Tuesday, March 25, 2014


As we walk up, it is by the bushes. A deer forages in our friends’ front yard. I look at its impossibly slender legs, twigs really. Imagine the fast twitch muscle fibers that enable it to dart away, only it doesn’t. It stays. Any of us could easily touch it. It does not know to fear us, unwittingly vulnerable now. A wild animal someone has tamed. 

Earlier in the day I had eaten venison sausage given by a friend who hunts. Now I try to imagine myself shooting this deer, grazing arm’s length away; slicing it from sternum to anus for field dressing. Imagine turning it, somehow, into various cuts of meat to seal in plastic or wrap in butcher paper and stack in the freezer. I try to imagine turning this deer into venison.

When I eat meat nowadays, I think of this. Could I produce, on my own, the half dozen Buffalo wings ordered at dinner? Could I kill the chickens? Plunk their bodies in boiling water then yank out slippery feathers? If I recoil at butchering and dressing my own chicken, what right then do I have to eat it?  

Lines from Pablo Neruda come to mind:

Like explorers in the jungle
who hand over the very rare green deer
to the spit and eat it with remorse

I linger on this word, remorse. It implies understanding the true heft of my choices, recognition of the sacrifice necessary for my sustenance. Most of all, it evokes relationship.

I work at a high school where students throw away copious amounts of food, feeding the cafeteria trashcans more than themselves. I think about the industrial food systems that provide it, the massive chem-agra corporations that have supplanted real farming. The land, air, soil, animals and workers sacrificed so that food can land on students’ Styrofoam trays (don’t even get me started on that) for 30 seconds before being launched into the trash. And then, to think, we’ll slit yet another cavity in the earth to stuff it in where it will continue to bleed noxious gases. 

Would they be so wasteful if they knew the journey of their food or if they had to produce it themselves? Indeed, would any of us be so wasteful? Yearly, Americans discard nearly half of the food we buy. But if we knew the details of how food appears in grocery stores or in restaurants would we be so cavalier?

The documentary, Food, Inc, asserts the food industry deliberately puts a veil between itself and consumers and instead offers a myth: food should be cheap, plentiful and available at all times regardless of season. Our health and the planet’s health crumble under the weight of such an immense lie.

I don’t just mean physical health.

We are wired for relationship. Have we forgotten? Daily, things die for our sustenance. To eat unaware of this fact is desecration. There is no honor in this madness we call progress.

But we take our place at the conveyer belt of consumption, which starts with extraction and leads to disposal. Yes, if I kill and eat the deer in front of me, I am participating in extraction, consumption and disposal.

I can do so mindfully. I understand the death of this being nourishes my family, its carcass feeds other beings and once upon a time a people knew to use the pelt, bladder, hooves, bones, all of it, so remorse at killing is transformed into honoring the dead because nothing is wasted.

This is truly saying grace.

Someone has now picked up a tuft of grass and is tentatively edging it close to the deer’s mouth; recreating, I suppose, something she’d done at the zoo with food pellets. I have a vague notion this somehow endangers the deer more than the human.

The very rare green deer. Have we forgotten? They are everywhere.

Friday, March 7, 2014

a little more poop

Realizing ducks have personalities has me unsettled.

For years my vegan friend has told me animals are sentient beings whose lives have their own trajectories like humans. But Oklahoma Joe’s barbeque has distracted me from pondering this for myself. Now that I’m getting to know a brace of ducks I’m troubled thinking these birds my neighbor has named, based on personality, have tasty flesh I may someday eat.

It’s not a huge stretch then to consider eggs a bit differently also. They are potential ducks, after all, whose lives were aborted for my ingestion.

What about other animals we’ve designated as edible? What about cows, pigs, chickens? Surely they’ve personalities as well. And why does a being have to demonstrate personality in order for me not to toss it on the grill or squirt mustard on it?

It seems we humans are pretty arbitrary with which creatures we’ll eat versus ones we’ll treat as family. When cat Felix dies we have a memorial service but when duck Felix dies we google recipes. How do we make that distinction?

I suspect some emotional and mental gymnastics allow us to be selective flesh eaters.

We buy flesh in parts or cooked already, often without organs or bones so it least resembles the furry, feathered, oinking being it once was. Advertising sensualizes the meat we eat hiding the process by which we get it. Unless we work in a CAFO, the slaughter of animals happens far away. We therefore are never exposed to the sound, smell, sight of our pastrami’s death. In fact, it is becoming increasingly harder to access information about this process. What we eat doesn’t look like anything that nurses its young or feels pain.

Like us.

This awareness unsettles me more deeply than the pleasure of good barbeque.