I love perusing Blair’s photos on Instagram (startafarm). Where she shares photos from her 40 acre farm, Madstone Farm, in Northern California, where her and her husband work towards producing what the consume, a secure clean, food, supply.
The hides of bulls Woody and Hermes are in the corner of our small cabin, salted, dried, and folded, waiting to be tanned into leather. Three deer antlers sit atop the bookcase, a coyote skull and collection of animal teeth on the window sill, some wild bird feathers, all gifts, reminders, pieces of lives once lived. I am not morbid or morose; I think skulls and animal teeth are beautiful, interesting artefacts. I look at them and see life, not death. Of course death is a direct result of life. In farming, keeping animals, we are welcoming and supporting a whole bunch of life, welcoming also as much death, possibly even more. Whether intentional or accidental, more life has proven to equal more death.
As all beings must, we eat and drink to maintain, to survive, and ideally, to thrive. Each time we consume, we decide what kind of world we want. We decide how we want our food to be grown and treated. We decide how we want the energy exchange between species to take place. Each individual may not experience the gravity of this as they sit down to a meal, but it is reality.
I no longer feel deep sorrow for the death of animals for food. After taking part in so many slaughters, I now feel partially detached from the event, perhaps as an emotional survival skill of sorts. I am not completely numb to the sadness, I feel a sense of loss for the life of a beloved fellow creature, but I focus on feeling gratitude and empowerment from providing nourishment for myself, my family, my community. A direct connection to one’s food supply, taking a hunk of meat out of your freezer with fond memories attached, remembering bottle raising them as a calf, chasing them around in your skivvies when they escaped a pen, appreciation for their life, their death, to feel nourished and full from them, is the power and honor of raising your own animals to eat.
Every time I have been present for a harvest, a slaughter, a taking of the spirit and body of an animal, I have felt a singular experience. In recalling each time, I experience it as one, as I imagine future animal harvests will melt into the same moment. It is not pretty to see creatures die, certainly one’s you have tender memories of. With unlimited funds, a farm could be a sanctuary. Animals could live contentedly, fat and happy, die of old age, be buried in a compost pile for the worms to eat, but most farmers could not afford this luxury. We spend our energy, time and money providing good lives for animals, and their life comes back to support our own so we have energy to keep doing so each day. It is their eventual task to die in order for us to live. We feed them, they feed us. Life supports and encourages life. Death makes more life possible.
I feel honoured and glad to have discovered and created an existence in which I take responsibility for the existence and well-being, and ultimately the quality of food I consume. I think of the love and care we give to our animals as a secret ingredient. The meat thawing on the counter is not some anonymous, mass-produced bovine; it is Woody, a once gangly bull calf with a partial blindness in one eye, or Harold and Maude, the pigs we got when they were two months old. They have stories we are a part of, and they are part of our story. I have read that cows with names produce more quantity and higher quality of milk, and I fully believe it. I think it goes for the flesh of the animals too. A cherished friend, who received lots of love while they were alive, will taste better, and offer more nourishment.
In treating the animals we provide for like friends, pets, family, loved ones, doting on them, worshipping them in a way, they are happy, we are happy, and their bi-products contain that love and care. We consume the love we gave them. As we give and provide for the animals, they give and provide for us. The animals feed the gardens, feed the land, feed us, teach us lessons, and bring great pleasure and purpose. I do not find great joy in the death of any creature, but I feel fulfilled by a sense of duty, by supplying my own clean protein, fat, vitamins and minerals grown by the pasture on our land. I do not feel joy for their death, but joy for their life, for the connection to their life, the connection to what sustains us. By taking responsibility for my consumption, I am part of the cycle of my own nourishment, not just an observer, a consumer; I am a producer. I am pleased to know my animals experience freedom, sun, good clean food, water, and time to grow and be wild, instead of being treated like an end product for their whole life, an anonymous meat machine, being hurried down an industrial farm conveyor belt toward a dark end and a fluorescent lit supermarket chain freezer. Our animals run, jump, fight, mate, frolic, lick each other, cuddle, play, die with dignity, respect and grand appreciation.
I know an eleven year old who will only eat meat from a creature with a name. She must be on a first name basis with her meat. What a noble, wise child. Instead of ignoring the reality that your steak had a face, embrace the fact. If you cannot raise your own animals, or do not wish to, support folks who practice kind, clean, sustainable farming methods. Go hang out at their farm and see how they treat their creatures. Pet the pig, milk the cow, kiss a chicken. Meet your meat.
In a creamy sip of raw milk, I taste the pasture, in the rich fatty gold of a yolk, beams of sun light. With a mouthful of well orchestrated hamburger, the smoky perfume of sizzling bacon, honey and yellow butter on just baked bread, I am ever in love with my animals and the land they fertilize. The appreciation for their life and their death is constant. I feel permanent gratitude for the daily fertility, nourishment, enjoyment, and eventually flesh and bones. The small, sweet, needing self at birth, observing them learn and grow, learning and growing myself as their student, creating important, treasured bonds with the animals that do not go anywhere when they die.
How do you feel about the obvious but often ignored link between animals and our meat?
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