Speaking for myself, I respect all the spirits equally, though I tend to work with animal spirits most often while walking my path. I do not discriminate between types of spirit; a plant spirit deserves as much respect as an animal spirit, and the grass is just as important as the ancient oak tree.
Humans have a tendency, even pagan humans, to place beings in our world (both physical, and their spiritual counterparts) into a hierarchy, with humans at the top, and those beings that most resemble humans higher than those that are more alien to us.
Therefore, we assume that because a spirit in a non-human animal body experiences pain and suffering in the same way we do, then its death must be more important than that of a spirit embodied in a plant body, which may not have the same sort of nervous system. Additionally, the individual oak, bigger than we are, evokes more respect than the communal grass that we tread upon.
As an omnivorous pagan, I respect the life that must be given up to feed me, regardless of the type of suffering it may or may not experience. When I make soup, the carrot that was uprooted is just as important as the chicken that went into the broth. It's still a matter of energy transference that requires me to take from another spirit being, and to deprive it of its physical form. The only way I could avoid doing otherwise would be to subsist solely on fruit and nuts that can be harvested without killing the plant.
I cannot deny the effects my choices have. Therefore it's essential for me to be conscious of these effects as I take action. For example, choosing to eat meat has a number of potential consequences:
--If I do not buy free range meat, I'm probably purchasing the flesh of an animal that lived in a crowded stockyard or barn under inhumane conditions. Even if I do buy free-range, the death the animal experiences may still be highly stressful. Additionally, sometimes "cage-free" chicken means she was still stuck in a crowded barn, just not in a cage.
--Depending on where my meat comes from, I may be contributing to habitat destruction.
--If I purchase from an individual farmer who raises livestock and offers the meat to sell at a farmer's market, I support an individual rather than a corporate conglomerate.
--Not eating meat has historically adversely affected my health, no matter what dietary precautions I took. I was hungry all the time, my energy dropped, and I got sick easier.
Rituals and Totems
I've been working with "food totems" for some time now, the totem animals that represent species we often only associate with food, such as Pig and Chicken. In my belief system, totems are archetypal beings that embody all the qualities of a species, from biology to folklore, though they do have independent existences rather than simply being figments of the psyche.
My goal is to build healthy relationships with these totems, not only to learn from them but also to find out what I can do to help them and their physical counterparts. They're understandably upset by the current state of things, and at first I had a lot of trouble getting them to communicate with me beyond them venting their anger. But we've had some constructive interactions, especially recently.
While I don't currently hunt or raise my own meat, I do sometimes work rituals into the preparation of store-bought meat. For example, I bought a whole free-range chicken and did a ritual in honor of her spirit as well as the totem Chicken.
A really interesting article. I don't personally work with totems, but the concept, from what I understand of it, makes sense to me. I tend to, similar to this author, keep in mind the sacrifice made by an animal when I prepare it to be food. I am better about this some days than others, and continue to strive to be more mindful of it. Ideally, I'd also like to incorporate giving thanks ("saying grace") before a meal, to give voice to my thankfullness. And being mindful of every choice and consequence of that choice as best as possible is a key ingredient in my relationship with my omnivorous diet.