This is for all of us who eat meat.
(If you don’t eat meat, you have my respect. I know how hard that life can be: socially, nutritionally, and from a food-enjoyment perspective. We were vegans for about two years and decided that it wasn’t something that we could sustain. If you want more on this, please contact us.)
Let’s be very plain. When you eat meat, you are sanctioning/supporting the murder of an innocent animal. Those who are not blissfully ignorant on this point cannot help but feel some anguish about this. Our cultural and genetic heritage is that of the predator. Painful, but true.
When I was growing up, my Mom would occasionally mention families that “raised their own meat”. She would say that they were careful not to name the animals that were “intended for the table”. In this way they were able to practice a kind of emotional apartheid, distancing themselves from the animals which they must someday kill.
I believe this is very wrong. If we disconnect from the realities around us, we ultimately disconnect from our own selves.
The enlightenment for me began about a month after we had moved to the old farmhouse on Milkmaid’s family’s land. Her brother, High Trail, invited me to join him for “dressing chickens”.
I had never killed a fowl or mammal before that day.
As we performed the act of slaughtering 20 or 30 birds, I searched for a way to emotionally distance myself from this terrible act.
I resorted to humor.
High Trail picked up on this immediately and told me the story from “The Day No Pigs Would Die,” which I do not remember very well. But the essence of it was that we should honor these animals during the time of killing, rather than distancing ourselves.
The remainder of our dressing session was solemn, as was fitting.
In the years to follow, I extended this principle more widely.
We named all of our mammals (cows, sheep, goats, rabbits, pigs) and many of our fowl.
We loved all of our animals.
We loved them at birth,
we loved them as they suckled their mother or pecked at “chick food”,
we loved them as they grew, pastured, and developed their own personalities,
we loved them as they changed with the turning of the seasons,
we rejoiced that we could give to these dear friends a good life, free from predators, hunger, or abuse. A life of sunshine, grass, shade, and good management. We realized that, philosophically, we could not be at peace with killing young animals for meat. We wanted them to live a full life, even if that meant tougher meat for us.
We loved them as we captured them for the last time,
we loved them as we restrained them in preparation for slaughter,
we loved them as they bled to death,
we wept in sadness and gratitude as the last life departed from their bodies,
we loved them as we ate their flesh, remembering whose meat we were eating at each meal.
At the first meal which included the meat from a recent kill, we would spend a minute or two in silence, remembering the life of that animal. As a father, I would try to encourage conversation — especially at that first meal — about that animal’s life: remembering their birth, their parents, their personality, funny stories, etc…
No, it is not easy to do this. But in the long run, it is better than a life of self-induced blindness to the truth of our human condition. And blindness to the dignity and dearness of the lives we consume in order to be omnivores.
This is just another part of the full meaning of living an “examined life”.