I was recently challenged to justify my consumption of rice.
After all, I am told, the process of harvesting rice
(growing in water) kills untold numbers of frogs, turtles,
and fish. As a vegan who cares about animal rights issues,
people sometimes create the most unusual of scenarios to
question my choice not to eat animals. One angry individual
recently asked during the question and answer period of a
lecture at a major university:
"If you were in a rowboat, and came upon a drowning baby and
a drowning dog, which one would you rescue?" (Every animal
rights speaker who I know has been challenged by a variation
of the same question.)
I responded: "That happens to me two or three times each
summer." (Usually, at this point, the audience laughs at the
absurdity of such a question). I continue. "I usually jump
into the water, wrestle the crocodile and tie it into a knot
with its own tail, and disable the great white shark by
punching it on the snout with closed fist. I then rescue the
baby first while the dog does the dog paddle, then I grab
the dog by the nape of its neck by my teeth while swimming
to shore. Of course, by that time the local fire department
has usually responded with their rescue team. I hand off the
dog and child, brush the firefighters aside, enter the first
burning building that I find, and carry out the elderly
couple that has been overcome by fumes. Occasionally, the
heart of one of the two stops beating, so that I have to
ride along in the ambulance keeping the victim alive with
heart massage and mouth to mouth resuscitation. A few times,
my surgical skills have come to good use, and although I do
not look forward to performing angioplasty alone, I do what
has to be done. Saving lives is a full time job for me."
Where were we? Oh, yes, rice threshers. Imagine how much
noise a 70,000 pound rice thresher makes in a water-filled
paddy? I'll get to that in a few moments, but imagine this:
No frog in his or her good sense would stick around long
enough to find out what all the ruckus was about. Kermit and
company, seeking to keep their legs intact and off of
somebody's dinner plate, would hop or swim away. Hopefully.
No, I would not dive into the path of the maniacal driver of
a rice thresher to rescue a deaf frog. Hard of hearing
amphibians mate and create more hard of hearing frogs. We've
got a classic survival of the fittest scenario. The strong
survive, or so Darwin claimed.
My choice is not to eat animals. I do my best to exercise
that choice by not wearing their skin on my body, and I do
not eat them.
I am aware that birds and bees sometimes die during the
harvesting of apples. So do human apple pickers. Nobody has
yet accused me of being a cannibal or murderer because of an
occasional death in the orchard, although I may have to deal
with that eventuality one day. In the meantime, I will
continue to eat apples.
I do my best, but some people have justifiably accused me of
being without compassion. After all, I eat bananas, despite
the fact that some banana pickers in South America are
abused. I eat grapes too, despite the fact that migrant
workers would most certainly live in mansions, if not for my
gluttony. I draw the line at chocolate. We all have our
limits, and my conscience does not allow me to eat chocolate
grown in Ivory Coast, where children are kidnapped and live
in slavery on chocolate plantations. At least migrant
workers get paid something, and have the ability to migrate.
I will also continue to eat rice, even the wildest of
I grow many of my own fruits and vegetables. It is mid-
October, and I have plenty of spinach and four varieties of
lettuce still growing in my garden. I use no pesticides, and
sometimes find a bug in my salad. I do not intentionally eat
bugs, but there must be an occasional bug on my food, in my
mouth, and in my stomach. I do not do it intentionally,
honest, although I understand that they are a good source of
protein and Vitamin B-12. Elizabeth asks, "Daddy, what's
worse than finding a worm in your apple." I respond, "A half
a worm, Lizzy."
Vegans get their B-12 by eating organically grown pesticide-
free produce. After all, B-12 comes from bacteria. The
average human female carries nine pounds of bacteria on her
skin or within her intestines.
There are no perfect vegans. There are only people living
their lives as compassionately as possible, living true to
their values by not intentionally bringing pain to other
animals. Vegans do not buy products from companies
performing tests on animals. Vegans do not wear leather
shoes or buy crocodile-skin backpacks. Super-vegans do not
sit on toadstools.
If ever I hear that the driver or operator of a rice
thresher takes pleasure in veering erratically out of his
way in order to run over frogs and fish, that might be the
last time I eat rice. I doubt that occurs. Instances of
small wildlife and bugs killed during the processing of my
food are accidental, and I feel bad for the living creatures
who die so that I am fed.
The defining line between their deaths and the deaths of
farm animals used to feed meat eaters is that the occasions
of their accidents, like the drowning dog and child, are the
exceptional rarity and not the rule. Eating a dog in Korea
or a cat in China or a piglet in the United States
represents what is essentially the same act of death and
violence, and such actions are intentional and volitional
chioces made by individuals who have compassionate food
OK. So, now that we've had a bit of fun answering questions
about rice harvests, I've saved my final thoughts for those
dimwits who ask the question, having no knowledge of rice
Rice plants cannot possibly survive unless proper irrigation
management techniques are applied. Most of America's rice is
grown in Arkansas and California. The rice plant goes
through many cycles, and requires plenty of water.
Reality: Dry harvest!
When harvesting time comes, getting the water off of a field
at the proper time is as critically important as flooding
the rice paddy during growth stages. In other words, the
rice is harvested in dry fields. Experienced rice farmers
know the proper time to drain fields. There are no frogs or
fish in rice fields. The myth of Kermit's pureed brothers,
sisters, and tadpoles is an urban legend that vegans need
not have to defend.
Robert Cohen, author of:
Executive Director (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dairy Education Board
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