Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

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©Katherine Dunn.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The quest continues

I wrote last year about my conflict of raising animals for meat. My quest for comfort is still unresolved, but it has been softened - not because I am any less feeling, but because I am even more aware of the importance of respecting livestock and those small farmers that are doing their best to provide food for themselves and others. Please do not write me and suggest my angst would be gone if I just became a vegetarian. Hogwash. Animal by products are everywhere, and simply ruling out meat is not as simple a solution as one might think. Nor is it my choice. While I applaud vegetarians that don't eat meat because they love animals, I have thought about this over and over and over. While some are quick to say things like, 'But you love animals, it is immersed in your art and life, how can you kill them...", I would respond, "Please come walk in my shoes, live on this farm, watch the interactions and the pecking orders of nature, and you will see that I am part of a food chain begun a universe ago. " My goal as a small farmer and human is to respect the food chain, but never act the pompous king simply because, at this moment in history, I am more or less at the top of the chain.

And so, here we are again, with the impending 'harvest' of the meat lambs on my conscious. On Saturday, the mobile butcher will arrive at the farm, and within seconds, the 4 animals I have cared for will be butchered, shot in the head - quickly. I am writing that bluntly, because I think people need to hear it. I will go through the usual blessing the night before, placing lavender on their nighttime stall, and thanking each one individually. I soften my conscious by referring to this as 'harvesting', as if killing a 5 month old lamb is the same as pulling a zucchini off the vine. Yet, in a big picture, I feel it is.

Many will scoff at me - but I watch the feral cats survive on a baby bird, rodents - am I to judge them? I watch a hen snatch a moth - am I to judge her? Am I to separate out the living beings of the many grass blades that my horse eats as unworthy of my angst? No - so if I am to rule out meat or poultry or fish, so should I rule out all living creatures including vegetables, fruits and eggs.

I am proud of our efforts here. It is very small scale. While the final days leading up to the butcher date are uncomfortable for me, it is what I choose to do - to raise a small amount of meat that has no foreign food in it, doesn't get hauled in from New Zealand or even out of state. The only energy I'm using is the air and the sun, and the 6 miles of gas the butcher uses to come to our farm and electricity of small amounts to freeze it. We have become more sustainable than last year, and this year we have more goals - it is an ongoing effort, as it is with many. The night of the harvest, we will eat fresh liver - it is our way of showing the animal that his life was not in vein. I always well up a bit when we eat our first meal of the harvest - not from sadness, but from pride - for both the animal and for the farmer. Chew slowly tonight, and give thanks, no matter if you are eating a tomato or a fillet - they all are bounties of our earth.


Anonymous said...

Beautifully put Katherine. I understand your inner struggle very well and it is something I have thought about many times and which gets closer to the surface of my mind as I will have chickens and then goats in the near future.

We are what we are and we have been this way for millions of years, we can't change our nature. Everything survives through the death of something else, but you know that so I won't preach to the choir. I think what you do in preparation and also as a show of respect for the animals who give their lives for you is touching and very reverent...it's the way it should be. 99% of the food animals in the US have a nightmarish life and a cruel, disrespectful, unappreciated, undignified death. The easier road is to stick our heads in the sand and not think about the agony and abuse these animals undergo every minute of the day, just buy the meat and eat it in blissful ignorance. It takes a special kind of person these days who is willing to get their own hands dirty and take responsibility for the animals they eat.

Sorry to ramble on, I was just reading (Barbara Kingsolver's book) and thinking about this very thing last night and so it touched a nerve for me.

Anonymous said...

This must be a hard time for you - but I agree: we're omnivores through and through. I'm very much drawn to Buddhism, and yet it somehow it seems wrong to go against nature, to not eat meat. I've thought about going vegetarian many times - just doesn't feel right.
Anyway, that doesn't make killing lambs any easier.
Keep up your good work - both the painting and the respectful raising of plants and animals (I have a hard time cutting a beautiful and vibrant salad almost as much as 'sacrificing' (as the French say...) a chicken.
I look forward to seeing more about your children's book project - your style would be very well suited to picture books. And yes, you have a way with words. Have you explored SCBWI? They have lots of information about writing and illustrating for children. Good luck,

me-nikk said...

How hard and beautiful! And you are absolutely right; no one walks in your shoes but you.

My closest friend grew up on a farn out near you. Her understanding of life and animals was very different than mine at the time. But that was one of the reasons that I loved her so. Because she always brought a new perspective.

A lot of times people make choices thinking theirs are the best without regard to others what-so-ever. I love how you put this one post so point blank. Because it's true also, sometimes that's how it needs to be taken.

Sending love and support to you.

A new reader. :)

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, Katherine! As a fellow animal lover/farmer, I can relate with wrestling with the idea of raising animals for meat. I was vegetarian for about 7 years before Rich and I started our farm, and it was primarily because I didn't want to be part of the corporate mistreatment of animals. I can vividly remember the first time we "harvested" chickens, and the amazing feeling I had on the MAX train to Portland the next day as I carried my chicken lunch to work... I knew that I was probably the only person on the train with that much connection to their lunch, and it was both empowering and humbling. For me, the idea of eating what we raise comes down to respect and connection, and appreciating the cycles of life... respecting the animals (steers, nowadays) to give them a life doing what they love (hanging out on pastures foraging for grass), and connecting with our food in a way that isn't possible for me if I just purchased it at the grocery store. And although I feel some pangs of sadness and remorse while eating steak and picturing Starsky the steer no longer out in our pasture, I do firmly believe that his death so that we can eat (and so that I can produce milk to feed our new baby) is part of the cycle of life. -Val B.

Anonymous said...

I have no need to pass judgement, it is not my place and I can see your dilema, but however elegant and beautifully put your feelings and perspective are spoken, it still sounds like your trying to justify your actions. May you find peace.

Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm said...

I really like and appreciate what Val has written. I think that living on the farm and raising food that sometimes is meat - and we do eat about 50% vegetarian around here- makes one more aware of cycles, and the big picture.It's not that I am 'better now' as a person, I just feel more aware. Wonderfully put, Val, I really understand your thoughts about your chicken lunch!

And thanks to the other comments too - it's a good discussion to have in today's world.

As for the last Anoymous poster, I don't consider mself 'in a dilema'; I write about these things because it is how I process and learn about myself as a human in a world of full of many living beings. Justify my aactions? Yes, I suppose I am - but I have a much clearer and more comfortable sense of my life and eating habits in raising my own meat, rather than going into a grocery store as I used to, no matter how good a store, and buying meat that might and most likely never saw daylight or fresh grass - now eating that meat is what I consider a dilema that most people are in, and by eating it, well, that would certainly be something I would need to somehow justify.

Anonymous said...

Shepardgirl, My comment about your entry sounding like you were trying to justify the killing of lambs for meat, was not ever meant to pass judgement on your life style, it really was just an observation I had while reading it. In addition, I know I am not someone who could do what you do, raise animals for meat, so consequently I do not eat or use products that contain any parts of animals, primarily for the reasons you stated above. And I do not criticize those who do choose to eat meat or use products from animals. But the reality is animals are bred to provide food for people and I am greatful there are folks like yourself that raise and care for animals in a humane and compssionate manner, not just as a commodity to get to market to make money.

faerwear said...

wow, i'm not so sure i could deal with that... to kill a full grown sheep for food makes a lot more sense to me than killing a five month old lamb, but hey... like the others i am glad to know that at least these four had a peaceful (albeit short) life of love and peace and were killed humanely (um - oxymoron or not?)

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Thank you for reading! The farm and my art/writing keep me hopping, so might not respond immediately. Thank you for understanding. ~Katherine & Apifera ~