Monday, November 08, 2010

The Meat of the Issue

If one of my high school classes were going on a field day to go watch someone butcher a cow, I'd find anyway possible to miss school that day.  

My sister was enrolled in a livestock production class at the University of Idaho.  The day they scheduled  chicken butchering she decided to skip class.  They didn't butcher chickens that day, and rescheduled. 

I don't know what she did to escape the lesson, but I know she did not want to watch someone butcher a chicken.

We both grew up on a farm, and we still live on a farm.  We eat meat and love good chicken and beef and pork.  I don't think any of us in our family would go out of our way to eat mutton, although I had some delicious lamb a couple times while visiting New Zealand.

I read in the local paper recently that a group of high school students went on a field trip where they were "introduced" to a "cow."  We farmgirls call 'em steers, bulls, heifers or cows, appropriately,  or even beef.

I'm not sure the animal in question was a female bovine, but what I do know is that the students witnessed the butchering and the cutting apart of body parts.  The letter penned by someone who didn't like the idea said some of the kids chose to walk back to school halfway through the event.

I'll borrow Annie's phrase to appropriately express my feeling about such a scenario:  EEEEEEEUUUUUUUU!

I just could not bring myself to attend such a "learning experience."  In fact, I had a hard enough time with frog dissecting in biology class.  And, if they had brought those formaldehyde cats in, that's probably where I would have drawn the line, sat out and taken an F.

When I was a little girl before my mother and step-father were married, Mother would call on our neighbor Mr. Best to come over an butcher our beef.  At the time of said executions, I would be hiding under the covers in my bedroom, plugging my ears cuz I didn't want to hear the gunshot.  

I would not go to the barn for days because on one occasion, I saw the leftover entrails in a pile by the woodshed.  The sight yucked me out, I'll tell you. 

As a 4H-er, I could not sell a fat steer, pig or sheep, knowing its destiny. And, when my brothers sold steers, I cried myself to sleep after every Saturday fat-stock auction.

Still, I like beef, pork and chicken.  

The difference for me is having any association whatsoever with the animal, except for pigs.  Somehow I could bring myself to raise those pigs, which always became really, really friendly right before market time.

 What  "loving" feelings I had for them, however, usually subsided quickly when we tried to round them up to haul them off to their demise.  

That's when they made our lives miserable, and there's even a classic story in our family about the rainy, mucky day when I left the farm while Willie and Bill loaded up the pigs to take to Wood's.  

They ran into a few difficulties when the pigs got away, raced all around the gooshy barnyard and the horses somehow got nervous and ran into the pig pen. 

When I returned home, both Willie and Bill were somewhere else and two pairs of the dirtiest, crustiest jeans were almost standing by themselves in the laundry room.  That was the first clue to me that there had been a commotion in my absence.

Our former home was located near Gooby's.  Occasionally, a critter would get loose and come over our way.  I still have the image of Lonnie Piehl coming into the driveway with his rubber boots and a rifle at his side.  I don't think they caught up with that particular renegade steer at our house, or I'd have been under the covers again.

We've raised one Hereford steer in our adult lives, and the emotions of driving by Gooby's on my way to school every morning, knowing Sirloin was in there being cut up into little pieces were almost more than I could stand.  

We eventually brought ourselves to eat Sirloin's steaks, but it took time to get over our grieving.

So, this week, we'll be bringing home half a beef.  I have seen this beef, and I know it's a neighborhood brand, coming originally from Filipowski's down the road and growing into edible beef at Roxane Conrad's farm.   The other association is that my horse Heather pastured with it for a while this summer while Roxane was training her.

Fortunately, even indirectly through my horse, I have developed no emotional attachment toward this half a beef.  And, that is good.  

Some people talk of the need for facing reality.  We must know that our prime rib did not grow at Costco.  We must know that animals suffer for our culinary enjoyment.  So do potatoes! 

Well, I've learned all those lessons, just like the lessons I taught to my journalists who had no idea of all the steps necessary for their morning newspapers to arrive on their doorsteps.  

I was often amazed at how amazed they were when they learned about all the individual reporters in the world following stories, writing them, having them edited, and editors deciding what was going to go into the paper and those machines that produced the papers for the paper deliverers to bring to us each day.

I know all about the steps leading to the beef steaks I eat---- but there are just some steps I choose to ignore. In my mind, enough other people don't mind the EEEEEEUUUUU process leading to that big, fat juicy steak sitting on my plate.  So, I'll defer that enjoyment to them. 

I'll eat our beef this winter,  free of any guilt that a beef had to die to make our meals possible.  After all, I participated directly in the death of all the carrots, potatoes, broccoli, pumpkins, onions, etc., that will go on the plate with the steaks, roasts, hamburgers etc.  

And, that seems like an ample amount of reality and education for me.


Word Tosser said...

I take it you can't cook lobster you do know they are alive when they put them into the pot of boiling water..

I could not be there during the killing of our animals over the years, but they became objects after they were taken care of and hung to cure.

Anonymous said...

I read the same article. A couple of thoughts come to mind.

First, I remember the first slaughter (here used in its commercial sense--as in "slaughter" house) of a steer that I witnessed. It was done by the self-same Mr. Best--a man whom I respect and remember highly. I was probably 8 or 9 at the time. Mr. Best did not force me to watch; I chose to do so, somehow thinking that it was one of those checklist items that one needed to check off as part of the process of growing up. I recall the event in those terms. Nonetheless, I don't recall it as a required part of my maturation. It's not something that I felt a crushing need to revisit over the years.

My second thought is that, with all the basic issues surrounding our society's ability to educate people in matters of readin', writin', and 'rithmetic, it seems that education with regard to matters of animal butchering might be something that we can afford to keep on the back burner for a while. I'm not sure that observing animals being slaughtered is the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

Beyond that, there is a slightly related concern. I've been reading quite a bit lately about our soldiers in combat. I'm a combat veteran who has seen quite a bit. In my reading, I've become aware of a troubling common thread. Two of the books I've recently read are "Where Men Find Glory" by Jon Krakauer and "War" by Sebastian Junger. Both books deal a lot with the conduct and activities of individual soldiers working in very small units--often out of reach of high level supervision. What strikes me in these accounts is the sense that some of our soldiers seem to "enjoy" the business of killing. That's a thread that, as a combat veteran, I find troubling. I have always found pride in whatever I and my comrades accomplished in our combat activities, but I can't recall that the business of killing was a source of pleasure.

One of my thoughts about all this is that our society is making it "OK" to desensitize people to the act of killing. My own unscientific thought about this is that video games have much to do with that. I have often shared with others that in two years of wartime combat, I did not see violence inflicted to the degree that can be seen in many video games. These games are marketed to all ages; some of them can be found on line and available without cost. Kids who are barely more than toddlers are able to find and play these games. At these impressionable ages, the risk of desensitization is very high. I don't pretend to have a solution, but I think it's something that folks ought to be paying attention to. A field trip to watch a the slaughter of a bovine ought, IMHO, to be considered in light of all that.

Sorry for the length of this, but it is something that I believe merits serious concern. The high school event is something that I think was ill considered.

Mike Brown