For most of my life I have been a vegetarian. For a long time there I was a vegan. I have had my moments of meat eating but then my spiritual sense that all animals are sacred beings has sent me back to the veggies and pulses.
Living on the farm has changed me, and I waver more and end up sitting on the fence a lot! It was all very clear cut for me before I had Ben. I wondered and worried whether he would want to eat meat, whether I would know if he did, whether I would let him and cook it for him etc . . . (I have to admit that I have turned Mother Worry and Guilt into an art form!) But one day, I looked across at my toddler sitting eating at the dining table and I realised ‘that boy needs meat’ . . the next day his career as a carnivore began.
And this has changed me. Keeping his diet balanced with meat and veg and being determined that he eats the very best meat money can buy – which, of course, means not buying meat at all but slaughtering our own. Now he’s almost 5 and happily eating Harry, our lovely chestnut steer out of Honey, and beautiful farm bred and reared lamb (the sheep don’t have names . . .)
I cried when Harry went and as I witnessed his terror and resignation in the trailer. He knew exactly where he was going. On the one hand he accepted that this was the ultimate gift he gave to us and humankind, but on the other he had the natural terror we all feel when facing death and bucking (literally) against that unknown abyss.
But I have cried over the natural losses we face as well – unexplained illness and death or deformity. The waste of a life and the cruelty of nature. The randomness of Mother Nature’s scythe across the swathe of our livestock. Is it better just to die or to be killed and used and appreciated? I have tasted and enjoyed the lamb, but I balk at sampling Harry.
We bought our first pigs last year so we could have a house full of ham and bacon, but of course they have stolen our hearts and are off to the boar tomorrow for some fun and frolicking and to birth our pig population to fill a few local freezers. Two more fatteners arrive tomorrow and they need to be called Ham and Bacon so we keep the end in mind and not fall in love with them. I have hatched a plan for pigs and chooks to live together in harmony so later in the year we should be able to fill the freezer with lots of roast chicken dinners and I am looking forward to hanging hams, making salami etc.
My body really appreciates meat but in my grief over my beloved horse and friend, Baby, and my clear realisation that she was my Mother in another life in India when I died as a child, my belief in reincarnation has become ever stronger (although I have never wavered in that). I have come to understand that far from common belief that animals are somehow lower on the spiritual scale than us, that they are, in fact, higher.
I have always said that people who think animals are stupid are wrong – after all you don’t see any animals on the relentless wheel of work, mortgage, motor and power payments – they live peacefully with what they have and can forage. Cuddle a cow, alpaca, horse, pig or sheep and you can feel the palpable sense of peace they exude. They are happier than us humans, far more content. Serene in their sense of spirit and where they stand in the grand scheme of things.
I began to think that they gave of themselves in the ultimate sacrifice as an act of service. Now I think they are accepting of our insistence in slaughtering and eating them. Perhaps this is the human dilemma – whether to serve the base needs of the body or the higher mind and spiritual consciousness. Maybe this that I wrestle with is the ultimate human question. The idea of eating flesh and blood feels so much like cannibalism to me and yet faced with a plate of pork sausages, roast lamb or chicken, I am often hard pressed not to sample some, though the texture can often revolt me.
How can it be right to kill another, whether human or animal? Is it ok to kill a wild dog who is stalking our livestock? Or to end the suffering of an animal or human in pain? Does our quest for flesh make it easier to countenance the demise of another human in a war or other? These are all big questions with no easy or right answers . . . the Bible purportedly says ‘Thou shalt not kill’ and yet globally Christians eat meat with relish.
Tales of cannibalism relay how addictive it is to eat the flesh of another and I do believe that eating meat is addictive. Perhaps we are all trapped in a spiral of addiction to flesh? I don’t know what the answer is, and I wish for a finite solution.
Meanwhile I continue on my path on the land of raising healthy, happy livestock for my family and friends to enjoy . . . I guess what I have learned is to have enormous respect and love for the animals we eat, to know where they have come from, what they have eaten, how they have lived and died. And to rest easy in that, at least.
For the animals’ sake, I wish for every carnivore to ask themselves the same hard questions, and to make sure that the meat they eat is raised ethically, organically and killed peacefully, if it is possible for any of us to go gently into that final goodbye . . .