Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Do I Enjoy Killing?

While sitting in the hunting blind, my father’s deer rifle resting across my thighs, I kept thinking of an accusation someone wrote to me months ago. The comment came from a member of the Animal Liberation movement. My life online as a farmer is public and whenever I post about raising animals for food, I hear from these folks. Usually their comments roll off my back like rainwater off a Toulouse, but this one had sharper teeth. I think about it often. It was so simple, and poignant and somewhat troubling. He said I raised animals for meat because "I enjoyed killing.”

It made me think of an elementary school trip to a local river for a biology class.  I watched in absolute horror as an unchaperoned student dropped a huge rock on a recently beached fish. The fish was still alive, just, and this kid chose to smite it like an angry god. I was too late to stop it but watched as the pitiful dying animal exploded into a slimy mess. I shot angry words at him, "Why did you do that?!" He said, calm as an accountant explaining a W-9, "I wanted to see what would happen? He was going to die anyway." At that moment I wanted to punch him as hard as I could, but was too afraid of him to take a step forward. I was disgusted at the unnecessary act of violence, but his calm reasoning for such horror scared me.

Decades later, sitting in a camouflage hut—hoping beyond hope to shoot a deer—I was anticipating taking a life on purpose. Had I become that calculating boy with the rock?

You enjoy killing... The words make me shudder.  And yet there I was, hunting. And this season a pig, a sheep, and several birds were slaughtered here for food. I helped other farmers process their animals as well. I know the inside of a chicken the way I know the pockets on my jeans. Death is as normal here as a spell of bad weather. It is temporarily unpleasant, but natural and normal and most of all necessary. It does happen and I'm glad it does. Without it this small farm would be a petting zoo of horrors. It has changed my own thoughts on death, given me greater peace with it. Life isn't a movie you are the star of, farms taught me that. Life, with a capital L, is a constant cycle we are supporting characters in (at best).  Those of us who forget that, or have never learned that, can draw hard lines in the sand based on species, but not many small farmers can anymore. I have learned being glad about taking lives is not the same as enjoying killing.

While there are plenty of people living in cities who understand agriculture and its relationship with ecology, there are plenty who do not. I hear from the ones who don't. The modern animal rights movement appears to be fervent pet owners far removed from a life with animals. Listen, living with a french bulldog in an apartment is not a life with animals. When I talk about a life with animals I mean living with and alongside nature and having to compete with other species to make a living. The people who criticize us are not dealing with the food chain unless they are ordering off a menu. It’s a distance hard to take seriously from a deer blind in 18˚ weather, especially from an environmentalist's view. If I take a doe I have just provided healthy food for me and mine a thousand feet away from where I sleep. Ordering pad thai in Boston with tofu shipped in diesel truck from California and spices flown in on planes is not the "green option." It is not eh cruelty free option either. Just because meat isn't on the plate doesn't mean a war-torn family in the middle east isn't suffering so you can have a fossil fuel based economy that flies exotic ingredients to your table. Guys, eating is complicated and political and when I am told that meal is morally superior to my doe's back straps it feels like talking to a child who never turned on the news. Eat in any way that feels correct to you, I do not care. Posts like this rise when the question of the morality of eating meat is questioned with ignorant self-righteousness. Philosophy majors discussing war is weak tea to a soldier's story. I have seen first hand the complicated, cruel, dance that farming makes you learn. I was vegetarian for nearly a decade, certain as could be, but didn't know the first thing about agriculture outside statistics and factory farming horrors. Things change when you go to war.

I do not enjoy killing. I am not the boy with a rock killing for the hell of it. The word we use around here is harvest and that isn't some adorable euphemism for murder. When you harvest corn or vegetables you do so after month of planning, work, and effort. You order chicks from the hatchery the same time you order seeds from the catalog. You raise the both all through the seasons with the plan of taking them for food storage. This is a harvest, regardless if it ends in blood, bacon, or beans in mason jars.

And that harvest is the reason I was concerned by that statement, because without a doubt I love sharing these meals with friends. Some women ogle over jewelry or clothes, but I leer at recipes and ingredients. Right now a leg of lamb is slow cooking with a bottle of homemade red wine and I'll be fasting all day just to prepare for such a fine dinner. It's a lamb that was born here, died here, and his mother was bred again and will give birth in early spring. I'm wearing a knit hat from the flocks wool. I spent an hour outdoors with them feeding, watering, checking fences and noting they need more minerals. A storm is coming tonight so I am canceling plans with friends to make sure I get a load of hay in the barn and their shelter prepared for the snow. I have tank defrosters to set up, hooves to trim, and lambing season to prepare for. If a coyote comes to claim one, I will shoot it. If a neighbor's dog riles them up, I'll march that dog home and have some harsh words. This is my flock. It clothes me. It feeds me. I write about them, teach alongside them, my dog herds them as the greatest joy in his life. These are not beached fish I can't wait to drop a rock on.

If some broken synapse in your brain connects the happiness of a family sitting around the table with a lamb chop dinner with ruthless killing, you need to give yourself pause. The question is not if they enjoyed murdering an innocent lamb because they are warm, fed, safe and surrounded by loved ones. That's about as logical a connection as asking you if you enjoy necrophilic grave-robbing because you like french fries. And the farther removed you are from my world the more you forget that every amazing meal, vegetarian or not, began with suffering and death. Just because the lamb looks more like your french bulldog doesn't make it a bulldog or more important to ecology than that plant. Nature doesn't believe in Animal Rights. It believes in balance. I know this viscerally. I am telling you this from the front lines. It isn't about enjoying killing out here. It never has been. It's about understanding that your dietary choices do not elevate you above biology. You and I, we are animals. We are a part of their story, they are not a part of ours.  And to judge from a distance where becoming an herbivore is a choice created by a brain evolved from predators and heat comes from a thermostat  is not solid footing for flaccid accusations. The question to ask isn't if I enjoy killing because I am a small farmer. The question is are you terrified of death, because you aren't?

31 Comments:

Blogger ecogrrl said...

Your judgments about people who live in the city with animals are as off-base as the ALF folks.

December 2, 2014 at 10:40 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I was not making a judgement at all. If you live in a city you don't live a life with animals, you can't. You can live alongside animals, 99% are going to be humans :) and the rest are trying to scratch out a living on the sidelines. There is an ecosystem in the city of course but as someone who has lived in urban and rural places.... worlds apart.

I lived in Knoxville with two ferrets, two dogs, and hiked every weekend. It wasn't anything like life here. At all.

But I would have to say Novella Carpenter's Farm City memoir could refute that hands down!

December 2, 2014 at 10:50 AM  
Blogger Jess Sheppard said...

Hear! Hear Jenna! Another well said piece. It's absolutely about balance.

December 2, 2014 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Great post!

December 2, 2014 at 12:01 PM  
Blogger Becca said...

It is definitely about balance. It's also worth noting that some people are going to hate what you're doing no matter what you say. Do it anyway because it is necessary to you. Who are they to you, ultimately? Not everyone is a potential friend. Best of luck, Jenna.

December 2, 2014 at 12:04 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Well said. The other thing many in the AL movement miss is that there is still blood on their hands too. Even solely plant-based diets take animal lives to put on the plate. Many, many farmers kill deer to protect their crops, and some of these farmers don't even make use of that meat. Tractors run over rodents and their nests. Mice and rats are trapped. Pesticides and herbicides kill not only insects, but wreak havoc with the ecosystem all animals rely on, including us. Everything is connected. IMO, far better to spend all that money and energy on ensuring your meal was raised humanely than on staking out an arbitrary moral highground because you didn't actually kill an animal with your own hands.

December 2, 2014 at 12:11 PM  
Blogger Christina Bryant said...

As a NYC dweller, this is why I need to be better about sourcing my meat from local (as local as possible)farmer's that care about this relationship to death and nourishment. Thank you for summing it up very well.
Christina

December 2, 2014 at 1:02 PM  
Blogger Dee Ann Smith said...

As always well said. You hunt and harvest to eat...to me thats a big difference from what they are saying. People don't like to think about where their packaged meat comes from, but anyone who has ever homesteaded or farmed knows.

December 2, 2014 at 1:10 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Rock on Jenna, youre so right. Until you have lived the life you cant comprehend how you will feel about it. And reality can sure change you. Put those critics on a island with no grocery store and they will change. But since they aren't there, they don't have to. Its a narrow part of human nature to assume that your reality is the "real" one and everyone else is wrong. This just illustrates an unawakened or aware person, ignore them.
I hope you get a deer, I know that it will make a big different to you and you will do that harvest with respect and care to not cause undo suffering. That's the difference between killing and harvest. Cheers!

December 2, 2014 at 2:39 PM  
OpenID thetinfoilhatsociety.com said...

Hear Hear Jenna!

The disconnect isn't just with 'animal rights' activists, though they are in my opinion frankly wacko. I mean, they have pets that are either omnivores as we are (dogs) or obligate carnivores (cats) and they feed them pet food that has killed animal products in it. Or if they are well and truly misguided, they kill their animals with malnutrition by feeding them vegan pet food.

No, the fear of death permeates our society. I work in health care, in a rehab facility. We currently have a woman in excess of 96 who is dying, though she was admitted for rehab - such was her fear of death that she refused hospice and wanted rehab. And her family's fear of death was such that they went along with her absurd desire, even though the doctors told both her and the family it was not a viable choice for her, that her prognosis was grim. Yet even still the doctor signed the paperwork verifying that she *was* in fact a candidate for rehab. Medicare fraud anyone?

No, our society has become so disconnected from the basic processes of life and death that death holds a great and profound fear for all. And the fact that there *can* be an 'animal rights' group that is so out of touch that they accuse you of enjoying killing is proof. They are so out of touch that they seem to have forgotten that we too are animals, and we too are a part of the cycle of life and death - not separate from it.

I don't know whether I want to slap some sense into those people or pity them. Maybe both.
-Susan

December 2, 2014 at 2:58 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

Amen, Jenna. I was recently criticized in a big way by family members who think that if my dog can't sleep in my house then I am abusing him. He eats deer meat instead of kibble. He runs free on our 10 acres instead of being in a kennel all day long. He has an insulated dog house wrapped in hay bales. South facing even. He also comes in for naps almost every day. He is a dog. I love him but he has a job to do.
You know, that criticism hurt me very much but after a while my conscience told me all is well. And all is well with you too.

December 2, 2014 at 3:39 PM  
Blogger mdoe37 said...

enjoy killing?

No we just have brass enough to do the deed ourselves rather than allow some processor from who knows where to deliver our meal on a tidy little white foam tray.

(and anyone who thinks we enjoy killing also has never had to field dress an animal)

@Jessica...yes farmers do indeed have block permits for crop damage. The ones I know of do try to get folks to come in and hunt so that the meat can be used.

December 2, 2014 at 3:55 PM  
Blogger Becca said...

I know here in GA there's an actual program where hunters put in their information for a database and farmers can look them up and contact them as needed. I haven't looked into the particulars yet, but there may be some benefit to signing up. For instance, the hunter doesn't need a license on the farmer's land. Something like that maybe.

December 2, 2014 at 4:27 PM  
OpenID cissa said...

A few weeks ago, our Community Supported Fishery was offering lobsters as an extra option, so I asked some friends if they'd like to come for a fresh lobster dinner. (These are GREAT lobsters, sustainably harvested and very lively.)

They not only declined, but got rather on a mnoral high-horse, saying that although they ATE lobster, they did not want to be involved with KILLING lobster.

Note that i was not suggesting they kill their own...

Apparently 12 feet was not enough distance to make the bugs' inevitable deaths OK. What is, 24 feet? A restaurant kitchen? or???

Now if they didn't eat lobster, or didn't get on the high-horse, it'd at least be understandable!

December 2, 2014 at 4:48 PM  
Blogger Vicki Alderman-Watt said...

Well said

December 2, 2014 at 7:33 PM  
Blogger Tina said...

Every year our daughter would want to go deer hunting...and always on the mountain range across from our house, the steep one where all the big bucks were. She always got one and ALAWYS a bigger one than her brothers...and her dad some years!
And she ALAWAYS cried when she came upon her buck, she would cry. Then she give thanks for the buck that provided food for her family....we didn't hunt because it was fun or for trophy...it was for a family of five who grew their own food and hunted for meat 95% of the time. We lived on a meager salary from a job that allowed my husband to spend more time with us, (a job that he still has and loves). We didn't take government handouts and we didn't much care for the insistence of some family that we should take it because"if you don't, someone will."
We lived as much off of the land as we could. And we were,and still are, very happy. I have no patience for those who scold me for it.i don't scold them for their choice not to hunt or eat meat,
It's still a free country.

December 2, 2014 at 9:07 PM  
Blogger Kira said...

I have to defend animal rights (activists and issues) a bit. Animal rights issues extend well beyond simply vegetarianism. Animal rights people advocate humane treatment of animals. That can and does include not testing on animals for your cosmetics, toothpaste, or other personal care items, etc. or providing proper and ecologically appropriate habitats to animals in zoos and the like, not using animals (namely our closest cousin, chimpanzees, and best friend, dogs) in medical or pharmaceutical tests, as well as stopping naval acoustics tests that greatly harm marine mammals. The focus on vegetarianism is just an easy argument and one that people feel so passionate about since it involves our very sustenance and isn’t as removed from our daily existence as the other issue are.
I have been a vegetarian for 25 years – most of my life. Well, about 5 years ago I started eating fish so I don’t really call myself a vegetarian anymore. Actually, I rarely ever called myself a “vegetarian” anyway because of the politics associated with the term, rather I just said I don’t eat meat. However, I’m not and haven’t been anti-meat. I feed my cats meat, my dog meat, and do not keep vegetarian hens (they are omnivores after all, vegetarian fed hens are not the happiest hens out there). I am not opposed to eating meat that is humanely raised and harvested, and support my local farmers in their pursuits in this area. What I think many animal rights advocates (not exclusively, of course) are against is factory farming, raising animals in inhumane and appalling conditions, and using animals for atrocious testing and experiments. If we are to eat meat, and humans always will, I’d rather it be the deer you hunt for, Jenna, or the pigs you raise to root around in the forest, or the fish you catch in your local river. Just as it’s not fair to lump all carnivores together, it’s not fair to lump all animal right advocates or vegetarians together. I dare say, Jenna that you and many of your readers would frown upon a factory farm chicken as fiercely any a vegetarian or animal right advocate out there.

If the animal rights advocates that send you rude messages, Jenna, actually came to your farm and saw that until the day of their death your animals were happy, free, and living the life they were meant to live, I imagine many, if they have any sort of logical/reasoning thoughts, would alter some of their beliefs, statements, and opinions.

December 2, 2014 at 11:09 PM  
Blogger Ngo Family Farm said...

Ah, your analogies speckled throughout are just so witty, I love this piece! Obviously the person who threw out that accusation has not thought any of this through - a respectful harvest of an animal is one of the most humbling things on this Earth, I believe. And something that used to be (still is in many parts of the world) commonplace not that long ago. The fact that there are people with this kind of mentality just shows how far removed we've become from our food, in all respects.
-Jaime

December 2, 2014 at 11:30 PM  
Blogger Ngo Family Farm said...

They may as well have come since now you've ruined any lobster-eating enjoyment for them in the foreseeable future, as you spilled the beans that lobsters were actually alive before they became dinner ;-)

December 2, 2014 at 11:38 PM  
Blogger Trisha Allen said...

I am so impressed, Jenna! I just had to stop by and say so.... You're awesome.

December 3, 2014 at 2:41 AM  
Blogger Shelley said...

I have lived on hunted meat most of my life. I really miss it now that I live far from my family and it is not readily available to me. The meat we hunted or raised ourselves lived natural lives and happy lives right up until their deaths, which were very quick and humane. We respected those animals and we're very thankful for the food as, at the time, we did not have much else. I think our animals had much better lives than the factory farmed chickens or animals on the CAFOs.
Animal rights activists do at least keep the avenue for investigations in cases of animal cruelty open. Maybe they balance out against those very few who would not hunt without responsibility (ie. over hunters or trophy hunters). That is also a type of balance. I do wish they could do something about industrial farming, though. That will be the death of us all if we are not careful.

December 3, 2014 at 8:35 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

Kira, I think there's a big difference between "animal rights" activists and "animal liberation" types who go around accusing farmers of loving to kill. Liberators believe that no animal should be kept by humans, that they should all be released to live freely and naturally (nevermind that most domestic breeds would die horrible deaths in an environment they're not suited to). Your description of "animal rights" supporters dovetails perfectly with what Jenna is doing, so I don't think they'd be the ones accusing her of being a heartless murderer.

December 3, 2014 at 9:52 AM  
Blogger live pura vida said...

Thanks for sharing many of the points made in this post. Over the past few years, I've developed a strong interest in deer hunting. I bought my first rifle, my gear and my hunting license. I'll likely be spending this hunting season in a friend's shadow to learn from a more experienced hunter. I worry about where my food comes from, what effects it has on my body and the hidden costs (such as environmental, which are not calculated in the price I pay at the grocery store or co-op or farmers' market). I'd love to provide my own meat, but since I do not live on a farm, hunting is the closest I can get to doing it myself. I think the biggest point to make to those unfamiliar or judgmental is that hunting is in large part about sustainability. Populations are monitored, licenses are sold, bag limits are set and takes are tracked, etc. in order to keep the population of that animal sustainable. Would those objecting to hunting a deer preferred to see them slaughtered by a vehicle on the side of the road, probably ending in an extremely painful suffering? The alternative is that with one shot, likely before the deer even knew what happened, it was dispatched and ends up feeding someone for many months. It actually gets to serve a purpose. If someone thinks it's all Bambi skipping through the forest, they're sadly disillusioned. Development for human housing, shopping, etc. is pushing more and more wild animals out of their natural environments. Let's get that in check before complaining about hunting.

December 3, 2014 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger Hugo Zeilt said...

Harvest. Said it all for me. I wish you a Good Harvest

December 3, 2014 at 2:46 PM  
Blogger Karen Rickers said...

People can be very judgmental, can't they? Sorry you are on the receiving end of that. As am I to a lesser extent. Heck, I don't even kill spiders in the house. But when I say that I want to raise my own chickens and rabbits, and harvest or "process" them myself so I can be completely honest about my place in the cycle of life as an omnivore, people often give me that same, "You just want to kill bunnies!" argument. I think I will hate killing bunnies, but I figure if I can't feel right about that animal harvest, maybe I should be true to that and not eat meat, rather than asking someone else to do my killing for me. So at least I will try. Until then, I buy only sustainably, humanely raised meat from small producers, the Canadian equivalent of CAF.

December 3, 2014 at 9:11 PM  
Blogger Kathleen Cully said...

Good Morning Jenna,
A great written piece, and I must agree the assessment of the city population was so true.

It is hilarious watching the apartment folks walking the dogs on the streets of Manhattan, 6 and 10 abreast.......
so different from your life...

Keep up the wonderful writings.

December 4, 2014 at 8:11 AM  
Blogger Nancy McDonough said...

I agree with a lot of your "killing" post. You raise your animals humanely, and kill them humanely. The problem is, what percent are farmers like you? A very small percentage. Then there is the future. Well actually, the future is now. Too many people on a planet and such a large percentage of them want FLESH to occupy the largest space on their plate. For 2 meals anyway--breakfast might be donuts. It is not sustainable. (Personally, I think the earth will do something to rid itself of the overpopulation at some point.)

I know there are unreasonable animal activists out there (I call them VEGAN NAZIS.)But two years ago I became "mostly" vegetarian. In those 2 years I lost 100 lbs. There is a fair amount of eggs and cheese in my diet and I sure wouldn't want my steel cut oats without (skim) milk. But a hen can give me 3 years or so of eggs before it makes good chicken soup. A milk cow should produce 8 years or more of calves and milk, cheese and butter. But what percentage of fields of corn, wheat, oats and soybeans etc, (and WATER) goes to feed the production of FLESH for daily consumption? IMO people should be thinking: LESS meat.

A world of over 7 billion humans, and counting, can't all be homesteaders.

BAH! there is no good answer!

December 4, 2014 at 3:40 PM  
Blogger Karen C said...

I always find this an interesting topic. I'm someone edging towards vegetarianism, personally finding less and less peace with eating animals. However, I think criticizing someone who blogs about farming and raising animals for food is misguided - why not go after factory farms and people who mistreat and abuse animals? This is one person's blog about her experience, and if you are that offended by the subject matter, perhaps choose to read something else.

December 4, 2014 at 10:20 PM  
Blogger greendria said...

GREAT writing. Love it

December 5, 2014 at 10:10 AM  
Blogger Lisa Cheney said...

Excellent points and observations. I have a friend who believes he is more "spiritual" than others because he does not eat meat or "murder" and that assumption includes alcohol. This thinking, of feeling removed and superior based on food-consumption really troubles me. Your take that harvested food, shared with friends and neighbors, rings true. It is how people have survived for as long as we have roamed the earth. I am guilty of being the type that is really removed and I consider my two cats as living with animals. That as disclaimer, I admire what you are doing. You are living close to your source of food and sustenance, responsibly and intimately, and participating in your community. You are part of that system. Rather than hurl judgements on you, the people that ask you such profane blanket statements as "you must like to kill" should step and look at themselves and their consumption habits. Great points about the fuel-economy. Being connected to your food source, and the hands that make it, is a rare type of connection that feel quite distant in this society that is so dependent on a corporate food system. Thanks for showing us a more balanced world.

December 8, 2014 at 12:08 AM  
Blogger Ginny said...

Fear of death is the likely culprit.
What these folks don't realize is that the balance is important.
I lived for 7 years in a section of state park where hunting was not allowed. The deer were rampant, and so was the Lyme disease. Over 75% of all horses in the barn contacted Lyme, many would have chronic flare ups. One evening I had to walk out to a back pattie and took a photo in which 23 deer are visible, I counted a total of 28, and heard more crashing in the tree line. That is an environment out of balance.
Hunting and harvesting is important for the balance of all life. That is what the ecosystem does, everything thrives because all are provided for by the rest of the environment.

December 10, 2014 at 8:10 PM  

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