Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I recently saw a sticker posted on a stop sign with the words “eating meat.” I wanted to add, “factory farmed,” to it. That would at least make it more truthful to me. The past few years have been a journey on making the transition to eating farm to table, of attempting to comprehend the ins and outs of our food system. I have reached the conclusion that eating meat isn’t necessarily bad. It is the unethical practices and quantity consumed that should be drastically changed. Often as it goes, theory to application is not instantaneous, but a process. When I reached the point of declarative change, I needed a place to begin that wasn’t cold turkey.
Raising Your Own Meat: Where to Begin
My starting point was purchasing organic meat from the grocery store even though the cost wasn’t affordable. Sometimes less is more, and in this case, the sacrifice for less meat was worth the cost. Shortly after, I discovered a cheaper alternative with Zaycon Foods. Zaycon is a privately owned meat distributing company based out of Spokane, Washington, which is 4 hours from where I live. Their focus is to provide meat without added hormones, additives, or artificial ingredients directly to consumers, fresh from the farm or processor. Zaycon hosts events in different locations throughout the state, highlighting certain products, such as chicken, pork, beef, or fish in 40-lb cases. Customers buy in advance, and then meet a delivery truck at a specific time, date, and location. This seemed to be a sustainable model, and was a good solution for a while. The price was a bargain, the direct delivery and freshness ensured quality, but I started wondering where the meat was actually coming from—more specifically, which local farms were being used. Looking into it, I found that Zaycon uses the best of the larger farms, and takes precaution with ethical practices, but is unable to support smaller or organic farms due to growing demands. Warning—the rabbit hole gets deep on these issues. Be careful what you look for. Although Zaycon had become a better solution, it still didn’t seem to be the best.
A Better Solution
In June 2013, I had the incredible opportunity to watch Joel Salatin and David Schafer demonstrate how to process poultry at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Puyallup, Wash. Watching the sacrifice from life to death was a humbling experience. At that moment, I more clearly understood the cost of eating meat, the exchange of life to fuel mine. Internally I changed. Even though not all decisions after that point fully reflected those deep convictions, I could no longer be ignorant to the true cost.
The goal transitioned to hunting, fishing, or raising our own meat. Hunting didn’t pan out and fishing was only marginally successful. The last step was a journey in raising our own meat. In May we bought four bummer wethers.
Translation: we got four neutered male lambs (wethers) that needed to be bottle fed (bummers) three times a day for a month, a truly hands on project. All the stereotypical lamb traits are unfortunately true—precious, cuddly, innocent, playful. Attachment happened almost immediately. Fortunately the four little cotton balls transitioned to awkward teenagers with annoying qualities. They routinely jumped on me when feeding them, they ate my strawberry plants, annihilated my flower garden, nibbled on my antique wicker chairs, and did not adhere to the leave no trace ethic, especially on my porch. The endearing critters had shifted from pet to barnyard animal, so I wanted to think.
Challenges of Raising Your Own Livestock for Meat
The problem with a herd of four sheep is that each has a distinctive personality. You know them; they have been part of your life. When November arrived, we were not keen on scheduling butcher day. Little pasture remained in our field; ironically it became the humane act to do. Knives were sharpened and hearts hardened on that day. The chicken demonstration was a mere introduction to what we were about to experience, taking the life of something that you have poured love, life, time, and energy into. There was no going back, only moving forward. I stroked each one, thanking them for their lives and asking forgiveness for taking it. Stomach knotted and eyes overflowing with tears, I walked away as my husband prepared for the final act.
I can truly say that this experience has challenged my perspectives. Taking life is cruel, even when done compassionately. Meat has a price that I must be willing to pay. By connecting so intricately with our food, I am deeply moved to make better decisions as I move forward in this passage from farm to table.
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