Skip to content

Eating things that were once alive

September 20, 2009
Mmmm...A chicken I gutted, prepped, dressed, cooked, and shared with friends. It was awesome.  See recipe below.

Mmmm... A chicken I gutted, dressed, cooked, and shared with friends.

                  So before moving to a farm, I was a vegetarian for about two years, and before than on and off since I was about 17.  I think being a vegetarian had more to do with facility and frugality than anything else.  I didn’t like eating meat that was produced in such a factory-like system, with all it’s animal waste pits, worker and community abuses, unethical treatment of living things, and force-fed subsidized corn, but I didn’t oppose the idea of raising and eating animals.  Plus, in my experience, if I said I was vegetarian people were a lot more accepting of my eating habits, than if I refused to only most of the time eat meat, go figure.  Because of all of this I was excited and a little wary of working on a farm that raised lamb and sheep for meat.  Lambs were so cute, baaahhh…or so I thought.  No, seriously they are cute, but they are also definitively not pets, a fact which took surprisingly little time to permeate my outlook on meat and livestock.                                                                                                                                                                                       Working directly with animals has shown me that an awareness of thenature of the unique  relationship between humans and the animals that provide them with food has evaporated from the American consciousness.  Now I understand that that statement is a little heavy, but the idea of raising and in some instances creating living things that you will one day also slaughter to eat, almost demands a different sort of relationship ethics than anything else I can think of, and since Americans eat so much meat (that is raised by so few)  and discussion on ethical eating is in swing, the topic demands more attention, I think.                                                                                                                                                                         I can only speak from personal experience and perspective, and to give you a sense of where I coming from I should say, I’m a care-giver by nature, to a little bit of a fault, I take in strays, move turtles out of the road, cuddle dogs that are not my own, and have wept over many a squished chipmonk, needless to say, I love animals almost weirdly.  So shifting my relationship with them, mostly sheep, but also a little bit with chickens and pigs, from that of a pet-owner to shepherd, gave me a little trepidation.   The switch, however was easy, with moments of challenge.  In general, I found that my bosses, the ultimate shepherds  cultivated an approach with us newbies that probably made it easier.  I guess the best way to describe it is detached care or respect.  There are however, some independent observations that have elucidated the process of ethical husbandry for me.                                                                                                                          First off, while the statement that farm animals are not pets seems simple, and is in many ways, working with animals highlights this in a way that feels almost like a slap across the face given how much work goes into the act. Each sheep is an independent being, and does have a personality, but they are so unhuman it is sometimes striking.  And generally, all they want from you is food.  They do not want to be touched, pet, cuddled, or even handled.  They come when called only when the calling is accompanied by the shakety – shake of a bucket of grain.  They do not attach to certain humans as dogs and cats do, and have memories of activity patterns that only last several days.  And, they were not bred to do such things.   Rams that I have bottled fed from birth, went through the same shifts in adolescence as rams naturally weaned onto grass, head butting my knee-caps even as I fed them.  Despite me roll as care-giver, I was definitely no mommy.  This is not to say that because of this lack of connection they do not deserve to live, but rather, much of the understanding of human-animal relationships seems to be informed by animals that are very different from livestock.                                                                                                              Secondly, when animals are raised ethically and sustainably (vague terms I know, let’s assume I mean on a scale that is not harmful to the environment and in a manner that respects the animal), there is much mutuality to the relationship between animals and their keepers.  Where I work, lambs that lost their mother were bottle-fed; we had a very rough spring and early summer and the quality of pasture and weather made maintaining the health of spring lambs difficult, the farmer and apprentices worked around the clock (literally nights, weekends, to exhaustion) to make sure lambs were healthy and well fed.  This attention is beneficial to both animal and farmer, it results in humane treatment and profits, neither one being the sole driver of such actions.  Lambs and sheep  here receive medical treatment when sick or injured, and are constantly monitored for good health and appropriate conditions.   We might not cuddle them, but they are very well cared for.                                                                                                                                                            Lastly, to end this very long, pro-meat diatribe, the slaughter process, which one might think is ghastly or at least simply a necessary evil, is a final ethical step before consumption.  I cannot speak to how animals are slaughtered everywhere, but done well, it is a quick process that many people go to lengths to make very fluid and comfortable.  I have killed and eviscerated  (gutted) chickens raised by a friend, and knowing how they were raised, the pause I gave the moment of the slice was relatively brief.  Recently I toured a slaughter-house cum butcher shop and was able to see 2 cows killed and eviscerated.  It was demystifying and really really neat.   The animals in this family owned, small scale shop were handled with care, and quickly and cleanly killed.                                                                                                  So to put  a finale on this rant, I leave you with a paraphrased quote from Joel Salatan in the recent “Food Inc.” movie, “If the entities that run these factory farms that produce meat and living things like a commodity, don’t treat their animals with any respect towards their existence as living beings, why would you expect that they would treat anything else (communities, humans, workers, the environment) with such respect.” Seriously, I saw the movie once, it’s a very loose quote.   But the point is that like sustainable/organic/local farming of vegetables, raising animals for meat has a special and important role in the system of production and consumption, that deserves its own ethical consideration and attention.  Farmers who bring us such meat, meat that we know, should really be lauded for their efforts to buck a system that commoditizes living things.   To maintain certain ethical treatment of animals and the earth required to raise them, they assume more risk and allot more work and thought to their practices.  The relationship is unique, and not as understood as perhaps it should be.

Advertisements

Some color to get the ball rolling…

September 19, 2009
tags: , ,

After a hiatus (if you can even call it that, since this blog really consists of only one piddly post), I am hoping to restart correspondence here, and would like to throw some color into the mix to get started.  And so…voila!

Our orphaned lambs Ramulus and Remus

Our orphaned lambs Ramulus and Remus

 

"Quonset hut" - a reclaimed airplane hanger from WWII, now a sheep/pig barn, also on the historical registry.

"Quonset hut" - a reclaimed airplane hanger from WWII, now a sheep/pig barn, also on the historical registry.

 

Oh Ramulus!

Oh Ramulus!

 

Farm hodge podge

Farm hodge podge

Kohlrabi starts

Kohlrabi starts

_MG_3668

Beginning thoughts

June 28, 2009

Thus begins my first blog post on my second attempt to start a blog.  I have been farming now for nearly three months and in the intensity of the job, my personal attachment to it, and the popular understanding of it, I have been desperate for an outlet to display my thoughts, and a place for insighteful discussion.  Desperate enough to turn to the spiteful and anonymous world of the internet.  

The country seems so be a bit a-buzz with thoughts of food. Food Inc. was released a few weeks ago.  Most of my (non-farm) peers have read the Omnivore’s Dilemma.  CSA’s and local/organic seem to be a full-fledged fad movement (??).  Though it’s possible that I live amidst my own biases, these simple and anecdotal happenings seem to indicate the somethings are changing, if only in certain spheres of our society,  

Currrently, I am an intern/apprentice on a medium-scale organic farm in southern Maine, in the Mid-Coast region.  I started this apprenticeship (my preferred term – no one makes copies/coffee here!), with little knowledge beyond the very minimal basics of farming and many romanticized notions about the idyllic agricultural life.  Since starting, my thoughts on farming and food production and consumption have shifted innumerable times and currently reside in a fog of confusion.  More uncertain of most things than when I started, I believe firmly a lack of absolutes – that there is no perfect way that we can nourish ourselves.  There is no definitive solution to the “food problem,” and no inherent value to any system of food production (this is not to say that there isn’t harm done by certain other methods of production).  

Most grippingly I have become wary of food and agriculture as tied to any moral notions; it’s not that I don’t believe in more ethical and less exploitative (of land and people) forms of production and consumption, but rather that I see food, and the way that we interact with it, as I see the rest of the world – as inextricably tied to our circumstances, of privilege, of taste, of identity, and yet it’s also something so  banal and  basal as a source of energy.  Good food is a right, but it’s also one tiny piece in any puzzle formation of justice and sustainability and health.  

So, having started a number of discussions without concluding anything specific about me, this blog or farming, I will close out my first blog entry giving anyone reading this a glimpse at what future entries hold.  Check back in soon for more detailed discussion and fun.