Meat and Death

May 31, 2013 § 8 Comments

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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§ 8 Responses to Meat and Death

  • Jennifer Fisk says:

    Are those Kosher Kings? I have 20 who have an appointment with an abattoir 1.5 hrs. from here. I’ve processed my own in the past and did 3 roosters this winter but without a plucker I don’t want to do it. It will probably be faster to drive both ways and have them done than to do them myself. I do process my own rabbits which makes me feel closer to that stew. I’ve also sold a live rabbit and processed it for the buyer. Nice way around the legal aspects of things.
    You are teaching your boys so many valuable skills. Never question what you are doing.

    • Ben Hewitt says:

      yes, Kosher Kings, our favorite.

      We got a few guinea keets, also. Supposedly they’re gonna eat every tick within a mile of here.

      • Jennifer Fisk says:

        When I ordered my KKs the lady told me their biggest market for them was VT, NH, and ME. She said you New Englanders must like dark meat. I told her we did along with brown eggs. I saw the Guinea Keets. Yes they are voracious bug eaters and can help in your garden without making a mess. The tricks are to stand their noise and to keep them acclimated to home.

  • MamaAshGrove says:

    We also raise chickens each year for meat (freedom rangers)- have not yet moved to pigs, though it is on our minds for the near future. We feel the same way about meat and knowing how it was raised- and really the best way to know for sure is to do it yourself, or get it from someone you know.
    I hadn’t thought before about slaughtering animals and that fear of death, being why people will tend to shelter themselves from the process.
    And even further, it seems that many find it so much easier to push the thought of it all so far back in their minds that they can eat factory farmed animal products in peace. In fact, I have wondered if people subconsciously allow themselves to become (or stay) so numb to the whole thing (where their meat comes from) that they hardly even think of it as having been alive and then killed at all, but just another easy product they can purchase to eat. hmmmm.

    • Jennifer Fisk says:

      When people tell me they can’t raise their own because they couldn’t kill it or eat it, I always ask how can you go to the store and purchase CAFO meat that animal from which it came had a miserable life. They usually say, I don’t think about it or I didn’t know it personally. So yes, most people are totally divorced from where their meat comes from.

      • MamaAshGrove says:

        so very “convenient” for them!
        Once we had a little girl over, who is my daughter’s age (12). she saw our chickens and I said: “those are the ones we raise for meat,” thinking she’d find that interesting, maybe.
        she said: “gross.”

  • Michael says:

    Ben, that was a great post. I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic lately, as my family and I recently started a farm in Wisconsin and have had a few occasions of putting animals to rest. I touched on it last month on my blog if you’d like to check it out. http://www.ThreeBrothersFarm.blogspot.com
    Death is essential to life, but in so much more profound of a way than the cycle of life. It’s important for man to experience death of animals he eats and of things and people he loves.

    • Ben Hewitt says:

      Thanks, Michael, and thanks for the link. I really enjoyed your post.

      Are you the fellow I met in Tunbridge??

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