I don’t know whether I’m naïve or too good at surrounding myself with people who think like me, but ever since my husband and I moved to our historic Appalachian homestead last August, strongly negative responses to my back-to-nature lifestyle have caught me completely by surprise. One topic that has recently raised particular contempt for me online has been my decision to raise meat rabbits.
When we first got our rabbits a few weeks ago, I giddily wrote a quick Facebook post and shared it in a few homesteading/simple living groups. The response back to me was very tepid. This was right around the time Facebook introduced the “emotional spectrum of likes”, and suffice it to say my status got a lot of the faces filled with tears and boiling rage.
I even got caught in an angry twitter conversation after posting the seemingly innocent tweet “the Knob house now has meat rabbits!” A realtor in Florida took great offence and made her judgement of me known.
“Shame on you for killing these beautiful soft souls…robbing animals who trust 'n love you of years of life so u can have a meal or two is twisted thinking n horribly wrong! Wake up… One day u will b dismayed by what u did.”
Funny thing is, I posted a nearly identical posts a few months ago when we first got chickens. I even made it clear that they were livestock, not pets, and that I fully intend to eat most of them someday. But I didn’t get a single negative response. Strange, because if I had to rank the two species based on criteria like general likability, enjoyment provided to the owner, and depth of individuality, chickens would beat rabbits in every category. My laying ladies have far more personality than the skittish bunnies that burrow themselves deep in their boxes when I come too close. I feed them both a very similar amount and type of food, and they even live in the same space (the chicken coop). Why people have had such different responses to my bunnies than my birds is beyond me. I’d chalk it up to the “mammal effect”, except I have a strong feeling a lot of my critics wouldn’t think twice about digging into a juicy steak or a side of bacon.
The ultimate irony is how guilty of rabbit slaughter the typical vegetarian diet actually is. Though it’s almost impossible to collect exact data, many scientists estimate that millions of rabbits and other small rodents are killed every year by the plows that rip through the soybean, corn and wheat fields non-meat eaters are so dependent on. And a lot of these deaths are of babies and mothers in their underground nests.
Given this reality, is it so terrible to provide a few rabbits with a pleasant, food-rich life for several months before respectfully butchering them? Sounds more humane than death by plow to me.
I believe that locally sourced, sustainably raised meat can constitute one part of a healthy, ecologically conscious diet. For me, this means taking steps to raise some of this meat myself. I can control exactly what my rabbits eat, and so gain more control over what goes into my body. I can put their excrement into the garden, use it to grow more robust vegetables, and feed any excess produce right back to them. Raising and butchering my own meat is one essential link in my system of achieving greater sustainability, and no naysayer is going to temper my enthusiasm.
But maybe I won’t invite them over for dinner.
Lydia Noyes is serving as an Americorps volunteer with her husband in West Virginia at the Big Laurel Learning Center. There, they live with two nuns and help to run a sustainable homestead mountain-ridge retreat and ecology center that resides on a 500-acre land trust. You can find her at her personal blog and Instagram. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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