Meat and Death
May 31, 2013 § 8 Comments
I can’t even remember when we started raising meat birds, but it was at least a dozen years ago. I do remember the first year with did it with children present. Or more accurately, with child present, since Rye would not yet have been born. It’s almost funny to recall that Penny and I actually debated whether or not Fin should be present for the slaughter.
It didn’t take long for us to determine that if our family was going to consume meat, we were not going to “protect” anyone from the realities of processing. So that first year with Fin, when he was all of eight or nine months old, we propped him up in one of those semi-circular “boppy” pillows and he watched and drooled (because he was an infant, not because he was that hungry for chicken), and tried to eat grass and actually ate some grass while Penny and I gathered the birds and brought them to the trailer where Ralph and Cindy did the bloodwork.
When Rye came along, we did the same with him, although by now Fin was running about, trying to catch birds in his soft little three-year-old hands. He didn’t catch many.
Seven or eight years ago, we began slaughtering and processing our own pigs and lambs; it felt important to us that if we were going to eat these creatures, we would assume personal responsibility for the act of killing, dressing, and cutting. We do not do this with every animal we raise, in part because we sell some of them, and this would not be legal, in part because it’s a lot of work, and in part because we enjoy the relationships we have with the people who do some of our slaughter (if you want to know more about what this work is like and get to know some wonderful and colorful characters, check out my first book. There’s a chapter devoted to Ralph and Cindy). Still, we do it with enough of our critters that I feel as if we have honored an unspoken agreement between us and the spirits of the animals that feed us. We know what it is like to put a gun to the forehead of a pig and pull the trigger, or to sink a knife into the throat of a lamb and to hold it while it bleeds out. These things are not easy, or fun. But to my way of thinking, they are an essential and honest part of the relationship between us and the flesh we consume.
I have no qualms about taking the life of an animal to feed my family, so long as that animal has been treated and slaughtered with respect. There is simply no way for us to be alive on this earth without causing the death of other living beings, and rather than deny this reality, we have chosen to embrace it. Others, I know, choose differently, and I understand those choices.
Over the years, the boys have become essential to the slaughter and processing of animals on our land. For the last two batches of pigs, they have been the ones to pull the trigger, and they have assisted in the skinning, dressing, cutting, and wrapping. They enjoy the work, and I can foresee a day when they will inherit the whole darn process, and that would be just fine with me.
Either that, or they’ll start eating tofu.
Often, I think to myself what is wrong with death? And the only honest answer I can come up with is nothing. This does not make death easy, and it does not mean we don’t feel grief, particularly when death comes to humans. This does not mean that if the threat of death came to someone I love, I would not do everything in my power to fight it off. But that grief and that willingness to fight do not make death wrong. They do not deny the essential role of dying in the constant, cycling process of nature.
They do not mean, no matter how much our human ingenuity and ever-increasing distance from the natural world makes it seem so, that we can stand apart from death. It is just as real and present as every breath we take.