Home » farmed animals » Page 2

Tag: farmed animals

Moose at the threshold

Photo by Mike Lockhart/US Fish & Wildlife Service

The moose steak sat on the kitchen counter in a steel bowl, thawing.

Having just completed the state hunter education course, I was contemplating the prospect of going after meat on the hoof. Though I didn’t have any plans to hunt until the following year, I did have a question to answer: How would it feel to cook and eat the flesh of a wild mammal?

Two years earlier, for health reasons, Cath and I had given up veganism. We had started eating chicken and fish, foods that seemed strange after so many years.

Eating them was, for me, unsettling. It was also grounding, bringing with it an unexpected sense of embodiment, of fully inhabiting the world, of coming to terms with the inevitable impacts of living.

Handling the flesh of birds and fish, I was quite aware of their origins as living beings. Some of the chickens were ones I had seen pecking away in a friend’s grassy yard. Some of the fish were ones I had caught and killed. Yet, once they had been reduced to food, I didn’t dwell on them as individual creatures.

Moose was different.

The steak was a gift from a local hunter. Under my hand, the cool, firm muscle felt strange as I sliced. Lightly sautéed and served with a stroganoff-style sauce, it tasted even more alien than chicken and fish had.

With a piece of moose between my teeth, the huge, dark animal stood there, vivid in my imagination. Perhaps my awareness of the individual creature stemmed from his sheer size. Perhaps it stemmed from my categorization of moose as part of the local landscape, but—unlike cows or pigs—not part of the modern American diet. Perhaps it stemmed from the simple redness of the meat; Cath and I had not been cooking and eating the flesh of fellow mammals.

With the moose in mind, I took his body into mine uneasily.

Yet, by the time I sat down to the leftovers a night or two later, the texture and flavor seemed more familiar, the idea more palatable.

Eating this creature, whose individuality I pictured, was more potent than eating chickens, whom I imagined less specifically. I was in nutritional relationship not just with mammals in general, but with this one in particular. I felt the gap between me and my food closing even more.

I was, of course, still one step removed. That winter I bought a deer rifle.

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli

‘I could definitely kill one of those’

The timing was dead-on.

Just as I walked past the table, the woman said, “My rule is, ‘I’ll only eat it if I could kill it.’ And I could definitely kill one of those.”

I left the restaurant chuckling. I was thinking how the line echoed one of my reasons for taking up hunting: to face the killing of the fellow vertebrates I had begun eating after a decade of abstention. There would, I felt, be a lesson in that confrontation.

But the line also reminded me how complex our eating is.

As a vegan, my rule had been like hers. I was unwilling to kill animals or keep them penned up—or to have someone else do the killing or penning for me—so I didn’t eat their flesh or even their eggs or milk. I was okay with the killing of vegetables, grains, and legumes. Whether I grew it myself or bought it, the question seemed simple: Was I willing to behead broccoli?

Eventually, though, I came to the uncomfortable realization that harvesting individual plants was not all it took to put vegetarian meals on my plate.

  • Was I willing to remove wild plants (trees, grasses, and wildflowers) from a given area, to make room for domesticated plants? Was I willing to evict the wild mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians who lived there?
  • Was I willing to keep marauding insects and herbivores at bay? If deterrents and repellents didn’t work—if fences were breached or unaffordable—was I willing to kill beetles, woodchucks, and deer so I could eat?
  • If not, was I willing to do all of the above by proxy, knowing someone else had done it for me?

Faced with these questions, I had to (A) stop eating, (B) stick my head back in the sand, or (C) make peace with a far more complex picture of what it meant to be alive. I opted for C.

Yet I do still find value in posing the woman’s simpler question, especially when I’m about to eat flesh: Could I kill one of those?

And I still find myself wishing I had seen what was on her plate.

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli

Meat in the city

When I lived in Brooklyn in the early 1990s, I wouldn’t have gone hunting. For one thing, I found the idea of killing animals reprehensible.

For another, I would have attracted police attention if I’d hiked over to Prospect Park toting a squirrel rifle. Not that firearms were taboo in the neighborhood where I had an apartment. I suspect that Tony, Paulie, and Vito were all packing heat. But I digress.

Photo credit: urban75.com

In response to my post of January 1st, John raised the question of how city-dwellers can sidestep factory farming and get meat from animals who have lived well, been killed humanely, and had minimal ecological impact. I’m no expert on this, so I hope you’ll help me answer John’s question by adding your thoughts below.

One way is to hunt, only taking shots you feel sure will kill mercifully. Nearly half of American hunters live in urban areas. (They just can’t walk out the front door with rifle or shotgun and head over to the city park.) You may have seen the recent New York Times story about novice urbanite predators taking classes in hunting from folks like Virginian Jack Landers and forming clubs like the San Francisco-based Bull Moose Hunting Society.

Honestly, though, for most of us hunting isn’t a terribly efficient way to get meat. Besides, not every American meat-eater wants to hunt. And it’s a good thing. On average, Americans consume an astonishing 200-plus pounds of meat per year. There are more than 300 million of us. That comes out to 60-plus billion pounds of meat annually. (We could stand to cut this number dramatically, for many reasons. But that’s another topic.)

Our most common big-game animal, the white-tailed deer, numbers 25 million or so. Roughly, that’s what, 1 or 2 billion pounds of venison? Maybe 5 pounds per American? Whitetails would disappear in a hurry if everyone hunted them. Wildlife managers would have to implement dramatic season and license restrictions to protect deer from being pushed to the brink of extinction, as they were by market hunters in the late 1800s.

Another approach, at least as adventurous, is to raise your own animals. More and more city and suburb dwellers are setting up chicken coops in their backyards. For a great account of one such endeavor—one that takes things farther than most folks are apt to—check out Novella Carpenter’s book Farm City. Right now, she’s co-writing a how-to manual. But urban farming isn’t for everyone either.

For those who prefer simply to buy their meat, there are plenty of ways to “redefine the hunt,” as John put it. It shouldn’t take too much hard-core scouting and tracking. Some grocery stores and many food co-ops carry local, sustainably and humanely raised meats. And farmer’s markets are great places to buy direct from people who raise animals. If I lived in the Big Apple today, I’d probably still frequent the market in Union Square, but now I’d buy chicken along with my veggies.

You can also contact nearby farms directly. Many will sell you meat by the piece or pound, or by the “package” or “share” as part of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model. Ask around or check out options through networks like Local Harvest and EatWild.

Come to think of it, these are the same basic options we have in rural areas. They’re also the same options we have for obtaining sustainably-grown vegetables: stalk them in the wild (inefficient for most of us, but rewarding in other ways), grow them ourselves, or buy them from stores and farms.

Do you have other ideas or resources to suggest?

Whatever we eat—meat or veggie—let’s enjoy and celebrate it. Knowing what’s going on in Haiti right now reminds me that it’s a privilege simply to have enough food on our plates and enough time to think about different ways of putting it there.

Oh, and for a laugh, if you haven’t seen The Meatrix, you gotta check it out.

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli

A call for rabbit

The man called about buying some rabbit. My friend Lila—ex-vegetarian and present-day purveyor of fine, homegrown meats—welcomed him to stop by the house late in the day. The rabbit would be cool by then.

“You mean it’s still alive right now?”

It was. And the caller, perhaps suddenly imagining Thumper hopping happily about, decided not to come that day.

“Maybe I’ll just come next week,” he said.

Lila—who, like her husband Dave, needs to know that their animals have lived well and died humanely—realized belatedly that she shouldn’t have given a potential customer quite so many details. But she was amazed, she told me, that “even conscientious meat purchasers need to disconnect from the real fact that meat is animal.”

To his credit, the man had gone to the trouble of finding a source of local, healthy, humanely-raised meat. But he balked, his conscience uneasy. Was he deterred by recognizing that “meat is animal”? Was he deterred by “the reality of individual death,” as Holly Heyser put it in her recent blog post? Quite possibly.

But there may, I imagine, have been another factor, too.

When I departed from the path of vegetarianism, I had to confront more than the recently-living individual-birdness of the chicken legs I was suddenly barbequing. I also had to confront why the bird had died. It had died for me.

That’s not how we usually think of it, of course. Buying meat in the store lets us tell ourselves a little story: It’s already dead. I didn’t cause its death.

But whether we acknowledge it or not—whether we buy meat in a store, get it from a farm, or kill it ourselves—the animal is killed for whoever eats it. In a sense, it is killed by whoever eats it. Maybe, in that brief conversation with Lila, the fellow realized that his phone call was about to trigger a rabbit’s death, as surely as if he had picked up the animal and done the deed himself.

That’s one reason I took up hunting. When I look down a rifle barrel—sights aligned with the head of a snowshoe hare or the heart of a white-tailed deer—I’m brought face to face with more than the exquisite living, breathing creature. I’m brought face to face with myself: the one who chooses to take its life.

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli

This meat or that?

“Is this venison?”

Our friend had just spooned several meatballs onto his plate. I replied that yes, indeed, it was. Sensing an edge to the question, I decided not to elaborate on how I’d shot the five-point buck within a half-mile of the house that November.

I don’t mind,” he said and nodded toward his wife, to whom he was about to pass the serving bowl. She did mind.

She didn’t comment. She just passed on the meatballs. And she is no vegetarian. I didn’t inquire into her reasons, but the moment got me thinking.

I know a lot of meat-eaters who won’t eat wild game. Maybe they don’t like the flavor (or think they don’t). Maybe they don’t like the idea of eating a species for which they have a particular Disneyfied fondness—deer, say. Maybe they believe industrial beef is safer or healthier than meat processed in a hunter’s kitchen. Or maybe they just don’t like hunting.

But here’s the thing. I know other people—some of them near-vegetarians—who won’t eat any meat except wild game. Or who will only eat meat—wild or domestic—if they know how the animal lived and died.

I find the contrast intriguing.

Personally, I prefer to know the origins of my meat. I hunt, aiming to kill with swift mercy. When the gods of the hunt smile on me and a deer comes my way, I’m always shocked by the immediacy of the encounter with the death that sustains life.

And Cath and I buy locally-raised chickens, some of them raised by fellow ex-vegetarians. We don’t buy meat from who-knows-where.

If you’re an omnivore, do you like to know as much as possible about your meat, even to the point of knowing what the animal’s face looked like? Or would you rather it be anonymously churned out by the Big Meat Factory in the Sky? Do you care about the dignity of the animal’s life and death, its ecological footprint, or the attitude of the person who raised or hunted it?

If you’re a vegetarian, do certain kinds of meat seem more acceptable to you than others?

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli