in the flesh, which we in turn also ingest. (I suppose that’s why those cows who are pampered and massaged before they’re slaughtered produce “beef” that people say is the best thing ever — at $300 a pound.)
After reading that I looked down at the sweet, gray cat asleep in my lap and said, “That’s it, Heather. I’m not eating animals anymore.” I’ve done pretty well as a veggie over the years, except for one thing: I like milk … and ice cream … and cheese … and yogurt.
I tried rice milk a few years back on a camping trip. I liked it, but the price challenged my budget. A few months ago, I discovered coconut milk, which was yummy and worked with my curry dishes. Then the almond milk went on sale and I bought four cartons of different flavors. I loved it. I felt like I was on my way to veganhood.
I announced my discovery to one of my peers a couple of weeks ago and she said, “Oh, you don’t know about the bees.” “The bees?”
She pulled up an article on her phone and handed it to me. I was titled, “Like Sending Bees to War” (The Guardian, Jan. 8, 2020.) I read that article, and of course went home and read more. Here’s what I learned:
Eighty percent of the world’s almonds come from California. Each year, almond farmers rent 1.6 million honeybee colonies from beekeepers across the nation to pollinate their trees. That’s more than half the managed honeybees in the United States.
To keep up with the increased demand for almonds, the bees are sometimes pulled out of hibernation before it’s time, and just like us when we’re working on little rest, their immune systems can be weakened by the challenge. Making things worse, pesticides and fungicides are sprayed on the trees, most often while the bees are working, so it coats their bodies and they also ingest it.
Many farms are “monoculture,” meaning one crop (almond trees,) so when the bees want something else to eat (a varied diet keeps them healthy, just like us) they visit farms and fields nearby that are almost always full of more and different pesticides.
They end up with a “cocktail” of poisons in their system, which weakens them even further. In 2006, beekeepers started losing bees within 10 days after returning from working the farms, a phenomenon now known as “colony collapse disorder.” In 2018, keepers lost 50 billion bees, more than a third of the total population of working bees.
This is bad news all around, because if we didn’t realize it, bees (and birds and bats) pollinate almost 90 percent of the crops we eat and use for medicines (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.)
As another author put it, “you have a bee to thank for 1 out of every 3 bites of food you eat” (“Save the Bees,” Greenpeace.org.)
So what can we do? Plant some flowers, don’t use pesticides, and if a bee is buzzing around you, don’t kill it — do like my grandmother taught me — bite your tongue. I don’t know why that works but it does! Thanks for reading, bee well!