Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Learning to Kill

I have often come across folks that assume because I am interested in wildlife and nature that I would be against hunting and eating the meat. This is not true. I have a great respect for people who can harvest their food from the wild. What I do not appreciate is when people do this in a wasteful or gratuitously disrespectful or greedy manner. Harvesting within what is sustainable for a wild population and using all of what is killed is to my mind the most efficient way to procure meat for one's table.

Needless to say as we raise animals for meat, I obviously accept ending an animal’s life to make my food. As I watch our very small cattle herd grazing on our pasture throughout the summer, I often imagine that they have the best life that a cow could have, even one that is headed for slaughter. But I can’t know what an animal prefers.

There are many people in my life that I am very close to that forgo animals or animal products in their diet. Some people choose not to eat meat as an ecological decision. It can take more energy to raise meat than the calories it provides. Some feel hypocritical if they are not willing to do the killing themselves. Many feel that meat is not healthy, and is the cause of much disease in our bodies. Beyond these reasons, there can be animal welfare questions which I feel are far too personal to address here. These people know what they require to be comfortable and I might better move a few mountains than expect everyone to seek out the same diet as me.

Sourcing the meat for our table involves more than just feeding the animals and giving them a good home. To be fully responsible, I feel I need to lift the veil between the animal’s life and death. I know the animal grazing in our picturesque pastures and the guy who accepts a pat from me in the barn. I also know what arrives wrapped and labeled in boxes for our freezer and how it tastes done up on the barbecue. I have purposefully not spent much time sorting out what happens in between.

Aside from mosquitoes whose presence are the only thing that makes me yearn to return to the city, I am not quick to escort anything to its death. I do not feel I have the right to end the lives of anything including flies in our windows, mice that have chewed through our winter stores, rats that have infested our house, beavers that have flooded our fields, ants that have colonized our cupboards, coyotes that have eaten our cats, foxes that have taken our chickens and chipmunks that have raided our greenhouse. This doesn’t mean I don’t do it. It just means it takes a lot for me to go this route.

Needless to say, I have not used my own hands to take the lifeblood from any of the creatures that became sustenance for my body. This to me is the ultimate act of hypocrisy. One of the reasons why I was unable to raise pigs again this past spring is that I hit a roadblock with my inability to see this animal through to its death.

I recall my days as a vegetarian in university where I simply didn’t eat anything I wasn't willing to kill. I followed this rule in my diet strictly (and easily) for more than two years. Then along came an intense weight-training regime for my university rowing team, a doctor’s diagnosis of anemia, and I was ready to wring every squirrel’s neck that crossed my path for its blood. Isn’t it amazing how your body will tell you what it needs? In the interest of health, budget and time, I returned to eating meat with the agreement that I would one day know what it is like to be responsible for killing a beast.

I have it on my radar to get a firearms license. I do not idolize Sarah Palin or anything. I just want to figure out how to be brave enough to participate in the experience of an animal taking its last breath – particularly one that I intend to eat. Why should somebody else bare this burden for me so that I can blindly consume whatever I want whenever I want?

All I know is that we will all die one day and living a rich and complete life can make death make some sense. At least it can fill out the story a little. Being responsible for the food that I eat not only includes the life that I provide for the animal but for me it must now include the uncomfortable death.

I apologize for these inconvenient and graphic associations about food. I have a habit of naming the elephant (or cow) in the room. There are many who appreciate when I pipe up the name of of the fellow who provided our hamburger on any given day. Some just don't care to hear about it.

Today I made the call to make an appointment to see off our 6 month old bull calf. He’s a little young for my liking but we haven’t got enough hay for the winter to keep him around and soon he will start to show signs of aggression due to his intact dangly bits.

Perhaps I will ask to watch and learn as he is taken apart and packaged up. For what it is worth, this will also tear me apart. But I figure it is the least I can do out of respect for the offering.

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