We Are Animals and We Eat Animals: The Reality of Food and Life
I recently killed an animal for the first time in my life. It was not for fun. It was not by accident. It was for food.
For some, food is fuel. For others, food is enjoyment. For most of us, food is animals. But we prefer to view it through one of the first two lenses so we protect ourselves against what we are and what we do.
A trout I caught myself
We are animals and we eat animals. If you are vegan, you are welcome to bow out from the rest of this article. But if you stick around, you might see not all meat-eaters are what you think. If you are a meat-eater and you are either bothered or inspired by what I am saying, then this article is for you.
The Reality of Food and Life
The first animal I helped my husband process was a goat. I held its legs while he did the deed. I started crying before he was even done. We live in a rural area populated with many small farms and homesteads. We “forage” on Craigslist for livestock regularly and find it to be a reliable source of grass-fed, pastured, affordable meat. But we have to do our processing. It is far from an easy thing, but I am grateful it never gets easier.
The second animal I killed was a rabbit. We raise them here on our property, specifically for meat. I care for them every day. I feed them, water them, talk to them, and pet them. They are well and responsibly fed and much loved. We name the breeding rabbits, but not the kits.
"What you choose to eat has meaning beyond performance, beyond longevity. What you choose to eat can change the world."
We also raise quail for both eggs and meat. They are with us for every bit of their life cycle. From the appearance of the egg, to the first pip, to the day they are old enough to make the transition from their cage to the kitchen. To watch chicks hatch, especially chicks as unimaginably tiny as a quail, is a gift of understanding life. Not life as we philosophically posture about it, but life as in living - or not living.
Newly hatched quail
To see an animal come into existence is humbling and more than a bit mindboggling. To bear witness to its passing is to become driven by a need to honour it. I have never before been so committed to use every part for every purpose I can find. I have never before been so thoughtful about where my food comes from and the quality of life that food lived. And I have never before been so thankful for the myriad of creatures that walk this earth. I would not be here without them.
We may be atop the food chain, but even the apex predator can’t survive without everything below. We, as humans, have a luxury and a curse that other animals seemingly do not. We can consider our actions and make choices they don’t.
My egg hens are only present to now. They eat and destroy everything in sight. They do not think, “But will there be grass left tomorrow?” They don’t wonder about the quality of their food. They just eat what I hand them.
"To watch chicks hatch, especially chicks as unimaginably tiny as a quail, is a gift of understanding life."
But it occurs to me, despite our ability for awareness, that we are sometimes no more thoughtful than the chickens. We go to the store and eat what we’re handed. We believe we have freedom because we choose the organic label or "eat paleo." We believe we have freedom because we shop at a co-op. But how many times has it turned out we’ve been lied to? That the sustainable farm sold out to big money? That the “responsible” practices weren’t what we thought?
And how many pounds have we put toward our own denial? When I share with people that we raise and kill our animals for food, many are horrified - most of them meat-eaters. “I’d rather go to the store and not think about it,” many of them say.
Some of the hens, curious about the house
We have the freedom to think and the power to think. It is indeed what makes us different and makes it possible for us to be responsible stewards of our planet. But if we abdicate that freedom and power to companies, to industries, to even the most well-intentioned grocery store, then we also forfeit our right to complain, our health, and our future.
When you purchase meat from the store you are at best supporting the industrialisation of our food supply and at worst supporting the torture of animals. My animals aren’t tortured. I know everything about them. I know everything about this food. It is my goal that I can gain this awareness and presence, this responsibility, with all my food.
Cultivate Awareness of the World Around You
We are fond of saying things like, “If your grandmother didn’t use it, then you shouldn’t.” Using that same logic, ask yourself what your grandmother’s food sources looked like. Did she have a garden? Did she have chickens in her yard? Or did she shop at Whole Foods?
A couple days' worth of quail eggs
I propose that we all have another level to ponder. When we become present to the industrialisation of our food, we do our best to make better choices at the store. But beyond that is refusing to find the store acceptable at all. Beyond that is growing, sourcing, and raising your own food. Your own garden. Your own egg hens. Your own animals.
What you choose to eat has meaning beyond performance, beyond longevity. What you choose to eat can change the world. We all have another level of potential, and potential responsibility. To ourselves, to our health, and to the health of the flora and fauna that grace this beautiful planet.
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Photos courtesy of Becca Borawski Jenkins.