On farms that raise animals for meat there is a defined day when the fruits of your labor are realized. Animal becomes meat. For lack of a better word let’s call this day “butcher” day.
We knew this day was coming. We arrived at Middle Mountain fully aware that the fluffy bunnies weren’t destined to be pets. Since arriving in April our experience with the rabbits involved four simple tasks: feed, water, clean and cuddle. If you’ve read earlier posts on our blog you’ll be well acquainted with the multitude of fluffy bunny pictures we posted. From breeding the mother, to birth, life and now death, we saw the whole thing through.
About a week ago we had our first butcher day for the rabbits between 3 and 4 months of age. There were a total of 15 rabbits needing to be processed, so one day of work actually turned into two. What may seem to be a routine task to any experienced farmer was actually a very distinct event for Aaron and I, so we decided to provide our individual perspectives to you, the reader.
Keep in mind that we identify ourselves as “vegetarian” and “omnivore”, but we acknowledge that other vegetarians and omnivores out there may have very different feelings on this subject. This is just “Lana the vegetarian” and “Aaron the Omnivore’s” take on things.
Lana: The Vegetarian’s Perspective
Full disclosure: I wasn’t anywhere close to the rabbits on butcher day. I participated for a whopping zero seconds in this activity. I planned on being far away from the scene, and I followed through on that promise. I was out of view and earshot, in fear that I may hear a rabbit “scream”, which they actually do when in distress.
I had grand plans to give each of the rabbits a little cuddle that morning before the whole thing went down, but that went awry quickly. We moved their large, heavy cage closer to the processing area, and in doing so one rabbit suffered a visibly broken foot. I felt immediately uncomfortable, so I quickly bowed out. It was, at the very least, reassuring to know that this rabbit would not have to suffer for long. He was one of the first to go.
As some of you may know, I have been a vegetarian for close to 7 years. When I’m asked of my reasons my standard answer is typically “I never really enjoyed eating meat, even as a young child”. This is true. I was the kid who cut out every ounce of visible fat, vein or other unidentified part of the meat. However, there is a more overarching reason: I love animals. Since I was just a little tike I drew pictures of animals, asked to pet strangers’ dogs, and I even remember telling my second grade teacher that I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up because that would be the best way to surrounding myself with as many animals as possible. I feel this way about all animals, not just the cute ones. Chickens? Love ‘em. Cows, pigs, salamanders, pigeons, crows, mice? Yup. So it’s pretty clear that this has influenced my being vegetarian.
Our present food system sees a large portion of people getting their meat from the grocery store. It is often butchered and packaged behind closed doors, and looks as little like the parts of the animal it came from as possible. When is the last time you saw a pig, chicken or steer in person, or a butcher at work? For some reason we feel more comfortable with mechanical killing that is practiced out of view and without emotion by industrial agriculture. It seems that we simply would rather not be reminded of exactly what meat is, or what it takes to bring it to our plates.
The large majority of meat-eaters are blissfully unaware of the disconnect between what lies on their plate and the living, breathing animal it came from. In efforts to bridge this gap I think a valuable experience would be for meat eaters to become intimately aware with what exactly it means to kill an animal, wild or farmed. In the case of our rabbits, this means breaking the neck, removing the head, draining the blood, stripping the fur, removing various undesirable portions, and storing the meat. Or, if we are talking about hunting your own wild animal, then loading your gun, looking that animal in the eye, shooting, approaching the animal, ensuring its death, transporting the carcass, cutting it open, procuring the edible portions, extracting the undesirable then preparing for storage. Could you do it? I can say, without a doubt, that I could never kill an animal for reasons outside of self-defense, therefore I don’t feel it is my place to eat an animal that someone else has killed for me.
I will wrap up with some words inspired by Michael Pollan, author of ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, which sum up my beliefs on this matter quite succinctly:
Let’s return to the place where “humans looked at the animals they killed, regarded them with reverence, and never ate them except with gratitude.”
Aaron: The Omnivore’s Perspective
A couple things helped me through the difficult week, which was on our radar since arriving and is now over as if a blip in memory. I have done some soul searching to help reconcile my emotions with the actions involved in taking life, which was quite a somber feat.
Entering the cull I had thought I would be able to detach and go about it methodically. Truth be told, it was more difficult than expected. It challenged me, even forcing me at one point to reconsider whether I wanted to keep animals for meat in future. Thankfully our mentor Helen was near to put it into perspective: taking life is not something one looks forward to. If someone did, you should question his or her mental health.
Being of a religious upbringing, I went into the slaughter with a few preconceived notions of what it means to be a human on earth where we were “[made] so that we may rule over the fish in the sea and the bird in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground (Genesis 1:25).” I took this to mean “ok, animals have no soul and therefore I have the right to slaughter them.” Maybe not a right, but I certainly shouldn’t be made to feel sorrow or guilt. Thing is, that sentiment didn’t really register with me and it took going through this process to get a step closer to understanding why.
I struggle between my inner Buddhist, who has me cautiously extracting insects out of the caravan, and my inner prairie kid who views critters as either good and therefore unacceptable to kill and bad and therefore fair-game (ie. vermin such as coyote, ground squirrel, pigeon on the prairies and slug, mink, rat, deer, opossum on Hornby). Regardless of size, I do feel the taking of life is to be taken seriously.
On a less serious note, this is funny:
I recently stumbled upon a great essay by a previously mentioned wiseman, Charlie Eisenstein, who put words to why the religious view that humans were put on earth to dominate animals didn’t fully register with me. Here is a snippet from his essay on relationships; this passage is specifically about human’s relationship with earth:
“For a moment, enter into the mythic mind that sees the cosmos as alive and intelligent on every level. In that frame, it is obvious that the earth wants to give to humanity. I say this with no small trepidation, knowing the damage that religious teachings of entitlement to Earth’s “resources” have done, and knowing as well the equivalent entitlement that science has assumed in viewing the material world as lacking any inherent intelligence, purpose, or sentience: as a bunch of stuff to be used instrumentally for our own ends. I am drawing from a different well: the primal gratitude of hunter-gatherers in awe of the bounty of nature, which they saw as a gift. How could it be otherwise? We did not earn the soil. We did not earn the water. We did not earn the sun, the air, the trees. Their workings and origins are utterly mysterious. We did not earn them, make them, or design them, so they must have come to us as a gift.”
To pull from that excerpt: I feel that I am not entitled to take life based on a religious teachings deeming it acceptable to do so or saying that we have that right, but rather that it is a profound gift that must be accepted graciously and the favour must be returned, as in with all relationships.
The second concept that helped me through the bunny slaughter, which was not really a slaughter at all but done calmly and with upmost respect and care, was that I am a meat-eater. I enjoy meat as not only a delicious thing to eat but also a source of nutrients and contributor to my health. Some may struggle with the concept of taking an animal’s life to fuel a human’s, but for me I look at it like this: I am not going to give up meat and I find it helpful to know where the animal comes from and how it was raised. To have had a hand in every aspect of these rabbits life from breeding their mothers to feeding them daily and eventually killing and butchering them, I feel confident these little guys lived a wonderful life and did not suffer in the end. With that, I am welcome to consuming them knowing that it is healthy and happy meat.
Not an easy subject to approach, but again worthwhile in allowing me a chance to debrief, reflect and formulate thoughts according to emotion. If you haven’t lost interest and are now midway down your Facebook newsfeed, I say thanks for letting me sort through this!
Lana + Aaron