Anima: Animals, Faith, Compassion

The issues surrounding our food, whether we grow or raise it ourselves or buy it at the supermarket, can send you into a deep ethical nettle patch. How do we feed a growing population and not destroy the planet? How does our food impact our health? How do we keep the costs of food reasonable? What kind of diet should we follow? What about GMOs? We might be tempted to rely purely on the scientific method or economic statistics for these answers but life is not so simple. All too often we forget that our bonds to the natural world are also defined by meaning and spiritual practice.

This short film by Jennifer Jessum with music by Moby was produced by the Guibord Center. The film showcases the astonishing diversity of our hometown, Los Angeles, and features a dozen faith leaders discussing their tradition’s relationship with animals. I must note the appearance of the clergy (and official mascot dogs) of our spiritual home, St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, who explain the human relationship to creation as one of “stewardship,” often mistranslated as “dominion.” Wether one eats meat or not is just part of the issue. Right relationship to our fellow creatures is what is important. Home gardeners, chicken keepers and permaculturalists well know the difference between stewardship and dominion, the difference between working with as opposed to our culture’s mad control freakery.

A personal note. I had, in the past few months, fallen off my ethical eating wagon and taken to occasionally consuming what I knew to be factory farmed chicken. In some sort of digestive karmic justice I seem to have come down with gallbladder issues forcing me, at least temporarily, to eat a vegan diet. This has granted me the opportunity to meditate on the issues raised in this film. While I may return to eating meat in the future I’ve decided to avoid the factory farmed “dominion” based stuff.

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, the Guibord Center offers many lectures and visits to sacred sites. If you’re not a local they have an archive of past events on their website

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  1. After a break from chickens, I got three new chickens last fall. Promptly lost one to a security breach, which was remedied. And I had promised myself I was not going to let the remainder free-range, which is how I lost a lot of the last flock to predation. But this week, I just broke down and wanted to give them outdoor time. Which seemed to be working fine. Until yesterday. And now I have no chickens again. I should have reminded myself that my chickens still had a much better life than any chickens I will buy at the grocery store and not let them out. But it is hard. Animals and ethics are not easy.

    • Kyle, very sorry to hear about your chickens. They did, indeed, have a much better life then the commercial hens.

    • I understand your dilemma about chickens and predators; an awful lot of animals like the taste of chicken.

      We’ve got coyotes, bears, a brazen fox who scopes out my coop in broad daylight, a mink that I’ve chased out of the coop, plus hawks. (Yes, bears are not just a problem for beekeepers, they’ve got a yen for chicken, too:

      We solved the issue of providing the girls with outdoor time by building a chicken tractor out of PVC pipe covered in poultry wire. We know that chicken wire is not particularly secure, but it works for daytime use when we’re usually outside. Anyway, the chickens spend about 2 hours a day, moved every 30 minutes or so, out of the coop/pen and they’re much happier for it. Since we started doing this we’ve had many fewer pecking issues, too. It’s not a good as genuine free range, but so far we’ve never lost a chicken.

  2. Meat is always an interesting calculus: environment vs deaths. Cattle are harder on the environment, but one death will feed a family for a year. Chickens are just the opposite.

    Veganism is just hard.

  3. Beautifully done. Went to school with Jennifer Jessum. Watched this with my 6 year old son who said over and over, “See, Mama – god is real. That’s god.” He spends a lot of time in the chicken coop with his flock.

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