I have said for a long time that if I couldn’t kill an animal for food, then I would want to become a vegetarian. I’ve never said that I had to kill an animal, or that everyone should. I never actively sought out the experience of doing so. But, I said that if the opportunity arose and I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t want to eat meat anymore.
I think specialization in our culture has been taken to an extreme end, and that relates to this. I worry that most of us are completely removed from the process of making meat, and I wonder if that’s good for us. The opposite end from specialization – where each person must do everything for themselves – is also extreme and not right for our species. I’ve never thought that everyone should kill all their own meat. But we have the ability to not think of meat as animals at all, and I think that plays into the cruel ways animals are allowed to be treated in order to become our food. I’ve always wanted to be closer to that process and to learn how I felt about it and to see how that would affect my thoughts on eating meat.
As I moved towards and into homesteading, my focus shifted somewhat from just the moment of killing. That moment was still important, and if I can, I still want to go through the process of actually doing the killing of an animal I plan to eat. However, I began to focus more on the life of the animal and my relationship to it, rather than on the specific method and moment of death. Rather than asking, “Could I kill an animal for food?” I began to ask, “Can I love an animal and then eat it?”
Having Yorkie and Hampie these past few months has meant that I’m thinking about all of these things in reality, rather than as abstract thoughts. I loved two pigs. I named them. I spent time with them every day. I knew the differences between them. I cataloged their likes and dislikes and took joy at each new thing, like the first time Hampie really let me pet her. I noticed changes in their appearance. I debated very carefully whether to give them medication. I laughed when they frolicked and I tried to do things that would make them happier. In one sense, they were pets.
In another sense, they were meant for meat. When I first got them, I briefly wondered if I would be able to see them as meat. They were cute little pigs, terrified of the world, huddled together in their barn, and I wanted to comfort them and feared I would always see them as adorable little pets. When they got to be about 75 pounds, that started to change for me a little bit. They began to take on some physical characteristics that I associated with food and some characteristics I associated with wild animals. These details are hard to explain, but there was a definite shift. Their stomache, back, and butt areas looked like growing meat to me. Their faces looked meaner. This is also around the time that I had to start considering my physical safety. Both of them tried to nibble me at one point, and I had to change my behavior around feeding time. I had to wear shoes around them and watch my step, because being stepped on by them was painful.
Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t stop seeing them as beings I wanted to nurture and care for. I never stopped enjoying my time with them and never stopped the activities that gave us both joy, like hosing them down with mist or scratching them on their favorite places. But the worry that I would forever see them as pets subsided. They weren’t like dogs, for example. They weren’t companions. They were loved and treasured farm animals who would become meat, and that seemed right.
As the day of their slaughter has approached, I’ve been visualizing Yorkie and Hampie being dead and visualizing eating their meat. And I’ve been having some feelings about that – feelings that have been very, very hard to name. I struggled and worried over these feelings, trying to find their shape and character. Was it guilt? Was it revulsion? I considered that maybe I was getting to this point and couldn’t do it. Maybe I would now have Yorkie and Hampie as pet pigs for many years to come. But that didn’t seem right. On the far side of the visualization, it felt right to imagine eating their meat. On this side of the visualization, I wasn’t heartbroken that soon they would be gone. But, in the middle, around the idea of them becoming dead, there sat a great, unnamed feeling.
In my mind, I rifled through so many names for feelings – sadness, guilt, trepidation, curiosity, compassion, fright, wariness, repulsion, numbness, shame, excitement – trying them on for size and discarding them all. Finally, yesterday morning, an hour before it was time to drive the pigs to the processor, I realized that I was never going to name this feeling with a single word. Instead, I would say this: I was sensing the presence of a moment and an experience that is very, very important.
It reminded me of the cusp moments in the book Stranger in a Strange Land – a decision must be made, for which responsibility cannot be shared, that one way or another I will carry with me forever.
I never really doubted my decision. It always felt like the right one. This new realization, though, was knowing that this was a very important decision to be in the presence of, to be connected to, to face head on, to know.
My mind began reeling from the idea of eating meat without experiencing this cusp. How could I eat the meat of an animal without knowing this moment? On one side of this moment is a living being and on the other side of it is food on my table and in the middle of the moment stands my decision and my decision alone.
The entire process is caused by and connected through that moment. How can I possibly look away? In some ways, these pigs (as domesticated farm animals) existed because I wanted their meat. The opposite is also true, of course – their meat will exist because they lived as animals. In between those two halves of reality stands me and my decision. It is my rightful place to stand there.
The moment of deciding to end an animal’s life for meat is one that I am both possessive of and answerable to. I don’t know how I will feel in the future, because this is a vast topic, but at the moment, I have no desire to eat any meat where I am not intimately involved in the process and make the pivotal decision.
If the animal wasn’t raised on my land, nurtured by my hand, and the moment of death chosen by me, I will not eat its meat.