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It Ain’t Easy Being Dinner

I’d love to credit the cartoon above because it is unbelievably awesome.  It also really sparks some great discussion, don’t you think?  After all, those of us conducting a long-term experiment in sustainability must accept the most horrifying deal-breaking factoid : some of our food had a face.

I recall the first time I realized that the wondrous fillet of meat on my plate had once plucked tender blades of spring grass and possibly been a calf I’d named while bouncing through the fields in Grandpa’s pick-em-up truck beside my much-beloved grandfather.

Let’s just say that it wasn’t a great day.

Of course, I knew that our freezer was filled with packages of beef in white butcher paper stamped with purple-inked dates and that the meat came from Grandpa’s farm but somewhere there was a disconnect.  The food, to my four year old brain, was just “beef” or “meat” and that was all there was to it.  Even though cattle filled the view from every window in our home and I knew that they were “beef cattle” — the details simply had not registered.  I vowed, then and there, to give up eating meat.  As you may have guessed… that didn’t last long.  As the years passed, I went through phases of giving up chicken, turkey, eggs, beef, or fish.  Usually not at the same time and never with a sure-fire excuse.

Finally, I grasped the reason for my discomfort and it had nothing to do with knowing that my food had once roamed the earth or had a face.  You see, I lived in the thick of Virginia’s commercial chicken and turkey operation.  The only farms I knew of that didn’t park a few poultry houses alongside their dairy or beef cattle (except for Grandpa and old Mr. W) were busily churning out veal.  The veal farm we lived next to had no fences.  Their cattle never saw the light of day.  I shiver every single time I think of that horrible putrid farm whose cattle population was represented only by a massive barn and gigantic sprayers which launched murky manure pond water into the air like Old Faithful.

poultry houses2

Poultry houses dotted the western Virginia “farmscape” and clogged our narrow country roads with massive poultry trucks which were stacked high with battery cages.  Just one trip behind a loaded poultry truck would sicken even the most dedicated food addict.  Feathers would blow from the miserable birds into the windshield of the cars following behind the truck.  The birds could be seen laying on their sides crammed together like they’d just played a drunken game of Twister — with legs, wings, necks, and feet impossibly mangled and tangled.  The scent of death and rot would seep through every vent in the car and cause its passengers to cough and gag.  Is it any wonder that I gave up eating poultry so many times?

The hippy chicken

My reason for repeatedly giving up on meat finally dawned on me: I needed to know that any animal I ate had lived a decent life.  I just couldn’t sleep at night knowing that I had consumed one of God’s creatures whose only glimpse of sunlight was on a horrific truck ride to slaughter.  And so my fate as a tree hugging, fast food boycotting, and small-scale farming fool was sealed.  I don’t feel guilty for eating our chickens nor will I feel guilty when we must eat one of our goats because I can rest assured that they lived a full and healthy life.

How about you?  What was the pivitol moment in which you realized that your food once had a face?  What’s inspired you?

  • Christy - I agree. Growing your own requires a lot of respect for the animals. Slaughtering them is a very somber moment. I would much rather know what was put in their body and inevitable what I will be putting in my body.ReplyCancel

  • April - Good thought to ponder. My husband and I both hunt….now some think it is terrible that we do hunt. But we eat what we harvest, and I know that the animal had a happy life. It wasn’t raised on a farm then harvested. The only meet we eat is soleley harvested by us. Given our recent pay cuts…this has been a blessing for us. We have plenty of deer and turkey to eat. I wish that we were fortunate enough to have a vegetable garden, but we do not have the room. If people think it is inhumane that we hunt…if they saw what goes on at chicken/turkey farms, they would see it isn’t so bad. I don’t think that makes me a bad person. I do however HATE people that hunt and give the meat away…if you don’t need it….don’t kill it.ReplyCancel

  • Simple Livin' gal - We hunt, too. I think it’s a wonderful way to cut corners on a budget and completely agree — if you don’t need the meat then you should not be out hunting. We don’t view it as recreation but rather providing for our family.

    Excellent point!!! Thank you for your comment!ReplyCancel

  • Simple Livin' gal - Christy —

    Indeed, the slaughter is quite sobering and can be very sad. I’ve cried during the process but I also realize that it is all part of the circle. I am comforted in knowing that my family is safe from ingesting harmful chemicals and antibiotics. We can also sleep at night knowing that our animals have lots of room to grow and live and spend their days happily grazing, chasing bugs, dozing in the shade, or being adored by us.ReplyCancel

  • Applie - I never had a pivitol moment. Since I can not have farm animals at my home and I can’t afford grass fed, free roaming meat, I just don’t think about it much. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • elra - I heard all of those terrible thing, still I couldn’t give it up. BUT, I don’t eat them a lot and often. I probably cook meat once a month, and only buy free range and grass fed; chicken (free range/organic) every other week, and wild salmon once or twice a week. I feel guilty sometimes, but not enough to make me become a vegetarian. Although, I can literally live without meat/poultry of fish for months, but just the feeling or label myself as a vegetarian I can not bare, it’s a psychological thing, I don’t know what it is. I am still finding the answer. Good article Lacy, I am sending this to my blogger friend.
    Cheers,
    elraReplyCancel

  • Laurie - I do think its cruel the way the food industry has become. Unfortunately, for alot of folks, economics are more of an issue. It is extremely expensive to eat exclusively free-range organic and until it becomes more affordable I don’t expect things to change much in that area.

    I must confess that I do buy some commercially farmed meat products, mostly chicken. However, we do do our part, my husband hunts deer, so I rarely buy beef. For alot of people, though, this is not possible.ReplyCancel

  • Julie at Elisharose - My dad was a hunter and fisherman. I guess I grew up knowing my food had a face. It came home in the back of a pick-up and was butchered in my garage. It wasn’t until I was fully grown and started hearing horror stories that I realized that much of the meat we consumed had a less than ideal life.

    We still would prefer to eat most of our meat from such natural sources, but that is not always the case. We do have a friends who raises cattle. When we can afford it and have the freezer space, we go in with someone else and buy a side of beef. My husband also hunts but only deer – so far!

    Our best solution is to try to get out to a farm ASAP. Now, if our house would only sell….ReplyCancel

  • CrossView - I can’t remember not knowing that my food had a face. And it honestly doesn’t bother me. My sister went through the “Oh no! It’s Bambi” phase, though. I thought it was funny. =P Maybe that helped me??!! But I love when my hunter husband puts a wild turkey in the freeze! He never hunts more than we can eat and I’m thankful for the savings. Or as the old saying goes; “If God didn’t want us to eat animals, He wouldn’t have made them out of meat.”! ;o)ReplyCancel

  • Rosa - I believe that animals deserve respect and to be treated well, even/especially if they are going to end up in our plates. Such poultry houses are horrifying!

    i love that comic ;-P!

    cheers,

    RosaReplyCancel

  • Vickie - Here’s my two cents – I know the Lord put animals here for us to eat, but I hate the way the food industry treats them. Fortunately, my grandparents were farmers, my dad a big hunter/fisher. I grew up mostly on all kinds of wild game and home grown foods. We still keep fish and venison, dove, quail, etc. in our freezer. My two sons & husband are hunters/fishers.

    I’m anxious to move out to our farmhouse (which we’ve been renovating) in a year or two when my kids graduate from college. We intend to be even more self-sufficient with our own gardens/livestock. It will be sad to eat our meat animals, but it’s just a fact of life and I will not feel guilty. I will be thankful to God that we have them in these tough times, that we have a place to raise them, and that I know we’ll be healthier for it.ReplyCancel

  • Heather - Hey girl! Was good seeing you last night. I grew up w/ family owning beef cattle as well and remember feeding them and my cousin naming them. It never really bothered me until one night at dinner when my cousin stated, “we’re eating Rosie”. At that point I became mad and told him that I really didn’t care who it was it was dinner and to not do that again. Not really in those words (can’t remember exactly what I said I was 12) and it started an arguement between my folks and I. I can’t say I ever stopped eating beef because of that. And I do miss the days when I went to the freezer and saw that white paper. I still remember the 1st day my mom bought beef at the store and asking her what it was wrapped in and why not the butcher paper.

    Have a good one!ReplyCancel

  • Dianne - Hi, Lacy…

    Cute post! Jim says I’m just a farm girl “wannabe”…so we’ll see. Hopefully, we’ll get the little peeps this week (evidently there’s a run on baby chicks) since the farm store is having a hard time keeping enough! They’ll have a first class chicken house and a mountain top view, so hopefully they’ll have a good life! I have names all picked out and these layers will be pets (of course). Now, when the time comes that they’re no longer laying, and Jim says “it’s time for the stew pot, Henrietta”…we’ll see how much of a farm girl I am then!

    Hugs and blessings!
    DianneReplyCancel

  • Kelly - Most of the sustainability-inclined folks I know are vegetarians, if not vegan. Personally, I’ve never had much issue with the face aspect of eating meat, though I’m not a large fan of the flavor, so very easily spent many years as a vegetarian, myself. Hubby is a genuine omnivore (overall, Aussies seem to be rather extreme in either meat obsession or meat aversion) so we eat probably 75% of our meals con carne.

    Politically, I think their need to be far more stringent farm animal protection regulations. Don’t limit your disgust to meat. I lived near the “happy cow” dairy farms of southern California. They were packed into muddy paddocks so tightly that they all just lay there and didn’t move, just mooing.

    What drives me really nuts is that culling of kangaroos is common here, much like culling of deer in the US. But in at least one Aussie state it is ILLEGAL to sell/eat* the slaughtered kangaroos! So, thousands of animals, containing many thousands of meals of meat, are left to rot or only used for their hide (used in shoe leathers and sporting equipment). You can buy roo here in SA, but it’s disproportionately expensive given the absolute glut of animals killed each year.

    *Caveat: There MAY be provisions for using roo meat in dog food in said state, but I’m unsure.ReplyCancel

  • Margo - Great post Lacy!

    My “aha” moment was about 7 years ago when living in the UK, I read a book called Not on the Label – What really goes into the food on your plate by Felicity Lawrence (an investigative journalist with the Guardian newspaper in the UK). Brilliant but alarming.
    Literally overnight I changed the way we shopped and ate. I was always keen on organics and home cooking , but I confess I hadn’t really THOUGHT about the whole food miles / factory veg farms in Europe / the supermarket monopoly until reading that book. I have to say that from that day I’ve never eaten another supermarket sausage (or even a sausage that isn’t made by a real butcher or a friend). Once you’ve read about mechanically reclaimed meat it really changes your perspective!
    I’m a commited meat lover and meat eater, and have no plans to change. However I subscribe to Hugh F_W’s “contract of good husbandry” and seek out meat from animals that have had a fully life in a natural environment where they have ben well cared for and been able to exhibit all their natural behaviours. All our lamb comes form locals that raise them well and happy and then slaughter humanely on site. Our pigs are from a similar source (although not farm killed). We’re working on home grown chicken too, and occasionally a neighbour shoots a few rabbits for us.
    LOL @ Kelly and the Aussie and meat thing – it’s SO TRUE!! Alas the kangaroo thing is true as well – although I think the laws in Victoria are changing. It’s shocking. Personally I’m very fond of a “skippy” burger….and roo also makes fantastic curry!ReplyCancel

  • Aunt Laura - I had Kangaroo meat when I visited a friend stationed in Butzbach, Germany, so at least someone is eating it :o)

    Until prices come down on regular groceries, I can’t even think about buying organic. Hopefully we’ll be getting our own chickens this year, we’ve been talking about it for 4 months now.

    Great post Lacy!ReplyCancel

  • Angie - I lived on my grandma’s when i was very young(3 or so) and i knew exactly where my food came from, i remember her wringing chickens necks right at the stairs of the backdoor(led to the kitchen) i helped her pluck it even. My worst memory on the farm was my half drunk grandpa saying he’ll do it, grandma yelling at him not too, and then the chicken had no head and it was running bleeding everywhere and there was blood all over my grandpa….grandma knew he’d go to far. I also grew up going hunting with my dad as young as i can remember, seeing it gut and hung, and getting wrapped up on the table and into the freezer. I also made sure my kids knew what they were eating, my DsissyH always thought i was cruel, but i just like being honest!! They know the 2 pigs in the field and the cows are going to the freezer and on our plates, they would rather eat them than the stuff i make them watch on youtube and tv on animal farming. Sorry for the novel;)ReplyCancel

  • Simple Livin' gal - Hey Sis (Kelly) — You bring up excellent points! I lived next to a very well-run dairy farm during my high school years (I think you were living in New York or Chicago or L.A. then). Perhaps the reason that I have never given up dairy is simply that I never saw a poorly run dairy farm first-hand and the only dairy products that I actually like are yogurt & cheese. As you know, I have always struggled to choke down a glass of milk. You were a champ when it came to drinking milk and I was always a bit envious, particularly when you were permitted to leave the dinner table and I was still seated there glaring at a tall glass of milk.

    You are too wickedly cool with your knowledge of the Down Under roo meat. I had no idea. I think that Rhonda Jean made mention of kangaroo meat going to waste once but I’m not sure she explained why or how. Josh and I ate kangaroo when we lived in Washington. We lived a few miles from the Stewart’s Meat Market (http://stewartsmeatmarket.com/) and saved our pennies for elk, moose, roo, and other exotic meats.

    Margo — You are such a delight! I own that book thanks to an Amazon gift card from my wonderful husband. It is very revealing and a great read for anyone who is curious about where their food comes from. I also advise that people pick up The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. We love meat, too, and have no plans to become vegetarians. We have cut back our meat consumption and have many ways of stretching a roast or a chicken breast over a few meals. It was much easier to buy local in Washington and we have struggled with this area’s many shortcomings but we’ll only be here two more years before we upgrade (PCS… military move) to a more rural place.

    Angie — I fully support your decision to keep your children informed. We’ve tried doing that with our foster children, too. My girls arrived here and it wasn’t long before we all went out to collect eggs together. They’d never actually seen live chickens and were amazed! They asked a million questions about where the eggs came from, how one made chicken nuggets (the only form of chicken they were familiar with back then… so sad), and all about chicken behaviors. It was just a great day for them. I think that they had always sort of wondered where all that stuff came from.

    Thank you for your terrific comments! I have really LOVED this discussion and have learned so much about each of you!

    Blessings,
    LacyReplyCancel

  • Teresa - Lacy,

    So many comments mention free range and organic chickens. Unless you see the farm where they are raised you can only be sure of 2 things. 1) They weren’t in a tiny wire cage. However, they could be in a room with no windows. That means no bugs, grass, sunlight, etc. 2) They weren’t fed chemicals. But you can buy very cheap feed that has no chemicals and very little nutrients. They don’t necessarily get good things to eat.

    People need to make sure what kind of farming they are supporting. A lot of farmers have learned how to play the game to their advantage. If you think about it farming the way we would like to see it done isn’t very profitable, just humane.ReplyCancel

  • Simple Livin' gal - Laura,

    I can’t wait for you to get your chickens! Will needs a bantam or two to love on for photo ops if nothing else!

    Blessings,
    LacyReplyCancel

  • Simple Livin' gal - Teresa,

    You make a great point: “If you think about it farming the way we would like to see it done isn’t very profitable, just humane.” Well said!

    Josh and I have not made any money or even really saved money on raising our own chickens but we love knowing that we are doing it right. I wrote a post a while back about egg labels and the truth behind them which is truly disturbing. You brought up a great point!

    Thank you!
    LacyReplyCancel

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