In a few days we will be sending 6 rabbits and 8 chickens to freezer camp. I say "freezer camp" because it gives the impression of "fun." Because some readers don't like the thought of how my critters go from my yard to my plate. Although I'm not going into details of the actual process, I'm going to talk about the WHY of it today.
"How can you eat something you raised?" It's the question of the hour. Not only has it shown up in blog comments but it's been the topic in conversations with friends. I have tried to steer the chatter to less intense subjects but mentally I'm always answering with a question of my own, "how could you not?" I don't voice the thought out loud for one very simple reason: I used to wonder how someone could do that myself. Although I had eaten deer and rabbit and squirrel, I hadn't been in on the raising of those critters. They weren't "mine." The thought of eating an animal I had fed and cared for was somewhat repulsive. My eyes were firmly squeezed shut. I got to where I am now via a process of awareness. Small steps of realization like filtered light through the cracks in my eyelids brought about the change.
First, we got chickens for eggs. Before that happened I would read the labels on egg cartons and wonder what difference it made. Free range, vegetarian, cage free, brown shell, or white... an egg is an egg, right? But I'm a mom. And one thing moms know is a big player in the health of offspring (the egg) is the health of the mother (hen.) So, were some types of eggs healthier? And if so, how about the chicken that produced it? Was it healthy? Did it suffer? What happened to it when it could no longer lay?
Then there was a recall. I don't remember what it was (hamburger maybe?) but I had to throw it away. What really struck me, though, was the recall notice. It listed so many states that the product had been sent to. So how far away was my meat source? And how much was wasted because of just one, or a few, sick animals? I would drive past a lot full of turkey barns every day and wonder about the lives of the turkeys inside. All I could do was wonder as the barns were closed up and not a single bird was ever allowed outside. This led me on a quest to get information about feed lots. About the time that someone was getting in trouble for trying to make undercover videos in an industrial feed operation, I was looking for answers as to how those animals were raised, slaughtered, and processed. And I was getting all kinds of mixed messages, depending on the source. Who could I trust? Who was telling the truth? One massive recall and my thoughts were sent spinning!
I decided I wanted to take control of the food we ate after the second recall. Enough was enough. But could I raise an animal only for the table? How did people even do that? The thought sent shivers down my spine. Then one day, at the grocery store, I picked up a package of whole chicken and saw it for what it was, a dead animal. And I forced myself to think about what it was before the feathers were plucked and it was shrink wrapped in a plastic bag. I tried to imagine its life...and death. I thought of my own birds at home, snatching bugs in the grass and waking me up at 4 in the morning. And I was horrified. It struck me right there in the grocery store that I was paying money for a life that I hadn't insured was healthy. I trusted someone I couldn't even talk to was feeding and cleaning and caring for my food. The responsibility of that was the game changer. How was buying an animal that someone else raised any more ethical than providing my own for the freezer? Did it make me a better person because I paid for it with money instead of food and shelter? Did the grocery store chicken suffer before it became a product on the shelf?
Gradually we have learned to raise chickens, turkeys, ducks, rabbits, and goats for eggs, milk and meat. We've studied and learned how to dispatch animals quickly and humanely. We've learned to APPRECIATE the life (and all that went into it) that provides our sustenance. We haven't reached the point where all of our food is home grown, we probably never will. But we are doing the best we can to keep our food local and improve every year. Are there hard times? Yes. Sometimes an animal worms its way into our hearts. Or one gets injured and must be put out of misery. And the cost can be prohibitive. It's usually cheaper to buy processed hamburger in a tube than to raise your own meat. But we've come to realize that the cost is nothing compared to the peace of mind of having healthy, homegrown food.