Sunday, June 23, 2013

Slaughter Day

It's Pig Slaughtering Day here at the farm and a bunch of friends are coming over for a potluck-style lunch and to help with the day's work. Some of the people coming are the people who split the cost of buying the pigs and their feed with me. Others just want to be present at the event, and see the process of animal turning into food. I welcome them all. This farm is small, scrappy, and with its faults but no part of me shies from sharing this experience with others.

When I started raising animals for food I was just coming out of a ten-year relationship with vegetarianism/veganism. I felt that I had to talk about meat here in hushed tones, and when I started doing things like the work of today I felt every word had to be measured out in equal parts holy respect and noted sadness. After all, I was about to end sentient lives and doing so in a world where more people consider cows, pigs, and chickens pets they haven't owned yet than livestock. So any form of excitement or joy at a slaughter day felt wrong, even if I had recipes bookmarked and new cast-iron skillets with bows waiting for me to make them sing. To be happy on a day of death felt wrong, disrespectful. That is how my mind was formed as a liberal, vegetarian, spiritual person. Coyotes sang after a kill, not middle-class small farmers. So I wrote only eulogies, trying to defend my choices instead of celebrating them.

Things have changed.

I still feel animals' death should be treated with respect and offer as little stress as possible. I practice this when killing chickens, rabbits, and turkeys and I am there to help when larger stock like hogs are killed. I have traveling butchers come here to the farm to kill the pigs at home, avoiding the drama and fuss of loading into trailers and transporting to concrete-lined slaughter houses. Not all small farmers are lucky enough to take advantage of this, but I am and am grateful for teams like Greg Stratton's who have served this farm a long time. Today the pigs will be offered a giant bowl of food and when they dip their heads to eat they'll be shot and instantly stunned. It ends quickly and in surprise instead of pain. I will never become mindless when it comes to killing animals, but I have come to a place of comfort. It is easier than before, and no where near as upsetting or disturbing. Maybe that's experience or maybe it's because days like today are only one small part of the pigs' stories. There are months of care, interaction, ear scratches, fresh bedding, clean water hauled a bucket at a time before today and there are months of meals shared with friends, amazing recipes, potlucks, bbqs, and memorable meals to follow. I love both sides of today, and find the work ahead of me complicated and necessary to feel that love.

I can't pretend that watching pigs die is in any way peaceful or that I enjoy it. It's hard to do. Specially pigs as sweet and calm as Rye and Whiskey, who served this farm amazingly well, behaving themselves better than any pair of porkers I ever raised and growing larger to boot. But even the sweetest pig does not make me want to return to eating vegetarian again or avoiding bloody days like today. I love animals far too much to not eat them. I respect nature and my role in it far too much to not eat them, too.

Over the next few posts I am going to share a very personal story of paradigm shifts and growth. To some people it will get them upset, angry, or confused. To others what I say doesn't matter at all, since any animal suffering is wrong. But what I want to do is share my own story as a vegetarian-turned-meat farmer and why that change occurred. Also, why I think it is so important that people who care about animal welfare and the environment stop avoiding the good fight by abstaining and start helping those animals by accepting their natural role as hunter gatherers.

Get ready for a big one, folks. But right now I have a potluck to plan and a happy crew of us is taking the S off the word slaughter and planning on having a wonderful afternoon together. Wish you were here, too. It's important, wonderful, and serious work. It's the kind of work that changed how I see the entire world and my place in it. I may have been a lot more certain of the world and how it works when I was a vegan, but I sure wasn't happy in it.