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

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©Katherine Dunn.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Clearly thankful

When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself.
Tecumseh, Native American

I have written about the day of slaughter before , and this year I will not write about any internal personal conflict I have with killing an animal to eat it. Let me be clear - it's a process to get to this stage of thinking when raising animals for food. Secondly, you have to walk in it for a time to really understand it well. And I just don't want to keep writing about it every year, as I've worked through it. Four years ago, I wasn't sure it did make sense. But now I know, for me, it just doesn't make sense not to raise our own meat. We buy our chicken and turkey from a free range grower, and only a few times a year buy pork. And while we eat vegetarian about 75% of the time, our particular bodies desire meat, and love it.

I have lived on the farm now 4 years and this is our third year of harvesting lamb. We have a local butcher come to our farm and do the actual slaughter. It is fast, humane and professional. The initial conflicts of my first two years have subsided. This is due to the fact that the more I live on the earth, the more I see animals interact in the barnyard and in the fields and forests and streams, and the more I understand and accept my place in the food chain. As a friend said, "Some creature's always eating something." Please don't write and scold me, telling me to become a vegetarian. I did that for some years, and I have nothing against you if you choose not to eat meat. After much thought over the years, I came to realize that if one is going to scold a human for killing a sheep for meat, they better start scolding the bird for eating the worm. Who is anyone to tell me that I am not in a food chain, albeit, I'm at the top of the food chain. I'm grateful for that. But after many years of my own individual experiences, I choose to eat meat, as does Martyn [who was also a vegetarian for many years.] But it is meat that is fed from the grasses we maintain, and the grasses are fed by the rain that fills our river. And the water from that river gives moisture to the sheep while they spend a days work eating the grass to fill their bellies. It is only fitting, and right, that they die here too, under our supervision and blessing.

I used to put the meat lambs away the night before slaughter and pretend it was like any other night. I'd say, "See you tomorrow" in a cheery tone like I do every night, hoping they would feel as if all was well, as it is every night. But that was really for me. They really didn't know what was coming the next day, but I did. But this year, I have turned some kind of corner. This season, every night I put the meat lambs, or "chosen ones" as we call them, into their night time stall, I said to them, "Good work today, thank you." I said that each nite. And tonight, on their last night, I will simply say, "Your job is almost done now, and you did everything very well. Thank you. You'll do just fine tomorrow." And they will. When the butcher leaves with the hanging carcases, he will give us the kidneys, liver and hearts of each animal. It's the clearest looking liver you'll ever see. I'll cook it in some garlic and onions and rosemary for dinner. Let me tell you, it is a very reverential moment for me.


Juli said...

How interesting to read this post as I'm reading a book by Catherine Friend called Hit By A Farm. I read a paragraph to my husband about her change of emotion regarding the processing of her lambs. She understands and grasps GRATITUDE. It's a wonderful book about a new farmer/shepherd.

Cathy said...

Juli, I loved that book! And yes, her feelings about raising her own meat reminded me of Katherine's.

Few of us have the opportunity to be so directly connected to the food we eat. Thank you for sharing your journey and your thoughts, dear friend.

Anonymous said...

As a vegetarian for more than ten years, my views on vegetarianism and meat-eating have progressed quite a bit. I think the main problem with meat today is the cruelty the animals suffer through slaughterhouses and poor living conditions, as well as the hormones and chemicals they give to the animals for a better profit which is harmful for meat consumers, the animals and probably the environment as well.

I myself have no problem with people raising animals free-range on a farm to eat later - I think that's the way the meat industry SHOULD be, need there be one, because you're right about the food chain.

Many people have given me shit for my vegetarian lifestyle, and I don't think it's fair of them to judge me for what I don't eat just as vegetarians shouldn't judge you for what you do eat. What a person consumes is that person's business only. It's a personal choice! I think people in the world are just too busy thinking about how it's their way or the high way.

vulturewoman said...

I agree with your attitude - my problem with eating meat is the horrible life most animals lead up to the time they are slaughtered. Life on a good farm is close to heaven! You may have already mentioned this book (I'm new to your blog), but have you read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable, Mineral? It's very good and addresses that very issue. And - Love the photos of all the animals. THANKS!

Anonymous said...

what a beautiful, poignant post. thank you for sharing...

Mare said...

Katherine, you are a good and loving caretaker....and the animals are blessed to be there on your farm.

Dan Dutton said...

We're all food for someone - if we're lucky.

Growing up on an old-fashioned farm (where the animals ate before we did) - it is shocking and depressing to see what "agribusiness" does - out of sight/out of mind. The gigantic fields of wheat and corn, etc. kill as many, or more creatures as the feedlots and prisonhouses do - so unless you grow everything you eat yourself, or know the ways of those who do, you're hardly off the hook.
I feel bad about it. But I console myself that at least I feel.

Whenever something dies, plant or animal, so that I can live, I feel gratitude & remember that my turn is coming... and that makes me glad to participate.

Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm said...

Eating and how you eat is a personal responsibility. I get very cranky when I hear the working mom/dad/person say it's too time consuming to buy local or to buy 'consciously'. My answer to them would be, if we could have a civil conversation, yes, it takes time to find te sources of farmers growing in your area. Yes, it takes some time to set up your own system of buying/growing food that works for your household. It won't happen overnite. We're still working on it and we've lived on a farm 4 years. People can spend lots of time at the gym, or online chatting, or communiting, or programming Tivo, but they can't go to localharvest.org and see if there are foods they can start buying more consciously.

Not everyone can grow their own food. But if more people became 'responsible' eaters, over time, the distribution systems would change. And if more people demanded a 'humanely harvested' label [which I thin has begun in some places?] it would happen. I once read that if a grocery store manager got 3 complaints about one subject, it's enough to instigate policy change at that store. I'm one of those squeeky wheels. There are a lot of people that sit around waiting for the squeeky wheels to squeek. So, we need more squeeky wheels.

Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm said...

I did read Catherine Friends book. It's very fun and funny! I laughed out loud so many times. And I related to so many things - like how she tries to create space for her writing area on the farm.

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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 ~