I tried being a vegetarian once. Not because I had some well-developed philosophy or beliefs about the meat industry or the feelings and pains of animals, but because I was 13 and it seemed like some noble thing to do at the time. I lasted maybe a week and a half and then I ate Taco Bell. Clearly a sad time in my life when Taco Bell was all it took to break up some noble idea about food.
Now I’m the proud co-owner to Gnarly Farm, the not so prestigious and usually borderline-severe-safety-hazard of an urban farm in Seminole Heights, Florida. We have 13 rabbits, 13 chickens, 5 ducks, 8 quail, and some unnumbered goldfish in the pond. We started with 6 ducks and 21 quail. A few quail got away, most came back, and then they met with their doom in the kitchen sink with a strong pair of scissors. Our one-less duck was delicious and had a peaceful swim in the bathtub all to herself prior to becoming part of a multi-course dinner dinner.
Nate ate the first of the meal-bound quail for lunch and he had done all the research so when I tried my hand at my first slaughter, he was there to walk me through the steps. The actual dressing process was surprisingly simple, and I was excessively morbid in my coping with the stress that taking another creature’s life involves. My stomach was in knots just carrying the little critter into the house. I wonder how many farmers still feel that even after the 1,000th kill. I think like most people that I know, I grew up taking the meat in my life for granted. Middle-class American went to lots of BBQs and ate a lot of fajitas at my favorite texmex restaurants. Steak and potatoes were always a great fall back and I could have told you 50 ways to cook chicken in middle school even though I had no idea what a chicken actually ate and did for its life on a factory farm before it ended up on my dinner plate.
Corn. They eat mostly corn, and most of them never see the light of day anymore. The odds that the chicken breast on my plate came from a cannibalistic chicken is high, something that might not sound that gross to some people, but when you watch any animal that isn’t naturally inclined towards scavenging eat one of their farm animal compadres, it’s pretty disturbing. I’ve cleaned out the body of a dead button quail after it was ravaged by other angry and hungry quail and Nate said that the injured quail he saw whose skull was protruding from his head after someone else got a hold of him was one of the grossest things he’s ever seen.
Beside the fact that most meat in America comes from factory farms where animals frequently eat other dead animals, the animals are usually slaughtered in a systematic, detached method. Such a kill method is something that is probably pretty necessary given the sheer numbers in tons of meat that Americans consume (and waste) on a daily basis – I recognize that – however, that doesn’t minimize the disconnect between even the slaughterer and the animal, let alone the disconnect between the consumer (me) and the meat (said chicken).
I’ve seen some snippets of animal rights videos and the conditions of slaughterhouses, but that’s not exactly what I’m talking about. We’ll say that’s a given. The thing that I’ve learned about is the fundamental separation between me and the food (particularly meat) that keeps me running on a day to day basis. I’ve come to believe, and realize most people don’t share this belief, that if I couldn’t bring myself to take the life of a particular animal or animal-type, then I shouldn’t be eating that animal.
Some people seriously, and others half in jest, have expressed some level of disgust or surprise at our keeping chickens, quail, rabbits, and ducks and eating them. Some of this stems from the fact that we are not out in the country on a “real farm,” but at least a few of these comments stemmed from the fact that we had named our ducks who were not originally intended for meat but for eggs, and we have to date eaten 1 of the 6 ducks we started with (Sweet Pea). In considering the “don’t name an animal you’re going to eat” factor, though, I have come to the conclusion that it seems much more honorable and sacred to name the animals that I raise, not even, but especially the ones that I eat, because it gives glory to their unique personalities and their individuality. The individuality that doesn’t exactly always come through on my dinner plate since one chicken breast and another prepared the same way are usually indistinguishable, but comes from the genetics that are formed and made in the core of the universe that on some ridiculous level say “I am not a chicken, but this chicken.” It’s a chicken. It’s almost hilarious in the truest sense to say that of a chicken, but it’s a metaphysical phenomenon that my body embraces in simple and crude ways, chewing, swallowing, and ultimately, um…pooping out whatever I eat. The fact that my body can accept the sameness and differences between every piece of food I eat isn’t a choice or something I have to ponder or accept, but to realize intellectually that although Sweet Pea may taste just like the nameless duck in the grocery store fridge, she was her own duck and I took her life for my taste buds and my bazillion cells is another matter entirely.
I need to have the guts to take the life of something to appreciate my food. I have to recognize that they bleed and yes, even hurt, no matter how quick and supposedly painless the slaughter process is. To ignore that fact and pass the job off to someone else shows no honor to God and no honor to the animal for me. No, I don’t think that means I’ll never buy meat from the store again – that’s already not true – but I do take into consideration the life of the animal rather than just its affect on my taste buds when I’m eating. Thoreau went to the woods because he, “wanted to live deliberately […and he] wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” I’m raising, coddling, loving, giving as good a life as possible, and then killing my own meat because I want to be thankful for the life in the marrow of the animals that I eat.
There is no such thing as death
In nature nothing dies
From each sad remnant of decay
Some forms of life arise.