I crushed a duckling with my car yesterday. At least, I’m pretty sure I did.
Driving the two-lane freeway past Clear Lake on my way from Nevada City to Mendocino, the car in front of me swerved right. The car in the opposite lane swerved left. Between them was a terrified duck. You could see her confusion as she was caught between the two vehicles.
No problem, I thought. The road wasn’t busy. As soon as I passed, she’d complete her trek.
I swerved right too. And that’s when I saw the trail of ducklings behind her. I tried to pass over them, but there were too many. A quick glance in my side mirror left me fairly confident that at least one had been killed.
I was devastated. My first impulse was to turn back. Clearly there’s nothing I could have done. I spent 30 minutes on the verge of tears. I calmed down as I wrote this blog post in my head. Hours later at the Mendocino Botanical Garden, I welled up and called a friend to discuss my feelings.
I know. I know. It’s just a duck.
It’s hard for me to think in those terms any more. Just an hour earlier, I saw two deer grazing in rolling yellow hills. The day before, I swam with geese in Donner Lake. At Yosemite, I pulled over to watch deer and marmots and a coyote and I swam with trout in the Tuolumne River. In Big Sur, I delighted as I watched the silhouette of a sea lion darting past in the blue-green surf.
These were all beautiful incarnations of life. Just as my duckling was. Just as much of our food is.
For me, vegetarianism is a personal moral choice. It is not a moral absolute. I do not judge meat eaters, just as I’d ask that vegans don’t judge my consumption of eggs and dairy. However, I do challenge those who eat meat to go kill an animal or at least watch an animal be killed.
Many of us are so far removed from our food sources that we’re incapable of making a conscious decision about our diets. Instead, we hide its animal nature by frying it, or cooking it well done, or covering it in seasoning or cheese or ranch. (And don’t get me started on KFC’s chilling “I ate the bone” campaign.)
My old coworker Casey is one of the most voracious carnivores I know. He’s also an avid hunter. He knows exactly what he’s doing. My parents have hunted and fished and raised animals throughout their lives. They’ve made a fully-informed choice to eat meat and that’s fine by me.
In 2011, Mark Zuckerberg recently made a yearlong pledge to only eat meat he personally killed. As he told Fortune, “I think many people forget that a living being has to die for you to eat meat. So my goal revolves around not letting myself forget that and being thankful for what I have.”
I too have been close to the source of my food. I’ve wounded dove and then finished the job by removing their heads with my hands. I’ve had animals in my backyard one week and on my plate the next. For me, today, meat cannot be an option.
That said, tuna has been a bit of a staple on this trip. It’s an easy source of protein on the go. I have six cans of tuna in my car right now. The next time I meet a group of backpackers, I’m giving the cans to them. I’m finally fully forgoing fish to go all in with my vegetarianism.
The tuna are beautiful manifestations of life too. Just like my duckling.
Got a question about my trip? I’m compiling a mailbag to commemorate one month on the road. Leave your question in the comments!