Having fallen into some unprofitable arguments with the veg folk over eating habits, I would like to offer my take on what manner of eatin’ is good for the planet. What will help us walk away from factory farming and support the kind of food-getting needed for a healthy future?

What is factory farming? It is a way of treating the earth as if it were a sausage machine. Someone puts in some effort and “raw materials,” and out comes sausage. What happens in between, or what happens as a consequence remains “out of sight, out of mind.” What happens is animals living lives of terrible suffering in confined operations run like factories. What happens is that soil – that thin coating of rock particles and complex life-forms without which we could not exist – is being damaged and lost in prodigious quantities. What happens is that factory ships are wringing the life out of the oceans. Bays and seas are dying because of the run-off from factory-fields. And in all these factories, the clean living waters of the planet are turned into swill and released into the commons. Water, soil, and creatures both animal and vegetable are mere commodities to be used and abused as the factory-farm system sees fit. And witless buyers continue to adjust, settle, put up and shut up. But not all of us. Not any more.

The veg folks have taken a principled stand on the some of these issues. They have withdrawn their support for the animal growing-and-slaughtering factories. And the strip-the-ocean-bare factories. Much to the good. But they seem willing to ignore other forms of taking life. What about the fields of grain and soybeans their diet depends on, the same fields that erode untold layers of soil and dump harmful effluents into water bodies? Is it alright to lose several pounds of soil to put a pound of bread on the table? Is it wrong to kill a cow but ok to kill the Gulf of Mexico?

I do not wish to support any of these death-dealing practices. It is not that I object to killing a cow, if the cow has had a good life that ends in the old fashioned way, on or nearby the farm. I object to that cow living in miserable, heavily medicated conditions among gazillions of other neglected cows, only to be trucked into some horrific slaughterhouse factory run by people inured to suffering and dead set on cranking through so many animals per minute. I object as much to the killing of soils. I object to the mucking up of the waters by all these megaculprits. Now even beekeeping has not escaped the blight of the industrial approach! I bitterly oppose it all, not just some of it, as ghastly and unacceptable.

Conscientious shopping has been promoted for some time as a partial solution to these woes. Buy organic, buy grass-pastured, buy green. But the organic label has been appropriated by agribiz, and the onslaught of weird ingredients increases apace, as companies seek to circumvent labeling laws and sneak manufactured pseudofoods by discerning buyers. After all, people who make food in factories have every incentive to find regulation loopholes. Often they get away with it. We have tried to counter the depredations and the avalanche of crap-foods through better labeling laws and boycotts of selected foods (as in dolphin free tuna). It has helped, but not enough. I am not looking for a “little” help. I am looking to permanently walk away from this food system built on abuse, cruelty, short-sightedness, destruction of the very substrate of life, and economic rationalizations.

This is where I make my stand: know thy food. “Know thy food” has become my mantra. What I want is food that is fresh, that has not been adulterated or tampered with, has been grown for flavor and nutrition, has come from healthy happy soil, kills no seas and mucks up no water. And so, this is my call: “Cognivores Unite!”

The moral thrust of cognivory does not focus on specific foods but rather on the qualities of foods and on the relationships within which these foods are produced. Foods that are known to be grown well – with careful regard for the needs of the waters and soil, animals, plants and people – are the foods eaten. This means that there’ll be vegetarian and vegan cognivores who monitor where their grains, veggies, fruits and legumes come from and how they are grown and harvested, along with the impact of those particular farming practices on that particular environment. And there will be omnivorous cognivores who must face the additional challenges of finding milk, eggs, honey, meat and fish meeting the same stringent requirements. I myself aspire to be a low-grain omnivorous cognivore who gives heavy weight to the damage the big-5 grains (wheat, barley, rice, maize, and oats/soybeans) cause to the soil and waters, along with the avoidance of animal factory farming. In other words, all factory-farming stinks, not only the animal kind! Cognivory is not about SAU (shopping as usual) in factory-farming outlets. It’s about forging new relationships with the food we eat and with those who grow it. Let’s face it: the only real way to get fresh, wholesome food raised on well-cared soil by people who do it right is obvious: getting it from the very people who produce it!

Cut through the bullshit. Eliminate the middlemen. Shred the opaque veil strung by factory farming between us and the food we eat everyday. Get acquainted with the farmers and food artisans. Learn how to recognize “honest” foods. Buy from people you know. Beware farmer’s market scams where the produce comes from the nearest wholesaler brought to you by your local “farmer” in sheep’s clothing. Tell the overpriced fruit vendor that you don’t mind paying extra for tree-ripened fruit… provided it is tree-ripened! Patronize your neighbors getting a start in subsistence farming.

Because the truth is… the only way to get ethically, caringly and competently grown food is to go straight to the people who already are ethical, caring and competent. And not only will you get the best foods to be had, you will also add your own firebrand to feed the flames of the family farming renaissance in your area. You go, cognivore boyz and grrlz, you go!