This is the last week before the pigs leave. I alternate between spending time with them and avoiding them completely. My husband backs me up so they do not go unfed. Throughout the past 5 months that they have been in our care, I have been jumping their fence to give them back rubs, fill their mud bath tub and add things to their compost pile. The scratching elicits the same groan that matches the sounds they make when you put food in front of them – pure pleasure. But I am guilty of not letting them in on the whole story.
I’m going to go way out there now. Bear with me, as I will come back. We’re taking the long way around.
On my recent trip to Tadoussac, Quebec, I got the rare pleasure of driving without the interruption of wee voices in the back seat for 10 hours straight. Some would say this is a boring and monotonous thing to have to do. I was in heaven. I had made a long MP3 mixed CD that allowed me to listen to 120 of some of my favourite songs without a break for 7 hours. As each new song approached, I could not believe that there was yet another 5 minutes that I was going to have to myself.
This mix included a song by Ani Difranco called Gratitude. If you don’t know the artist, she was known as a young, intense, raving, ranting, bald-headed, feminist, songstress in the early nineties. She softened with age and still continues her magic today. She is but two weeks older than I. I understand this softening. In this song she thanks the subject for loaning her busfare, the use of a clean towel, half of his bed (we can sleep here like brother and sister you said) and acknowledges the kindness she was being offered by her male host. Then the chorus: “You changed the rules, in an hour or two, and I don’t know what you and your sister do. Please don’t, please stop, this is not my obligation….what does my body have to do with my gratitude?”
The matter is serious. Yet, she delivers it with such an earnest desire to uncover the truth behind it, that it makes the uncomfortable astoundingly beautiful. Most of her songs do this. My post here is not about the abuse of a woman’s body against her will. I would never take that lightly or avoid giving it the weight it deserves in any discussion. But, as hours spent alone will do, I find myself focusing on one line that I heard on my long drive weeks after the fact, and now completely out of context: What does my body have to do with my gratitude?
As I drove by the barn yesterday, I felt an incredible urge to stop my vehicle, in the dark, cold, rain and visit the pigs for one of the last times. It was time to give thanks for what was going to be offered to me. I had no agenda. I felt an appreciation so deep that I wanted to kneel before these wonderous creatures as a servant would before a king. I thought myself crazy at the time.
What does my body have to do with my gratitude?
Everything, in this case, it would seem. I’m not trying to create unnecessary drama here. I don’t need to make a heart-wrenching documentary about how animals are being abused and used for their meat. I am one woman. There are two pigs. We have an agreement. I will offer them shelter, cool water to drink and mud to bathe in. I will feed them regularly and often. We will look each other in the eyes. But it is only I who knows of our agreement. They will surely get the gist of it in a few days but hopefully there will not be enough time for that to involve any suffering.
My daughter and I went to visit the pigs the other day and I told her she should start thinking about saying goodbye as they were leaving soon. “Why?” she asked. “They will be back won’t they? Aren’t we going to eat them?” I smiled and agreed with her. So pragmatic. So the age of five. “Are you getting sad again, Mommy? Are you not going to be able to eat the pigs again because you’re sad?” She continued, “Well, I won’t be sad. I’m going to eat them”. Right there was the moment I realized that my daughter knew EXACTLY what went on with our animals around here.
She might be right. I might not eat them. I struggle with this greatly as, for some reason, I am too weak, unprincipled or some other concoction to become the strict vegetarian I should be. Instead, I wander into the middle of what it means to raise an animal that you will eat. Perhaps so that I can know that any suffering was shared.
I am often warned to not name my animals. Not get too close. To get in and get out with the chores never forming any kind of relationship. I don’t agree. If I’m going to do this, I need to do it all the way. And save for killing them myself (I won’t because I’m afraid I won’t get it right and they will suffer more, not because I have any physical or emotional aversion to this step), I want to know them from the beginning to the end.
I also think the pigs are happier for having known us, interacted with us, felt a part of our world here.
Sick in the head? Maybe.
But I am not only attached to my animals. I am grateful for what they bring to us. So very grateful. For it is my body, not my emotional realm, that will benefit from these magnificent beings. Somehow the attachment in life becomes part of the gratitude after their death. They will nourish my family and many around us in a way that a lot of other meat available in this corner of the world cannot. They will be rich in Omega-3s, have a healthy ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6, absorbable and available Vitamin D and taste like the real meat I ate as a kid.
Incidentally, tomorrow I will be sending a female cow along to the butcher as well. It seemed easier to do it all at once. This is the first female we have eaten from here. For reasons that seem to have to do with believing she should have had the opportunity to give birth at least once, this has been really tough on me. But she’s a fence jumper. And the trouble she causes is greater than we can tolerate any longer. Nor would I wish her fence-jumping habits on anyone else. And we are also out of beef in the freezer.
All I have left to do, after the trailer pulls away from the barn is to say Sorry and Thank You.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. My body will be forever in debt to what you have given it. It once seemed as though I was your keeper, your Captain. Now I realize that as I acknowledge your offering, it is I who is completely surrendering to you.
I did my best. I won’t miss you, as I know you will be back. All that you are will become building blocks for our bodies. You will be the one who sustains us.
And in that way, you will live on.