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 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?
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?