Saturday, April 13, 2013

On farming and my personal journey towards being a better meat eater

I have moved into a small space on my living room floor.  A little orphaned gosling is imprinted on me and panics if I dare to travel more than two feet away from it.  Peep, peep, PEEP! the gosling when I get up to go do some chores.  Explaining to this little creature that his new mummy has other animals to care for is, well impossible.  Fire blazing, heat lamp on, and still the preference is for the warmth of mummy's lap. So here we are nestled together, me in my PJs and Gosey wrapped in a towel at my side.

We have had a lot of beautiful new animals on the farm this spring, but it's also been a hard year for them too.  We lost a Ewe and her two lambs, despite heroic efforts, 2 expert shepherdesses, 3 helpful helpers and 4, count them, 4 vets!  It was very difficult to be part of that.  We worked so hard, and the animals suffered so much.  There was nothing more we could have done, not the best vet in the world could have saved them.  But still... It's little comfort.

New life, and death, and everything in-between.  A journey of emotional extremes that makes me question if raising animals is the right thing for me.

I have several friends who are vegan, vegetarian or have restrictions on eating certain flesh for religious reasons.  I'm absolutely fascinated by their dietary style, mostly because it gives me a chance to access my own eating.

I eat meat.  I don't eat a lot at one time, an ounce or two is plenty for me.  It's more a side dish than the main feature; however I still eat the flesh of animals.  I'm not going to stop eating meat.  For reasons of health and personal preference, I am a meat eater.  There are certain nutrients in meat that I cannot get elsewhere due to my allergies and sensitivities   An even bigger issue for me than health is that I think meat tastes good!

So how do I reconcile my soft hearted attitude towards animals with my carnivorous tendencies?

I was raised in a middle class Canadian home, during that no-man's time in history when food was what came in plastic and boxes with vibrant pictures on the package.  Sure, we always grew our own vegetables in the garden, so I knew a bit about where that food came from.  Yet, I always felt disconnected from meat.  School and Television taught me that it was dangerous; that if the steak took more than an hour to go from the grocery store to the fridge, and you ate it, then you were going to die.  I knew this wasn't entirely true, because people told me about our family's dubious history of poaching during the war (a time before refrigeration and yet people weren't all dead from eating meat, how strange), but it wasn't until I was in my teens when I really understood that the chicken and lamb that I was so fond of eating came from the very same animals that I played with at the petting zoo.

It's a very strange moment in a person's life - one that wouldn't have happened, 75 or 100 years ago.  It's a very strange part of human history that it happens at all.

Natural instinct is to hide from the food chain  to only think of meat as growing in plastic wrap, not as cute faces or pets.  It takes decided effort to acknowledged this disconnect in our upbringing and face the fact that the meat we eat comes from animals.

Living on a farm, as I do now, I've noticed time and time again, that the distinction between livestock and pets for most people, only happens after the slaughtered, butchered  and packaged in plastic.  I've also learned that if you cannot differentiate between livestock and pets, the animal suffers, often more than it would in a KAFO.

I want to be able to eat meat and feel good about it.  How can I do both with a Disney upbringing?  I can either turn a blind eye to where my meat comes from, treating all animals as pets, while eating mass produced meat, or I can take an active step to ensuring the meat I eat comes from animals that have lived a good life, true to their nature, and had an end that was not stressful.  I'm opting for the latter, but it is more difficult than expected.

Tomorrow a goat will die.  She was born angry and despite the best efforts of many people, grew more aggressive as she aged.  Now she's attacked a child, no harm done to the child thankfully, but still, it was enough.  I feel very conflicted.

I am sad that a life will end.  I am glad that the meat will be used.  I am upset that she couldn't be redeemed  I am excited for the chance to work with adult goat meat (mutton and goat are very hard to come by here).  I'm also glad that she had the last few weeks of living the high life and that we can respect and honour her at her end.

All these feeling turning round in my heart.  It's really quite a landmark event in my life.  I have a friend who will teach me the Halal style of slaughter, where the animal is made calm and content before the end - which comes quick with one stroke of the knife.

So today I am getting ready - both emotionally and by sharpening my knives, making room in the fridge, preparing my recipes, and so forth.  It's going to be an adventure.  But at least I've done everything I can to make certain this angry goat meets a good end.

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