Monday, October 17, 2016

Dead Sheep

When I started raising animals for food harvest days were harder. They're still hard. But with the years of experience, the animals behind me, and the meals and memories intertwined with all of it - there is more beauty and appreciation than remorse. It is hard to explain and easy to feel. There is this switch that happens, that I really believe every farmer feels, during the slaughter process. It's some level in our brains that is only pulled down by going through the awful business of ending a life. Once that is over and the beast is skinned, disemboweled, beheaded and prepared to hang in a locker - it is now an impressive accomplishment. Agony alchemized into the kind of pride our grandparents lived for. Something old and important. I am sad to see sweet lambs die. I am also really fucking proud. Not of choosing an individuals death, but the story behind those lives. Farming well is hating every single time that lever has to be pulled and then thriving off the rush.

Guys, raising your own meat is some high-end, bittersweet, splendor. It's a sacrifice very different from your garden or your laying flock of pet hens. It is emotionally and physically messy. It's decision with consequence. And it means intentionally killing the same animals I woke up three times a night this past spring to check on to ensure their safety. Perhaps the same animal I brought into my bathroom with a space heater - holding them as I angrily blinked through tears - hoping they wouldn't die from the bad luck of being born at the wrong time on a cold night. And that hope was because I wanted to give them three seasons of grass, forests, sunlight, and rainfall. I wanted them to grow strong enough to be worthy of that one horrible day I always knew was coming.

To some people all of this is horrific. I understand. I was one of those people. I was a vegetarian for most of my twenties. But a decade of farming has taught me a feral maturity. There is something child-like and naive now (to me) in the minds of people who are against eating livestock for reasons of "kindness". It is as foreign a concept to me as people who choose celibacy in a world riddled with child abuse. Yes, your abstaining means you will not have a child and therefore never abuse it. But that doesn't help a single kid quivering in some monster's bedroom closet does it? It just makes you feel like you're not part of the problem. Farming ethically is moving past the illusion that animals aren't living in concentration camps for assembly-line efficiency. It's doing something to stop it. Providing an alternative to those who don't pretend they don't love being part carnivore. You like animals? Fine. Don't eat them. But know it's a philosophy as simple as a child drawing a circle with a crayon and then labeling it "circle" in graceless, akimbo letters. Hard to argue with but tragically missing out on the scope of what art and mathematics actually are.

I kill animals at this farm. They die to feed my friends and neighbors. They die well, fast and with professional hired guns who travel to this farm instead of me tailoring them to some cement facility where the water bill for the hosing could halt the L.A. drought. Blood is never hidden here. I don't hide the evidence. It sinks into the same ground these sheep were born on. It feeds the grass that their mothers and father eat. It feeds the most vicious consumers on this farm - the vegetables - who thrive off a compost of blood, bone, and dead earth turned into black gold by writhing worms. I'll never understand why vegetarians feel any sort of moral superiority in a salad over a steak? The death that fed those leaves makes that single bullet look serene in comparison.

The lambs are all hanging now. They are being cut and packaged at local butcher shop and in a few days will go to the four families who purchased them in advance - completing the promise I made when they were sold in the spring. It adds to my own worth and sense of accomplishment. There is real honor is handing over something so artistically-complicated as a box of lamb chops. I want nothing more than dozens of savory meals shared around loved one's tables to come from all this, including my own. The stories and lives shared around those meals are the reason we do this. It's culture and connection - what happens around a table. I so look forward to it. And to eat with the wisdom of their sacrifice and that primal lever in my mind.

Eat the world you want to live in.


Blogger Jennifer said...

Beautifully put, Jenna. I couldn't agree more.

October 17, 2016 at 11:45 AM  
Blogger ecogrrl said...

Thanks for simplifying vegetarian ethics so we all sound like jerks. The worlds of ethical, small-scale meat and vegetarians/vegans can coexist, ya know.

October 17, 2016 at 12:49 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

You wrote it well. The life of a farmer providing food for their friends and neighbors. When a newborn calf dies, I am so sad for them and the mother cow, She pines for the offspring that will never nurse her milk, and love she would bestow on the baby. I raise my animals in a natural, non-chemical, and ethical way. I am concerned about the their health and welfare. They all have good lives under my care.

October 17, 2016 at 6:50 PM  
Blogger sash said...

I agree with @ecogrrl. Seemed you had a "beef" with a vegetarian lifestyle. I don't believe vegetarians think they are better than meat eaters: they're simply doing what feels right to them. So really, no need to bring them down. If you want to do your thing with your own meat, that's great enjoy it. But your convictions take down others and that isn't cool or persuasive.

October 18, 2016 at 8:57 AM  
Blogger Lesley UK said...

It's a pity there are not more people who think as you do. Your animals are lucky to have you, (and so are your friends) Blessings

October 18, 2016 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

Brilliant writing Jenna.

October 18, 2016 at 9:37 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thought provoking! I appreciate you articulating the yin and yang of a slaughter. I never understood it until I killed my own chickens. I once read an article that looked at the environmental/moral implications of soybeans for tofu raised on former-rainforest land in South America. None of us is innocent; if you eat, you kill animals. Could be with a knife, could be with pesticides running off into ponds, destroying habitat/food webs, etc.

October 18, 2016 at 9:49 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

I don't have a problem with people being vegetarian. I have a problem with people telling me a vegetarian lifestyle is more righteous or moral. I have been given death threats for writing about raising my own animals by animal rights activists, and been written about as a murderer. Which is why I specified that people who think not eating animals is a morale choice - an act of kindness greater than what small farmers do - as what I have beef with. It's a disconnect I see as a childish refusal to look at the bigger picture and appease the ego of the abstainee.

October 18, 2016 at 9:55 AM  
Blogger sash said...

Righteous anything is too much. Thanks for sharing your point. I agree with the kind treatment of animals and thank them before I eat them

October 18, 2016 at 9:58 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

Thank you for writing so eloquently about such a difficult and controversial subject! I have often tried to articulate the same arguments but never as well as you just did.

October 18, 2016 at 11:12 AM  

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