Eating strangers, Eating friends

by Tovar on March 11, 2012 · 46 comments

Photo courtesy Charles & Clint Robertson

I haven’t known any of the deer I’ve eaten.

I may have been intimately familiar with how whitetails moved through that stretch of woods. I may even have seen that particular deer before. But I haven’t spent an extended period of time getting to know the individual animal, letting him get to know me.

This comes with the territory of hunting wild creatures. But what are the implications?

Over the past few weeks I’ve been talking with folks around New England about all kinds of things. Not surprisingly, one of the recurring themes has been the killing of animals: what it means, the conflicted feelings it evokes, how I and others handle it, what we make of it, and how we integrate it into our lives.

We have talked about commonalities between raising animals for food and hunting them. People have talked about the sadness they feel when slaughter day comes for the chickens they raise, or the wave of deep shock that rolls over them when they kill a cow: emotions very much like what some hunters experience at the end of a successful hunt.

Yet a difference has also been noted. As one friend put it, “When you take a deer, aren’t you killing a stranger?”

Yes, I am indeed killing and eating a stranger.

I respect and admire deer. I feel compassion for them. I feel an intense relationship with the particular animals I kill and with the venison that results, but it is clearly a predator-prey relationship. It is not a relationship of mutual affection. It is not friendship.

And that has me wondering: Emotionally speaking, what are the differences between hunting wild animals and slaughtering domestic ones?

For thousands of years, cultures around the world have surrounded hunting with ritual. There is, after all, something fundamentally unsettling about violence toward animals, especially large fellow mammals. What shifts, I wonder, happened in those rituals when people started herding?

Today, our modern culture is far more comfortable with the idea of farming animals than with the idea of hunting them. Hunting somehow seems more extreme.

Photo by Ernst Vikne

In at least one way, though, isn’t a homestead-style farm slaughter more troubling?

I know hunters who can’t imagine raising animals for food. Some simply prefer, as I do, to see animals living free, rather than in captivity. But others know they couldn’t bring themselves to raise an animal—getting to know his or her individual personality, quirks, and moods—and then betray that relationship by killing.

There are many reasons why I hunt rather than raising chickens or other animals. There’s my distaste for the distance and forgetfulness inherent in our industrial food system (wherein we buy the meat of strangers who were raised by strangers, slaughtered by different strangers, shipped to us by still other strangers, and sold to us by yet more strangers). There’s my love of being outdoors, focused on woods, landscape, and the ways of wild creatures. There’s the unpredictability of hunting, the appeal of uncertainty. There’s the fact that having domestic animals makes it harder to take off for the weekend—chickens won’t ride shotgun the way our dog will. The list goes on.

But I still buy local poultry, raised and slaughtered by others. And I wonder: In part, do I hunt because I’d rather not eat friends?

© 2012 Tovar Cerulli

Older Post:

Newer post:

margo pellegrino March 11, 2012 at 7:30 pm

this is a really interesting thought. farming requires steeling oneself to kill what one has raised. when you think about it, farming and raising the creature you eventually kill requires more mental gymnastics to justify the act than to kill something you do not know, but nevertheless respect. Farming requires you to steel yourself against the inevitable-you are actually raising something to kill it. It seems almost more compassionate to just hunt….

Tovar March 12, 2012 at 8:24 am

Thanks for stopping by, Margo. I think you may be right about the greater emotional difficulty (or “mental gymnastics,” as you put it) required in raising and killing an animal. Whether that, in itself, makes hunting more compassionate, I’m not sure. But it may make it easier.

somsai March 11, 2012 at 8:09 pm

I’ve often wondered at this discussion of remorse over killing something, I’m afraid I must be the cold bloodthirsty killer of animal rights fantasies. I spend hours, weeks, months focused on positioning myself and lining up a cross hair, and a trigger squeeze, and BAM. Is it down? Is it a fatal shot? Ecstatic fist pumps (after pushing another round in the chamber just in case). I’m not even sure something has died until after the fact. Conflicted feelings? Conflicted about happiness of success tempered with the understanding that simply rolling over such a large mass of meat will be difficult, let alone skinning, quartering, packing out.

Yet I can’t stand to see an animal in pain. When a pig is about to be butchered in a rural village all the other pigs seem to know, they’ve seen it before. The chosen one screams in terror. Drives me nuts. The time between roping it, tying it, and slitting it’s throat so to catch the blood is not a good time for me.

I’ve noticed that people who grow up in cultures where every household kills it’s own domestic animals have no problems accepting and understanding hunting.

Tovar March 12, 2012 at 8:29 am

Interesting, Somsai. You may not share my conflicted feelings about inflicting death, but I think your aversion to animal pain says something important about your ethics as a hunter and your compassion for domestic animals. A “cold bloodthirsty killer”? Doesn’t sound like it to me.

Kate March 11, 2012 at 9:55 pm

We raise Scottish Blackface sheep and have NO relationship with them whatsoever. They have a natural fear and distrust of humans and want nothing to do with us. I have no problem eating these sheep but I have wondered if I would feel differently if we had goats, which are much smarter than sheep and very friendly…but then, we raised a pair of pigs twice and had no trouble killing and eating them. Same with turkeys, ducks and meat chickens. I think you just get used to it. It is pretty natural, after all. :) And it beats the hell out of grocery store meat. I think lamb from our 100% grass fed sheep is about the healthiest thing our family eats…well other than eggs from our free-range chickens.

Tovar March 12, 2012 at 8:33 am

I think you’re right, Kate: “You just get used to it.” At least, some people do. Others don’t and perhaps can’t.

Pigs, as you point out, are highly intelligent and sometimes very friendly. That’s one of the animals I’ve heard a few hunters say they can’t imagine raising for food.

Kate March 13, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Well, I had certainly heard that about pigs too and I was ready to be convinced by our pigs…but I was surprised, I didn’t really bond with them at all. I think their expression of their intelligence/personality is hindered by their appearance–they are just a massive rock hard torpedo of an animal with beady little eyes, “bulldozer in front and manure spreader in back,” and they can’t really wag their tails or wiggle their bodies or make any facial expressions like a dog can…plus when they get big they are just scary strong and hungry all the time. If your pig steps on your foot while he’s eating, you have to just basically stand there with him on your foot until he’s done eating. I respect pigs, but I don’t really “connect” with pigs, you know? And again that doesn’t mean they’re not intelligent. But given the amount of manure they produce also, I was ready for them to be gone by the time they were butchering age. (I could never kill an animal myself, but I had no trouble eating them. My husband kills some of our sheep and poultry, but we have a guy come out and do the pigs and some of the sheep.)

Tovar March 14, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Interesting, Kate.

Michelle March 12, 2012 at 10:35 am

It sounds to me that you are talking to people who have never farmed for their living – they never raised chickens to make money off the eggs or food on the table. Perhaps they raise them b/c its cute or cool. But not because their family depends on it. I grew up watching my dad ring chickens’ heads, and my job was to pluck the feathers and help mom prepare the meal.
I showed dairy cattle for 10 years during my teen years. I knew 24 hours after that animal helped me win a trophy, it was going back out to a field to join her mates and eventually, she’ll be slaughtered. Thinking back, this was reality. I never cried about it. I never thought I was being insensitive. Its just the way it was.
By the way, cattle numbers are way down and meat prices are going to climb to record numbers by summer. I recommend buying a half cow now to fill your freezer.

Tovar March 12, 2012 at 10:45 am

In part, you may be right, Michelle. Some of these folks are in their first few years of raising animals.

But other people, who have lived and worked with farm animals all their lives, have also told me they still feel a kind of deep shock when, for instance, they kill a cow. They hear me talk about how I feel about deer and they say, “Yeah, I feel something very similar about cows.”

Steven Bissell March 12, 2012 at 11:52 am

There was a time I would have dismissed the idea that familiarity with an animal changed your perception on killing it (I’m thinking farm animals here as well). However I did my Master’s thesis (in the late Pleistocene) on Big Horn Sheep and a couple of years later got a highly sought after permit to hunt them. When it came to actually shooting one I found myself strangely conflicted. I had spent literally hundreds of hours watching them (not the ones in my cross-hairs I might add) going about their very boring daily lives (about all they do is eat, sleep, and eat some more) and when it came down to it I could not shoot.

As to farm animals I had a rancher friend who hand raised an orphaned white face bull calf (which became a steer) and it acted like a dog around the house! When it came market time he couldn’t even sell it. I think the beast died of old age on his ranch, spending all of its time around the house and not with other cattle. I’m not sure what this really means in terms of hunting but it probably says a lot about our relationships with animals.

My grandfather was a rancher and I remember Dad telling me that none of his horses had names; ‘They are horses!’ Grandpa would say, ‘horses ain’t got names.’

Tovar March 12, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Thanks for the stories, Steven.

Eric Nuse March 12, 2012 at 2:44 pm

I never name my domestic animals. It helps a bit when it comes time to change them from a critter to food. I have noticed the bigger they are the harder it is. I do remind myself that if they were not going to be meat they would not have been born at all, so living a relatively good life beats no life at all. I say relatively good in comparison to their wild brethren.
When it comes to wild game, the fact that I have to work so hard against the odds to get a chance to kill them seems to make the shooting easier. After the fact I feel conflicted but not prior.
To me the moment of the kill is when we face the reality of our living and the impact we have on other life. No matter how lightly we try to live, we have an impact. Every bite of meat reminds me of this and reminds me to be thankful to the conservationists who helped restore wildlife and preserve wild places.

Tovar March 12, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Eric wrote: “To me the moment of the kill is when we face the reality of our living and the impact we have on other life. No matter how lightly we try to live, we have an impact.”

Yep.

Al Cambronne March 12, 2012 at 3:14 pm

I grew up on a farm–not a real farm, though. Just a hobby farm. Killing, plucking, and butchering the chickens and ducks, although a hated chore, was not otherwise an emotion-laden event. But our operation was so small that we just had one or two cows at a time. I remember the first time one came back from the locker, I was an eight-year-old with some conflicted feelings about taking the first bite of our black angus “Molly.”

So yes, better to not name large animals that will be eaten. Better still to eat deer whose names we don’t know. (We did once, however, name a deer and write its name on the packages of venison. Spike.)

margo pellegrino March 12, 2012 at 4:27 pm

This is a really cool dialogue. It really is–and truly, when we kill to eat, which is really how we evolved, it does force us to think about our own mortality. Or maybe not. But it is a fact of life. But we still have compassion. I used to work on a horse farm but my boss always had a steer or even a cow that he would get from some other farmer friend. One day the time came for “Norman,” as all of us prissy little riders in our boots and britches called him, left the farm. Mr. A had actually rescued this particular calf from someone who had him tied up with a rope around his neck. The rope had to be cut away because as he grew, the rope did not. When Mrs. A was unloading the family wagon of little white packages one of my fiends asked–what’s that? I said, without even really batting an eye, “oh, that’s Norman…” Of course there was that total disconnect between the the warm animal, the act, and the packaged meat. But that little Norman was lucky for the time he lived, in a sense. Yea, and of course, Mr. A never named what was eventually gonna be his food. He would get annoyed enough at folks who tried to make pets of their horses! “They’re not pets,” he’d say.

What’s also interesting is the stories of killer whales that have been documented showing how sometimes these killers will help young sea lions get back to shore.

Anyway, this is really a cool discussion.

Tovar March 12, 2012 at 5:55 pm

I think that’s a deeply and uniquely human contrast/conflict, Margo: between killing to eat and having compassion. Thanks for adding another story to the mix.

We do our best to have cool discussions here. They get better every time a new voice is added. :-)

Tovar March 12, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Thanks for that story, too, Al.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand March 13, 2012 at 1:53 pm

I’ve killed birds I’ve raised and I’ve killed wild birds, and I find killing my own birds easier for the rather prosaic reason that I have control over the process. We put them in a cone and slit their throats and it’s a good death. Shooting a bird, you can’t know.

But that’s just birds. It looks like we’re expanding our operation into pigs this year, and I know I will be much fonder of a pig than I ever could be of a turkey or a duck or even a chicken (chickens are more charming than either turkeys or ducks). Because of that, and because a pig is a big animal, I’m planning on having someone else do the slaughter — someone with experience who will do the job well.

I’m sure I could kill the pig if I had to, but only in controlled conditions. And I know I wouldn’t want to — it wouldn’t feel the same way as when I have a deer in the crosshairs (which of course I’ve only had once, and didn’t take the shot, but wanted to). But I don’t think I could kill a pig I raised and knew if I had to do it from 50 yards with a rifle or shotgun. The possibility of hurting it would be prohibitive.

Bottom line: I think we only allow ourselves the possibility of a painful, inhumane kill for animals we don’t know.

Tovar March 14, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Tamar wrote: “I think we only allow ourselves the possibility of a painful, inhumane kill for animals we don’t know.”

That sounds right to me. And that’s one of the most troubling possibilities in hunting, for me and for many hunters. Ideally, a hunting kill equals “a free, wild life ending in instant oblivion.” But it doesn’t always.

Kim Graves March 13, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Hi Tovar,

I think it’s a mistake to say that there is a betrayal of the relationship you have with a domesticated animal when you kill it. Domesticated animals are raised for slaughter – if you don’t slaughter them, they’re pets. Implicit in the relationship is killing it. I think the difference between slaughter and hunting is that there is a big (for me) emotional investment in raising an animal. Maybe especially for someone like me who is just starting out. I see the animal from newborn to the day it dies. I feed, water, protect and care for it. That’s the word I’m looking for – “I care for/about it.” I have a two or three time a day interaction with the animals. So when slaughter day comes I have to take off my caretaker hat and put on my killer one. It’s not a hat that I like to ware for the simple reason that I don’t like thinking of myself as a killer. I do it because it’s an essential part of the relationship with the animal no different than feeding it. It’s not a betrayal – just the opposite.

Best

Kim Graves March 13, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Let me just add, that it’s not just that I don’t like seeing myself as a killer, I don’t like to kill. I think it’s necessary, I think it’s part of the “contract” with domesticated animals, I don’t sleep badly afterward, but I just don’t like to do it.

Tovar March 14, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Hi, Kim. If you maintain that “livestock”/”pet” distinction in your mind throughout the animal’s life, then of course you’re right: For you, there is no “betrayal” of the relationship as you understand it.

In the post, I was using the word “betray” to refer to people who feel they could not maintain that distinction. For them, such killing would, indeed, feel like a betrayal. It sounds like that’s the kind of experience Steven’s rancher friend had with the orphaned white face bull calf described above.

Kim Graves March 14, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Tovar,

This reminds me of a story. A coyote got into our chickens out in the open killed several of them and leaving two badly wounded. I was new to this chicken game and not thinking clearly I called the vet we use for the cats asking if they treated chickens? “Yes we do,” they answered. “What are your chicken’s names?” “Food-1 and Food-2″, I replied. I decided to treat the wounds myself – they survived.

Tovar March 14, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Yes, that story says a lot, Kim. Names and naming (or the intentional lack thereof) seem to play a central role for a lot of folks.

ingrid March 13, 2012 at 5:42 pm

I think there are multiple factors at play here. First, I’ve come to believe there are simply constitutional differences in how one responds to the killing — and that childhood environment or practice isn’t the exclusive determinant of how one comes to behave toward the slaughter of animals.

I come from farming heritage (on my mother’s side) and my grandmother, who lived to 105, went to her death, emotionally affected by the slaughters they had to perform on their farm. Neither she nor my mother were ever reconciled to killing animals. I should add that both were war refugees who knew the executions of family members as well as unspeakable horror in their escape from occupation. Their distaste for suffering and cruelty did not stop with what they saw happen to humans. So, having exposure doesn’t desensitize everyone to the process. Sometimes, it turns a person in the opposite direction.

As another example, although you and I share veganism in our personal histories, I never experienced the joy in fishing or frogging or other childhood activities that some kids find pleasurable. I never caught a fish after my first one, it was so difficult for me emotionally. It was never fun for me. No one told me to feel that way. In fact, my father enjoyed fishing, as do some members of my extended family, so the precise opposite should have been true. There have to be constitutional and psychological components that can’t be easily quantified.

I do think there is something to be said for your original speculation that it can, for some, be easier to hunt because they don’t “know” the animal. This is something I’ve tried to address in hunting forums to no avail — just trying to suggest that wild animals have a much more complex existence than the one seen from the viewpoint of predator. As a wildlife rehabilitator, you do, indeed, develop those relationships with wild animals — in as much as you have long-term, intimate associations with them as they heal from injury. These are not intimate pet relationships, nor should they be for risk of habituation. But I will just say that most hunters I’ve personally met in the context of wildlife rehabilitation are ex-hunters (an admittedly anecdotal sample), owing to the powerful and poignant transformation they’ve described to me, after knowing wild animals as whole, emotional and social entities. It becomes much more difficult to compartmentalize, and much more complex to exploit in any form.

When I hear people talk about taking up hunting because they object to the industrialized food system, I can’t help but wonder if they’re doing so because, for them, it is easier to detach from a wild animal in that way. For people like me who can’t detach, for better or worse, some of the violent brutality I witness in the field as objectionable as any factory farm practice or slaughterhouse I’ve had the misfortune to see.

Tovar March 14, 2012 at 6:22 pm

I think you’re right about constitutional differences, Ingrid. One thing I’d add is that those differences appear along a wide and varied continuum. Some people aren’t bothered by killing at all, some can’t stand it at all, and some are at various places between the two (perhaps able to kill, yet uncomfortable with it). And some of us (me included) go through phases of life when we’re in different places: whether we can kill, how we feel about it, whether we’re willing to let others do all the killing for us, etc.

I know hunters who, prior to becoming hunters, spent a lot of close, intimate time with wild animals, as trackers, researchers, filmmakers, etc. I also know hunters who are involved in wildlife rehab. My sense is that they have a deeper — and, in some cases, more ambivalent — relationship with the act of killing than most hunters do. They understand that animals are, as you say, complex, emotional, and social creatures. They can’t simply compartmentalize these realities in hunting (and maybe couldn’t in raising animals either).

This gets at the core of the questions I tried to raise in the book. How can I best live with compassion? How can I refrain from detachment/compartmentalization, while knowing the impacts I have (the food I eat, the lumber and firewood and other materials I depend on, the driving I do, etc, etc) on animals, trees, habitats, ecosystems, etc?

Hunting has not answered that question for me, but it has helped delve into it more deeply.

Kim Graves March 14, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Tovar,

Whitetail have almost joined the domesticated animal population. There are so many of them and people in my neck of the woods hunt coyote so there will be more. The dear live on farmers crops and the day lilly in our yard. In many ways they are no longer wild. Not many hunters I know go back into the wilds of the mountains to hunt. It’s too hard to carry out a kill. They hunt by the “side of the road.” It’s a strange relationship.

Kim

Tovar March 16, 2012 at 7:56 pm

That is a strange relationship, Kim. I’ve never lived around semi-tame deer or hunted along roadsides, but I know these things happen in places.

Brickman March 16, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Its not legal anymore but I definitely remember people hunting along roadsides back home, but it wasn’t still hunting, they were waiting on dogs to drive the deer to them.

Passinthru Outdoors March 14, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Excellent post and comments. I have never farmed or raised animals myself for food and I’m not sure how I would feel. Would it be different? I’m not sure. Just as farming is a way of life, hunting is for many of us who have never farmed. The goal is to put meat on the table. Does it make killing any easier? Maybe. I am one who will stand over a deer with a large smile on my face all while saying thank you to the animal for giving his life to feed me and my family. I tell people I don’t hunt just to kill, but kill so I can hunt. To me there is a difference, to many I am sure there is none.

Tovar March 16, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Thanks, Passinthru.

Laura M. March 14, 2012 at 2:54 pm

I really like your comment, Kim Graves. Makes lots of sense.

I thought of this article while reading the comments and such. To me, it illustrates the strange and rather twisted ways that people make killing meat for food “ok” in their minds. The title of the article from BigThink.com is We’re Ethically Bound To Eat Braindead, Legless Chickens. http://bigthink.com/ideas/were-ethically-bound-to-eat-braindead-legless-chickens

Tovar March 16, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Thanks for the link, Laura. Strange, indeed. We have gotten so far from anything resembling nature and have dragged other creatures (including chickens) along with us. I find it really grotesque.

Brickman March 16, 2012 at 10:54 am

This last season we put up a game cam to see what was coming onto our hunting parcel. After the initial excitement of seeing deer interaction, especially a 6-point putting a spike in his place, I stopped looking at the pics because it became, well, very creepy to me. I definitely felt like I was getting to know my food too well. Unfortunately we didn’t get any of those deer, so I never had to deal with the temptation of matching pics to an actual dead animal.

When I was young on a few occasions we raised pigs up to a good size then made proper South Carolina BBQs out of them. I was the one in charge of feeding them and I remember a lot of mixed emotions around it. On the one hand I remember the last one being extremely annoying to deal with, loud and demanding, and to an extent I was glad to take him to the butchers, but I definitely had sadness and regret at the situation. Of course, I was only 11 or 12 at the time.

I’ve wanted to get a few “backyard chickens” because I’ve always liked them, but I know full well that three chickens in a pen in the yard would quickly become pets and not meat animals. At least there would be “hen fruit” in that case though.

Anyway, I’m hopefully killing some stranger turkeys two weeks from now, somehow I doubt they will quite raise the same emotions that a deer does but I’m sure it will be a mixed experience like always.

Tovar March 16, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Interesting, Brickman. The potential for that kind of effect from using a trail/game cam hadn’t occurred to me…

Brickman March 16, 2012 at 9:43 pm

It was unexpected for me too, especially the spike. As a meat hunter, if I saw a random healthy looking spike I would certainly consider taking it, but after seeing dozens of pics of this particular one I started to feel very weird about it. It was certainly a case of empathy, I actually hope he made it though the season but it may not be likely, its a well-hunted area.

Erik Jensen March 18, 2012 at 8:40 am

Two thoughts

One …Kids have a way of clarifying things for you…

I have never raised animals, but one of our close family friends had some cows for awhile, and my wife and kids go to her farm and cabin (they are a few hundred yards from each other) to have family friendly outdoors time. Of course, it includes some hunting and shooting, now horse riding, fishing, and swimming when it’s warm enough. Also, it includes feeding farm animals. Theresa and Natalie loved feeding “Buddy”, a steer who became ornery, so we came to the farm once and our friend served us steak from him. Later, Theresa and Natalie both said later, very plainly, “I’m sad they had to kill Buddy, but he sure tasted good”. Obviously, there may be something going on with their upbringing, they have been surrounded by hunting propaganda since they were born and have helped me butcher deer and love eating it. But still, kids have a way of stating things very directly, with a certain resilience, that adults often avoid.

Secondly, I often feel torn between anger at a certain part of the hunting community that denies or doesn’t address the sentience of esp certain “higher” animals, even if these animals often have to be killed. For example, there are elephants in Africa that eat a lot of crops of poor villagers, and they are usually hunted for the thrill by rich first world residents, and then the elephant meat is eaten by the villagers. It’s colonialism as well, I would rather that the poor Africans had enough of their own resources to at least collectively own a powerful enough weapon to kill the elephant themselves. On the other side… there’s what I feel or perceive is a lot sentimentality that starts to invade these discussions. I’m not sure what that irritation comes from, but I’m pretty sure it was my upbringing, and my dad’s objection to it as unscientific, anti-intellectual, an inability to see the reality of things. My dad is a non-hunter who eats meat without hesitation and supports animal welfare laws, but opposes animal rights. He once told me as a child, without sadness or much emotion, “if a person could see everything they have eaten in their life, it would be a field of carcasses in front of them”.

Hence, usually, I’m usually with Somsai when I kill an animal, I am very happy and feel no sadness at all, although I do thank the animal for its life. I will say, a couple of deer’s deaths haunt me a little, but, still, no sadness. One particular buck I killed had a very quick death, but it was very dramatic, so I remember it more clearly than others…

somsai March 18, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Saturday we got five chicks, the first I’ve ever had, but my wife grew up where everyone has chickens, pigs, and ducks. As we were bringing them home my wife mentioned that when we found out which one’s were roosters we’d have to kill them as we are already stretching the bounds of the possible, (our town still has laws against poultry). My two kids 9 and especially my 6 year old girl were fascinated by the little peeping chicks, but were unaffected by the thought of having to eat one soon. Kids don’t know how they are “supposed” to feel, they just do, or don’t. They know the chickens are for eggs, and when the hens are too old they too will be chicken meat.

Off topic but about the African animals of Erics comment. I too am uneasy with the idea of foreign hunters providing the dollars that give the game worth. I’d wish that local hunters could apply for and get the licenses to hunt at a price they can afford. I don’t know much about many species but elephants are for sure complex social animals, none really domesticated only captured from the wild. In Asia they’re poached with the lowly hard jacketed military round from an AK the only center fire available.

Tovar March 18, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Thanks very much for the thoughts above, Erik and Somsai. About elephants, I share the unease you each express: no doubt in mind that they are “sentient” as I use the word, to indicate awareness, feeling, and intelligence, and are also highly social animals. I cannot imagine killing one, unless I was defending myself or my family/community.

Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife March 19, 2012 at 9:19 am

Late again, but with two thoughts.

First, I just saw Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, about the cave with the oldest paintings in the world. What our ancestors painted in France 32,000 years ago were animals; some prey, but a lot of predators as well. Big predators; as in very big. Undoubtedly those people were hunters, since they lived long before agriculture was invented. And at that time, humans were at least potentially prey for some of those large predators. I can’t help but think that that reality must have seriously affected the way that humans at that time thought about hunting. Animals do it to humans, and humans in turn do it to animals. Ultimately we wiped out the megafauna of Europe – prey and predators alike. But at that time, it can’t have been a settled thing as to human superiority over animalkind. Those people undoubtedly knew their prey far more intimately than hunters do today. As the cave art indicates, they had no television to distract them from their immediate environment and the important elements in that environment. Animals were what held their attention, because their very existence depended on an intimate knowledge of those creatures. By comparison, hunting today is largely hobby-level. It seems relevant to me to take those realities into account when thinking about the place of hunting in our evolutionary history.

Second, I raise animals for meat and eggs, and slaughter all of them myself when the time comes. I understand the distinction you’re trying to draw, but these animals are not my friends. My pet cat is a friend. There’s a world of difference, for me, emotionally, between the two. I believe I care for our livestock conscientiously and do all I can to ensure them a good life followed by a quick and respectful death. But I keep my distance emotionally and find it very easy to do so. The poultry we keep are definitely not wild, but neither are they tame enough to be comfortable with direct handling. There’s a difference between domesticated and tame. For me, domesticated animals don’t automatically become friends.

Tovar March 19, 2012 at 6:08 pm

I was struck by some of the same things when I saw “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” Kate. Though I have no serious first-hand experience of feeling like prey, I raise that very question at one point in the book: Is that — being both prey and predator — what the human experience has mainly been?

I understand the distinction you, Kim, and most others among us draw between pets/companions and food animals. I guess it might have been more technically accurate (if less interesting or poetic) to title this post “Eating strangers, Eating acquaintances.” On the other hand, some people have a hard time keeping that emotional distance; for them, “friends” might fit.

Kevan April 26, 2012 at 12:27 am

Hmmmmm….imagine that you love deeply that which you kill to sustain you. Before anyone misunderstands me, I am not saying we gull some creature into sitting in our lap for a few years and then one fine day, we chop its head off. What I am saying is that what feeds us, we must love with all our hearts. I feel great emotion when I take a life—-even ending the life of plants I grow causes me to reflect on these lives I have taken to continue my own. When my wife and I give thanks for food, when we pray before a meal, we say “We give thanks to the animals and plants who have died that we may eat and live…” I want all beings to know that I love them. When I see all these livings things around me, I can feel this love, knowing that I, too, am a part of them.

People may say they love the planet. And they should, for this is our home, this is our Mother. This also means we love the beings we eat. People feel great emotion welling up in their hearts when they consider a hero who died to save lives. Are the deaths of beings we eat not similar? They die that we may eat and therefore live. Loving them does not mean a relationship in the same manner as a pet. It means that we recognize this solemn act of something that has died for us, something that we will take into our body and, thus it will become a part of us and therefore give us life. Consider this for a moment in the context of Communion.

If we are a part of the natural world, the deer is not a stranger to us but a part of us. We are but pieces of this great living being we call the Earth which is but a piece in this living being we call the universe. To a skin cell on our toe, our body is a world. It is in this fashion we exist in the universe. The skin cell does not know itself to be different from a blood cell. Neither may exist alone nor come into existance of its own accord.

Blessings,
Kevan

Tovar May 2, 2012 at 8:14 pm

Thanks for your words here, too, Kevan. Nicely said.

In the flurry on the other post, I lost track of the fact that this comment of yours was over here. :-)

Ainslie Ireland May 2, 2012 at 10:50 am

I really enjoyed reading this post and I totally appreciate your awareness and thoughts on this subject. Thank you :) It’s important that this stuff gets talked about. I really hear what you are saying, I too am very mindful in how I approach my life and I have much gratitude to you for deepening my awareness. Blessings.

Tovar May 2, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Thanks for your kind words, Ainslie. I’m glad mine spoke to you.

Comments on this entry are closed.