I never read comments. The first time I wrote an op-ed that was published I made the mistake of reading the comments. Since then I’ve rather lost my liking of the practice. For one thing, the majority of the comments are made by people who are, at best, embarrassing their elementary school English teachers. For another, more often than not the authors clearly did not actually read the piece upon which they are commenting. Finally, I take things personally. It’s a character flaw and I’ve not found a way around it. But recognizing this about myself allows me to get out ahead of the problem by simply ignoring the negativity in the first place.
But when I started this blog I noticed that I was unable to read comments that were made. This is quite another matter. For several weeks nobody could figure out why comments were simply unavailable to me. Then, miraculously, they began appearing after my post of June 2. Whatever technical glitch had been occuring seemed to vanish because I received several email notifications of comments and was able to view them at the bottom of my post. Cool! So I broke my rule and read them. Now, I could do what I’ve always done and chew on my thoughts endlessly until they become tough as shoe leather. Then it occured to me that I happen to have a wonderful outlet for my thoughts. This is a very round about way of putting forth a disclaimer.
One comment in particular really got to me and I hope, in this post, to address some of the issues it mentions. The first is what the author put into quotes. “Humane meat”. I’ve reread my post several times and I just cannot find anywhere I used the word ‘humane’. It might be in there, perhaps I’ve missed it as I’m quite tired at this point in the growing season. But I don’t think so. Therefore, I’m not really sure there is a full understanding of the rules defining the use of quotation marks. That being said, I want to make it clear that the reason I didn’t use the word humane is that I don’t really care. I’ll admit to anyone right off the mark that I’m incredibly self-centered. I use the word for me personally but also for my species. In fact, I think discussing the humaneness of a practice misses the mark entirely. I don’t raise pigs the way I raise them because it’s good for the pigs. I raise pigs in a way that is good for the pigs because it is good for me. This same argument can be made in many cases. I don’t think modern, industrial, western agriculture should stop the widespread use of gmo’s, pesticides and herbicides because they are bad for the environment, the plants themselves, the microfauna in the soil, I think these things need to be stopped because they are bad for us. If there were a way to somehow mesh the horrors of a factory feeding operation or a USDA inspected mass slaughter house with the evolution of the human gut and psyche, I’m not sure there would be a legitimate argument against them. But the reality is, at least for me, that mass production of ‘meat’ in a CAFO is terrible for us as a species.
Another issue raised in said comment is that the pigs die ‘violently and unnecessarily’. I suppose that one is my fault. I should have made clear that these pigs are not slaughtered and left to decompose on the spot. My family and I, as well as our friends and CSA members eat the meat. They do not die unnecessarily unless everything dies unnecessarily. As for the violence of their deaths, I suppose that depends on your definition of violence. I’ll be as straight with you, my reader, as I am with all of our customers, strangers at market and my six year old daughter who asks intuitive questions at the dinner table. I slaughter my animals with a rifle here at my farm. They are not ushered into a trailer and trucked to a slaughter house (as even most small farmers and backyard hobbyists do) to be disposed of by someone else. The state of Maine has regulations that are set-up in such a way that, if I want to slaughter my pigs on my farm I have to take a financial loss. But to me its worth it. The pigs are separated into individual stalls, given food and never know what’s coming or what hit them. It’s instantaneous. Yes, there is violence involved. I don’t disagree. But, and here is the real point I want to make, there is violence involved in everything you eat. Everything. Do you like broccoli and lettuce? Know what else likes those things? Ground hogs and bunny rabbits.
I was a vegan for just over two years. I tried in vain to keep groundhogs away from my brassicas (broccoli and Brussels sprouts in particular) for a long time. Have-a-heart traps work well if you can trick the groundhog into going into one (not an easy task). But eventually I realized that there is nothing real about the fantasy of a have-a-heart trap that takes a groundhog and relocates it. First of all, you’ve taken it away from the safety of its burrow and the familiarity of its surroundings. Secondly, what happened to all the babies it was feeding back in its den? Don’t think too hard. Finally, assume the groundhog and its young survive this separation. Imagine yourself going out to the store for some groceries and finding yourself suddenly in a cage that is picked up, put on a truck and transported to parts unknown and opened for you to get out. You might survive the ordeal but…PTSD much? These types of examples say nothing of the massive death involved in keeping bugs off our vegetable crops. At our farm we don’t spray anything whether it is organically approved or not. Instead we use methods that, if you think about it, turn out to be much crueler for the insects. Floating row cover and planting out of step with insect life cycles work fairly well for us. But from the insects point of view it’s like being really hungry and finding a table of your favorite food completely encased in bullet proof glass. You can see it but, while you get hungrier, you can’t get to it. Or you come into existence at a certain time and discover that the farmer you were depending on decided to wait until you were dead, or moved on, to plant potatoes. Wouldn’t you call that ‘violent’?
This brings me to my next point. I can assure the author of the aforementioned comment that when it comes to the death of my animals I have absolutely no guilt at all. None. What I have is responsibility. Only in a culture as separated from nature as ours could people believe they can live without death. When you begin to understand that there is, in fact, no way to live without death you come to the realization that there are two options. You can do your level best to ignore the deaths and, yes the violence, often passing the job onto others (because if you’re eating anything the job gets done whether you did it or not) and sweeping the reality away under a rug of thousands of miles and the anonymity of a supermarket; or you can take responsibility for each and every death involved in the transaction between you and the Earth. I choose the latter.
Let me be absolutely clear. I do not begrudge vegans their lifestyle. In fact, I have a lot of respect for vegans in general and even more for certain ones in particular. At least most vegans have begun to think about their food, which is more than most people can say. I have several good friends who are vegans and we have some of the most interesting, and yes sometimes heated, discussions about food, food systems, food politics and other things that arise from those topics like ethics, the environment and spirituality. The truth is, I usually share more beliefs with the vegans and vegetarians I know than the carnivores.
But when it comes to my own diet and my own farm, I’m not looking for humane. I’m looking for sustainable. I’m looking for control. And I’m looking for a holistic approach to farming and life on my small sliver of the planet. The pigs at my farm do work for me. I recognize that pigs, like all creatures including humans, are fenced in in one way or another. In place of the limitations on growth and range pigs would normally face from mountain lions and wolves, I use an electric fence. And I use the pigs on our farm to rework the land so I can plant vegetables in places that would otherwise be inaccessible without the use of heavy equipment like bulldozers. Don’t get me started on the violence involved in the production chain and usage of equipment like that. My pigs can do what a bulldozer does without all that fossil fuel created carbon going into the atmosphere.
The reality of my situation was recently made brilliantly clear to me by one of my good friends who has not only thought long and hard about his vegan diet but does so continuously, indeed every time he sits down to a meal. We were working together putting on a new roof and each of us had packed our own food for the weekend. I brought a cooler full of veggies from the farm for us to share but I also brought a dozen eggs from our grass and woodland fed hens and a pound of hamburger from our pastured, grass fed cattle. On the way to the project site we stopped at a grocery store so he could get supplies. Halfway through the weekend we sat down to a hearty breakfast and he looked across the table and jokingly said, “there you are with your grass-fed beef that you raised yourself and here I am with my shrink-wrapped soy protein isolate”.
There is violence and death in anything and everything we eat whether we’re an ignorant consumer or a monk who won’t swat a mosquito. But, secure in the knowledge that I’m doing everything I can to take responsibility for it, I get real bacon. Local food. Eat well – be well.