This year I decided to raise some meat chickens. I had several reasons for doing so, including that I had some ideas for how to feed chickens to maximize their omega-3 content and how to fit them into a very small operation. But the real and primary reason is that I felt that, if I planned to continue eating meat (and I do,) it was time to take direct responsibility for where meat comes from. In short, and not to put too fine a point on it, I needed to kill some of my meat myself to continue eating it with a clear conscience.
I was already aware that this decision would get a lot of negative reactions. Back 25 years ago when I had a sheep farm, I had plenty of opportunity to observe peoples’ discomfort with where their food comes from. Visitors would ask me in righteous horror “how I could bear to eat them” and would assure me that they themselves were “far too sensitive” to do such a thing. I should add that they were not, for the most part, vegetarians. These were people who ate meat, often on a daily basis, but never associated the elegant and expensive legs of lamb they got at Manhattan’s premium butchers with the animals cavorting around my barnyard. I developed the habit of shrugging and saying “The meat that you eat doesn’t come from volunteers.” It made no impression whatsoever.
I’ve had a chance to see this again with my meat chickens. I know now that there isn’t much point in talking to visitors about where the meat in all grocery stores, even the best, comes from. My only wish is that I could lead each of these people by the hand into a commercial broiler raising operation, and into the “processing plant” where such chickens are turned into neatly wrapped packages. I visited an operation like that once, and to this day I still won’t eat commercial chicken if I have any choice about it.
If I could be granted one wish with regard to the national diet and character, it would be that every single person who eats meat from the standard confined animal feeding operations comes to understand clearly what that means, and the appalling costs to the animals, the environment, and our own ability to comprehend clearly where our food comes from. The late Carla Emory quoted her then-husband as saying “If more people butchered their own meat, there would be a lot less war, because more citizens would understand what killing really means.” Amen to that. Pretending that it doesn’t happen because it happens somewhere else simply won’t work forever, with food or war or anything else. And that’s why it was so important to me to participate in every aspect of putting meat on our table. And when I did? Well, I was filled with gratitude for the roles that animals play in our lives, and for the opportunity to understand clearly where the meat on my table comes from. There’s nothing special about my circumstances; anyone with a little bit of yard can have the same experience. If you’re willing to leave a comment with your own thoughts and/or experiences with producing meat, I’d love to hear about it.
P.S. It was delicious, and every bit will be used. It’s too precious to waste.