March 23, 2012 § 14 Comments

Last night I walked down to the birch knoll, so named for the thin copse of paper birch that populate the small hill, their white bark like bones against the sky. I carried the chainsaw, the splitting maul, a peavey, and a beer. The target was a fat length of ash I’d pulled from the woods over the winter. I knew it had at least a week’s worth of cookstove wood in it, and I set my goal on its demise before nightfall.

To reach the knoll, one must past the pigpen, where there are currently 17 two-day old piglets nursing on a pair of recumbent sows. There is no cuter critter than a two-day old piglet; they are soft as downy kittens, and sound like small ducks. Their ears are permanently folded back, like the wings of paper airplanes. They even smell nice, which I know because earlier in the day, I’d held one to my nose and just breathed, for at least a minute. Then it started quacking, so I put it back.

I stopped for a moment to admire the scene. The mothers looked as if they’d just set down the weight of the world; they lay with their soft underbellies exposed, as if they had nothing to hide, nothing to fear. The piglets had arranged themselves in neat rows, one per spigot. The late sun was slanting down, and it felt nice on my skin. It was as bucolic a scene as I’ve witnessed of late, and I’ve witnessed a few.

Standing there with the saw heavy in one hand, the axe and peavey awkward in the other, and my beer going warm in my pocket, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that within six or seven months, all of the pigs would be dead. In two months or so, after the piglets have been weaned and sent off to their new homes, I will walk to the pigpen with a .22 rifle in my hands and put a bullet in each of those sows’ brains. Their blood will spill over the very ground on which they gave birth and nursed their babies. The piglets, of course, have a bit longer: It will be a half-year or more before their demise.

I have come to realize that to be human is to be, by default, pro-death. It does not matter how many meatless “meat” patties you consume, how many leather shoes you forgo in favor of hemp or organic cotton. To produce each and every one of those “cruelty free” products causes the death of innumerable small beings, as the foundational crops are sown and harvested, and then causes more suffering as the industrial pollution machine grinds into gear during processing and distribution. This is not an argument against vegetarianism and veganism; I hold no qualms with anyone’s dietary choices. It is merely an acknowledgement of reality.

The inescapable conclusion is this: I am pro-death. I suppose it’s not the most politically correct statement ever, but then, I’m not running for office. Still, the core truth is slightly more complicated, because the notion that life and death are not interconnected and interdependent is a contrivance of human emotion. They each require the other, to the extent that they are not even two sides of the same coin: They are the same side of the same coin.

So yeah, I’m pro-death. Which makes me pro-life, too.

§ 14 Responses to Pro-death

  • Nancy Settel says:

    you sure do always make me think I will say that!! I love how you break it down and it doesn’t turn into an argument pro or con just the way you feel, we should all be more like that and not afraid to speak our mind. nancy settel

  • sylvia says:

    People ask me all the time if we eat our chickens. Of course, I say. the response is always “how can you pick them up and hold them, love on them, name them and then eat them”.
    Well, they exist on my land to provide food for my teenage boys, my husband and myself. That is why. They are not pets.
    But I am naturally a toucher, I love to hold and feel things. You don’t want to go with me to a museum because I am always running afoul of the guards. Even when my kids were small, they were always cautioning me to ‘keep your hands in your pockets, mom. we don’t want to be thrown out before we see the Art.”
    Does it make it harder for me to kill the chickens? Well, maybe. But I am who I am and I am thrilled to be able to provide fabulous food for my family. Grocery store chicken is not the same.
    I will go on loving on my chickens and then killing and eating them. I think this is the way it has been for thousands of years and our ‘new system’ of industrial farming seems to be the anathema.

  • kate says:

    Hey Ben, have you seen this?

    I’ve been trying to formulate a response to their “call for essays” not to enter the contest but for my own purposes. It has me tongue tied with a mass of my inarticulate thoughts on the subject. But, this is to say, your thoughts on prodeath/prolife were thoughtful and appreciated as I attempt to define my own.

  • Aspendance says:

    I cannot imagine a better existence for human or critter than to be afforded all the comforts of a good life – safe shelter, fresh air, green grass, sunshine, clean water, good food – followed by a quick death. We should all be so lucky.

  • Dagny Gromer says:

    Provocative thought. I’ve never raised a food animal, but I do eat meat.

  • Ben says:

    Those piggies are a continuously APPRECIATING investment…. And, maybe more importantly, APPRECIATED throughout the cycle. Good energy.

  • [...] Hewitt always has a soulful view of life on the farm and off the grid here…His most recent post deals with an issue not talked or discussed a lot. Recently, there is has been more focus in the [...]

  • CM Hooper says:

    “…because the notion that life and death are not interconnected and interdependent is a contrivance of human emotion.” In my humble opinion this is a very profound statement. EXCELLENT.

  • jsiegel115 says:

    That was beautifully written. Thank you.

    I hope it is ok that I quoted you in my post:

    You helped me to explain something that happened here this past weekend, and there was no way I could have said it better myself.

    Again, thank you for this. It was wonderful.

  • jesua says:

    A thoughtful meat eater. How does it feel to be part of the .1% who are conscious of the life they are consuming.

    I think that vegetarians are aware that life ends and that their actions will inadvertently end the life of a variety of other life forms. Their choice is to consciously avoid the killing of an emotional life form for their own benefit when there are alternatives available. Also, more calories of nutritional input are needed to produce a single meat calorie. There is a loss of energy as you progress up the food chain. This is not an argument against eating meat, just a reflection of why some don’t.

  • Karin says:

    Thanks for your thoughts and the opportunity to connect with others on these topics and more.

    Your life and writing seem filled with respect for the life around you and as a writer you have a unique opportunity to share yourself with others and to help (willfully or not) articulate their own thoughts and beliefs in this moment and time as they (we) walk through their(our) lives.

    We all need to pick our battles, so to speak, on the issues of the day. An example of this could be… that while I would love to not have a car and travel by bike or feet alone I live in a rural community 20 miles from my workplace or store and therefore need a car and while I make every attempt to not frivolously drive and have a car that gets reasonable gas mileage my definition of “frivolous” and “reasonable” are completely debatable for any other person. In fact there are many parts of my example that are debatable, where I choose to live, where I choose to work, what kind of car I am able to own, what I choose to eat. All of this is to say that while I can try to live the “best” way that is within my means to live, I cannot in all honesty speak for the how and why of other’s choices.

    I have no doubt that you have come to realize that to be “Ben Hewitt” is to be, by default, pro-death. I question though why you needed to turn from a wonderful glimpse of the intimate connection you have with the beings sharing your homestead to what feels to me like a defensive “acknowledgment of reality” of, really what seems to be big business and corporate America rather than vegetarians or vegans, in your comments about what you (sort of snarkly) write “cruelty free”. It seems an odd and unnecessary turn to me.

    With all your blog entries and your articles that I have read, I have gotten the feeling that you intrinsically see the difference between the way you are raising your pigs with that of how, let’s say, Smithfield is raising pigs. To me there is a difference, and between the two (you and Smithfield) there are multitudes of degrees of difference on the continuum of how we each choose to be human and between you and the person/people whom live exclusively by “consciously avoid(ing) the killing of an emotional life form” there are multitudes of degrees of difference.

    Does being human, by default, mean we are pro-death or pro-life, I don’t have that answer and perhaps you do, but I would rather hear your comments about your own humanity and how you face the cycle of life and death that you contribute to rather then you fueling some sort of reactionary aversion to a “perception” that those who choose not to eat animals feel that they do not contribute to the death of beings (large or small).

    I think more than anything those of us trying to move away from industrial foods and toward supporting a diverse local economy need to tread carefully to keep the larger picture of commonality and mutual respect as a foundation for making change. I look forward to continuing to read your blog and other writings, and am thankful that you offer the opportunity for comments and reflections.

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