Teste Situations

November 8, 2017 in Food, Home

Yesterday was another milestone here on the farm. Yesterday we sent our first lamb to freezer camp. Well, Troy actually did the deed. I was indulged in a state of panic getting product ready for market, as is the Monday norm.

In between filling containers of body butter I glanced out the window towards the barn to take in the progress. Movement inside the barn, then a wheelbarrow tipped out the door, then the sound of the tractor moving towards our water source and the area where we’ve been dressing carcasses. I put down my containers and ventured outside. I’d have been happy to avoid the whole scene, but it didn’t seem like the right thing to do, and so I went to see if I could help.

There was Troy, standing in front of the lamb that hung from the tractor bucket. I stood alongside him and joined in the stare. At eye level an enormous set of testicles confronted our gaze, and neither of us needed to say anything. Troy had made an initial cut into the belly, but I could tell he was a little thrown off by the dangling participles punching him right in the eye. We’ve slaughtered and butchered chickens and pigs and turkeys. None of those beasts had a set like this. I could hear Troy’s brain going through the motions. Where to cut? How to separate the goods from the goods? My brain couldn’t quite do the math, either.

I walked away and left Troy to Google sheep balls. As luck would have it, our neighbour (who is a sheep farmer and very experienced in these matters) drove by, saw that something was up, and stopped in. Under his watchful eye and instruction the carcass was castrated. Today we cut and wrapped our lamb. One more box of food for the winter – almost 60 pounds, we figure. We didn’t keep the testicles, something else will enjoy them.

Never in a million years did I think a dinner conversation might go something like this:

Him: Next year if there’s a ram lamb we’re castrating it early on. I just didn’t know what to do with those balls, did you see the size of them?!?

Me: Yeah, I wondered how we’d deal with those.

Him: When I was Googling sheep testicles I thought about keeping them. It sounded like they might be good.

Me: Yeah, I don’t think so.

My progressive female self wants to pull out all the symbolism, the Freudian and Jungian triggers, the social significance of dealing with testicles through death and cuisine. My other self wonders what sort of god-forbidden redneck I have become… I not only went through this, I thought it was interesting enough to write about.

In the end I think it comes down to the fact that neither of us feels good about killing things, even if it is to sustain ourselves, but humans are omnivores, and so are the animals that will end up enjoying those balls. We are all just meat, from head to toe, and eventually we too will be eaten by something.

Might as well make a note of it, after all, it might be on the test(es).


Meat is Murder?

November 4, 2016 in Food, Uncategorized


Meat is murder? Well, that depends on which definition you use, and which meat you’re referring to.

Murder refers (according to dictionary definition) to the killing of another human. But the dictionary also describes “murder” as “to kill or slaughter inhumanly or barbarously”. I presume that when people claim “Meat is murder”, that’s the definition they’re using.

Moving the carcass from the pig pen

So yes. Some meat, undoubtedly, is murder. And that is exactly why we kill our own animals.

Now, if you’re a strict vegetarian or vegan, I’m not going to convince you that what we’ve done is right. I am speaking to the omnivores and carnivores amongst us, all who hold some responsibility for the death of animals to produce food. There are 270 other carnivorous species of animal on the planet and 670 species of carnivorous plant, so it’s a wide audience, even if I don’t include my hamburger-loving friends.

A few weekends ago we (and by “we” I mean Troy and I) killed our pigs.

Sides hanging after skinning and gutting

It’s easy to make light of the product of that killing (mmmmm, bacon) for the sake of easing the reality of what we did. But when you’re standing in front of a live animal literally holding a gun to its head, when you’re choosing the exact second that its life will end, and then when the life is bleeding out of it from the slit in its throat, it is anything but easy. It is the hardest thing that a compassionate human being will ever do.

And that is exactly why we do it ourselves.

Death is not easy. Death is not pretty. Death sucks. But every living thing dies, and some things live specifically for the purpose they serve after they die. Many farm animals would never have any life at all if they weren’t being raised for the purpose of producing food. How one lives and how one dies are both important attributes to one’s existence. We believe that if we’re going to eat meat we have a responsibility to make sure that both the life and the death of that meat are as good as they possibly can be.

Removing the organs

It would be easy to load our pigs into a trailer and haul them to the abbatoir, picking them up days later neatly wrapped in butcher paper with no sign of entrails or other telling pieces. The pigs would be stressed by the trailering and the drive, the arrival at the slaughterhouse and the ensuing activities leading to death, but it would certainly be easier for us. (I’m not implying that abattoirs are bad – some of them might be, but there are some that are run by people who care as much about animals as we do). We also don’t fault the many small farmers who use those facilities, as the current food safety system doesn’t allow for meat to be sold unless it’s killed in an inspected abattoir. If you’re making a living selling meat you have no choice but to do it that way.

We raise meat for ourselves, so we can kill it where it was raised. When the time comes, we throw some feed on the ground and as the pigs eat and snorfle in the dirt we put the gun to their head and  pull the trigger. There is no stress, they don’t know it’s coming, they die instantly. There are no strange people, no strange places. Just us, the people who scratched their backs and brought them apples every day of their lives.

It’s the hardest way for us, but it’s the easiest way for the pigs. That is why we do it ourselves, even though we both hate every second of it.

I am not looking for sympathy from the anti-meat brigade. Rather, I hope to give animal-loving meat eaters an understanding of how we can bring ourselves to do the deed. We are the same people you are; the people who always insisted that we could never kill anything, the people who have nightmares leading up to the day, the people who would much rather buy a pound of pork at the farmers’ market so that we don’t have to look it in the eye while we pulled the trigger. In the end, though, food production on any scale is a responsibility to the environment, the animals and ourselves. Knowing how something lived, and how it died, is a part of that process. We kill our own animals because we feel it is the right thing for us to do. It’s not because we don’t care about them, it’s because we love them.

An opportunist hen taking advantage of an easy meal

Every time we kill an animal I am forced to reconcile my feelings about causing that death with my own desire to eat meat. And yes, I will fully admit that it IS a desire, but I also firmly believe that biologically humans are designed to be omniverous. I remind myself that humans are the only animals on this planet who can or will make a conscious decision to eliminate a certain kind of nutrient source from our diet. It doesn’t make the killing easier, but it does remind me of why I am not a vegetarian or a vegan. As an animal lover those lifestyle choices would be much easier for me to digest mentally, but animals would still die as byproducts of the production of my food – it would just be easier to tune it out.

Killing does not feel good to me and it never will, but food security feels amazing. With scary things about to happen across the border, with an increasing world demand for intensive agriculture that destroys the environment and our health, with rising food prices and decreasing nutritional content in the products we buy, it feels good to know that I have 3 freezers full of meat and vegetables that came from here and my neighbour across the road. It feels good to know how my food grew, and exactly what went into its production. It doesn’t make the killing easier, but it does remind me of why we are doing it. It will be just as hard next year when we do it all again, but I wouldn’t change it for the world, and as the world changes, I suspect a lot more people will be doing the same thing.

Not all meat is murder. Some meat is just doing a hard thing for all the right reasons.

Reconciling Pigs and Fall

November 10, 2014 in Everyone Else, Food, Home, Uncategorized

imageIt’s that time of the year. A few leaves still cling to the branches, afraid to make the jump. Night pushes its luck each day, seeing how much more darkness it can get away with imposing. The temperatures fluctuate from nipply to sweaty, but only because it’s impossible to know how to dress. Autumn is well underway and it won’t be long before the first snowfall insists we are done for the year.

The garden has been stripped. Aside from a couple of rows of lettuce that I planted last month and a handful of scrappy leeks, the only things growing are weeds. Good intentions dictated that cover crops would fill the spots where veggies used to thrive, but other priorities such as barn renos and seasonal craft fairs slammed that window of opportunity shut. I’d feel bad had procrastination been the culprit, but there just aren’t enough hours in a day. Likewise, our planned riding ring construction and walipini dig will probably move down the list to become next year’s projects. Soon the ground will freeze, rendering earth-related projects difficult to impossible.

The things that have to happen before winter comes knocking are not as daunting as they were, but there is one thing we have to take care of that I’m not looking forward to -the pigs must go to freezer camp.

In the spring, in keeping with our ideals, we purchased two bottle lambs and two piglets with the idea of raising them to market weight and filling our freezers with meat. The sheep got off lucky. We hemmed and hawed about whether or not to keep the ewe for breeding. Once Troy named her Stella, she was pretty much off the hook. Chopper (as in “lamb chops”) was freezer bound until a woman came by interested in purchasing him as a stud for her own flock. Knowing we could buy lamb from John across the road, we took her money, saved ourselves the hassle, and decided it would be just as acceptable to fill our freezer with meat that was just 150 meters less local but raised on the same principles as ours.

The pigs, however, won’t be so lucky.

I think it’s ok that I’m having a bit of a hard time reconciling the fate of Edgar and Mitchell. I’ve gotten to know them a bit, despite having made efforts not to get attached. I remind myself that they’ve had a good life, eating bucket after bucket of apples and treats from the garden; moving from one fenced spot to another again and again, digging for grubs and pulling up roots until the once-grassy spaces look like bombs went off. I remind myself that the whole reason they came here to live was so that we could know what we are eating, and what it ate. The difficulty in knowing that the animals who will feed us have enjoyed their time on this earth is knowing that you’re ending that animal’s happy days rather than ending the suffering of a feedlot beast. Irony at its most brutal.

It’s an irony that’s made me reconsider my dietary choices more than once. I’ve been a vegetarian before, and frankly, my body didn’t react well. But the big picture takes into account so much more than the life of an animal ( or person). While a boatload of studies exist showing that a vegetarian diet is less harmful to the planet than one that includes meat, I’ve yet to see one of those studies that takes into account how that equation changes if the meat is raised sustainably in one’s own back yard. It’s mostly assumed that meat comes from a huge industrial farm, and fair enough, most of it does. On the other hand, there are also studies showing the negative impacts of monoculture farming ( a method that has taken over the veggie side of industrial farming). It’s a method of growing things that depletes the soil quickly, throwing off the balance of natural insects and micro-organisms in the process. As a result, the soil and plants need more help to grow – more fertilizers, more pesticides, and more water. Not to mention the fossil fuels that go into processing and transporting vegetarian protein substitutes such as tofu and TVP. It doesn’t take much fuel to transport my grass- fed pigs, chickens and turkeys from the fields to the freezer.

No matter how much I work through the hows and whys of food production, however, my final thought always comes down to biology and evolution. We have canine teeth. We evolved as omnivores. It only seems natural, then, to eat meat, and so I choose to raise my own, and eventually send it to slaughter. Call me what you will, an ethically- minded consumer and producer or a selfish, murderous asshole. Just know that my decisions are not reached without contemplation and some pretty heavy soul searching.

Before winter comes blasting in, pigs will be converted to pork chops and hams, and those last leaves will take the plunge. With a woodshed more than stuffed, and freezers loaded with turkeys, chicken, lamb and pork that we’ve produced ourselves, there will be comfort in knowing that we are prepared to make it through the darker months. In the spring, new piglets will likely arrive, the garden (now twice as large thanks to the pigs) will be readied for another round, and the cycle will repeat itself. This is the path we have chosen. Will next year’s killing of the pigs be any easier for me? I hope not. This life we’ve bitten off is as much about appreciating what it takes to make food as it is about the actual making of it. The heartache and discomforts are all part of that appreciation. I’m okay with that.





The Meatless Mistake: Why Vegetarianism Might be Considered Absurd

October 17, 2012 in Food

I am acutely aware of the myriad of diet possibilities and the reasons that people might choose them. I know that some people are allergic to gluten and some people can’t tolerate lactose. And I completely understand that some people just don’t like meat in the same way that I just don’t like mushy cooked peas. Not too long ago I finished reading Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and that really got me thinking about the issues surrounding a vegetarian diet.

Once upon a time in my mid-twenties I became a vegetarian. It lasted for just about a year and ended when my doctor informed me that my body was not absorbing plant-based iron like it should. While every other nutrient in my body tested at an optimum level, iron was crucially low. She insisted that I make beef a regular part of my diet, starting immediately. For my body to function, spinach salads and barley wouldn’t cut it. I had chosen to not eat meat for health reasons, and seeing as I’ve always enjoyed a good steak I was more than ready to capitulate.

There are many vegetarians and vegans in my life. They range from those who refuse to eat mammals to people who won’t eat anything cooked in a frying pan that ever touched an animal-based protein. Regardless of how strictly these people limit their diets, their reasoning for doing so falls into one of three camps. Some of those people believe that eating meat is less healthy, a large number of those people believe eating meat supports animal cruelty, and a smaller group consider vegetarianism to be more environmentally sustainable. The more I’ve contemplated this issue, the closer I’ve come to exclaiming “Hogwash!” on all three arguments. As far as I’m concerned the only good reason to follow a vegetarian diet is that you simply do not like meat, and not as a concept, but as a taste or texture.

On the health standpoint, my experience above is one very good argument for keeping meat in the diet. Iron comes in two forms – heme iron (found in animal sources) and non-heme iron (found in plants). The first is easily absorbed by the human intestine, while the latter requires other chemicals such as ascorbic acid to aid in it’s absorption by the body. Human beings, like dogs, cats, sharks, foxes and monkeys evolved to thrive on a diet that includes animal protein. Just look at our teeth – there’s a reason that they’re structured differently than the teeth of herbivores.

And what about E.Coli? On a recent CBC call-in show I heard a woman proclaim that she didn’t need to be worried because she doesn’t eat meat. Well, guess what? E.Coli can actually live in the soil, and it’s quite possible to get it from vegetable sources such as lettuce, potatoes and spinach.

The belief that a vegetarian diet is a healthy one is absurd. I know plenty of vegetarians who regularly scarf down french fries, nachos, and onion rings. A healthy diet involves balance and smart cooking methods, not excluding an entire food group.

It’s true that many people eat far too much meat, I won’t argue with anyone on that point, but that doesn’t mean we should cut it out completely.

Now, the animal cruelty issue. Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE animals. But how can that be if I’m willing to eat them?

The more I’ve become involved in food awareness and food production, the more thought I’ve given to this question. The first time we took chickens to be slaughtered, I couldn’t even get out of the car to see where they were going. Troy had to do all the work. In the process of bringing chickens into the facility he was corrected by the owner for the way in which he was carrying them. Right up to the end she showed concern for the way the birds were handled. I’ve since realized the importance of being fully involved in every aspect of the meat-eating equation and the more I know, the more I appreciate the significance of the choices that I’m making.

Every living thing dies, that’s a fact. I believe that what’s important is the quality of life and the quality of death, not what happens to the body once the life is over. It is true that most meat in our society is raised in a fairly horrific manner. Feedlot beef and factory chickens are born into misery and live that way until they end up on a conveyor belt. I refuse to support those methods of production. But consider animals who are raised differently. Grass-fed beef and pastured chickens are raised with room to move and greens to eat. They can do the things that chickens and cows naturally do but with protection from predators that would likely kill them in an agonizing manner. In some models these critters are raised without any need for wormers or antibiotics, they are healthy from beginning to end, and they have no concept of the fact that they will, some day, end up on a plate. Furthermore, these animals would not even exist were they not being raised to be eaten. What’s worse, to have a short but happy life or to have no life at all?

Awareness is key to preventing animal cruelty in the meat industry. As long as we are conscientious about finding out how our meat is raised and produced there is no reason that eating meat can’t contribute to a happy and healthy life for animals.

The last objection is, perhaps, the most dubious. The environmental impact of the cattle industry is not an uncommon story. Apparently, raising meat has to damage the environment. But again, it comes down to HOW we’re raising the meat. Grass is a completely renewable resource. If we graze beef for the entire time they’re alive, the damage to the environment can be minimal. Feedlots raise beef on a diet of corn and other items that are not naturally part of a bovine menu. Fertilizing the corn while it grows is a substantial part of the environmental impact of beef production. Corn, however, plays a role in a LOT of foods that we eat, and products that we use – many products that a vegetarian diet doesn’t restrict such as plastics, condiments, toothpaste, chewing gum, and disposable diapers. Of course, if you consider yourself an environmentalist I’m sure your shopping list NEVER contains the latter.

Then we have to consider the impact of trucking fresh fruits and vegetables, tofu, nuts and other vegetarian-friendly products halfway around the globe. If you happen to live in a climate where these things can be produced year round, perhaps you can be an environmentally-friendly vegetarian (assuming you take the time to find out HOW your vegetables are produced.) But if you live in a climate like ours, the only way you’ll be producing substantial quantities of fruits or veggies in the winter is by burning copious amounts of fossil fuels. Sure, there are solar and wind alternatives, but how many producers have switched over?

If a meatless way of life truly makes you feel happier and healthier, then go for it. If that’s the best choice for you I have no qualms with your decision. However, to those vegetarians who laud their dietary choices over others as proof that they live a more responsible lifestyle, I beg you to stop fooling yourself. Choose to eat things that are produced nearby from people who can prove their commitment to sustainability. If you do that it won’t matter whether you’re eating lettuce, lamb or lumpfish – you’ll be eating in a way that supports the health of your body, your community and your planet. Isn’t that what really counts?

Economies of Scale

October 4, 2012 in Food

Oooh, big scary E.coli is back on the radio again. Every half hour farmers and grocers are quaking in their shoes as Peter Mansbridge wannabes dramatically interview food inspectors, feed lot owners, or one of those people we pay a lot of money to sit in Parliament and make sure things are right with the world.

Blame is being tossed around on the news like a hand grenade with a broken pin. Blame the inspectors, blame the government, blame the big box stores, blame the workers at XL Foods. But hang on just a second. There’s one player in this puzzle that I haven’t heard blamed. Why aren’t we blaming the consumers?

We believe we are so entitled. We deserve 80″ flat screens and $15 sweaters and 10 pounds of chicken for less than the price of a Starbucks. Bigger is better is cheaper is better. But is it really?

We are willing to buy fish that has traveled half way around the planet if we can get it for less than something fresh off the boat at the wharf. We have no qualms about subjecting 6 year-old children to slave conditions, abuse, and ridiculously small wages as long as it means we can afford a fashionable pair of shoes. We will buy 10 pounds of beef for less than it costs to produce it, even if it means eating an animal that stood in shit for the duration of its miserable existence, crammed into a space too packed to move, and forced to eat everything from corn (that it was never designed to digest), to other cattle, and a battalion of antibiotics designed to neutralize the bacteria-laden environment where it eats, sleeps and breathes. Sure, that is cheap meat, but why are we surprised when it suddenly makes us sick? You’d be sick if you stood in that environment too, let alone eating something that lived in it!

Factories that produce meat don’t deal in individuals. They grind up animals and mix them together. Time is money, and workers are certainly not paid to notice or acknowledge problems. Animals go in, meat goes out. Humans are part of the machine, and sometimes, oops… so is E.coli.

This is the price we pay. We are willing to destroy the environment, to abuse animals, and to take health risks just to save a few dollars. Most people, when accused of such a thing, would either outright deny the damage, laugh it off, or insist that they can’t afford to do the right thing.

But can you afford not to?

Ask any 3-year old what cows eat. You’ll hear the tale of a contented animal munching on lush, green grass and spending it’s days in field and pastures. Unfortunately that is now what we call “alternative farming”. It grows beeves too slowly to remain the norm.

I predict that in 20 years we will face one of two potential fates and those fates will be entirely dependent upon our spending habits.

If we continue to buy cheap products that use unimaginable amounts of fuel to get from point A to point B, we will, quite simply, become extinct. We will shop ourselves into oblivion and die happily sprawled on our giant-sized recliners in front of our giant-screen TVs with a giant Coke and a giant MacBurger on our laps while bacteria eat our guts and global warming cooks us alive.

But there’s also option B. We can start buying everything locally, supporting small farmers, artisans, craftspeople, buying objects that can actually be fixed when they break, and giving gifts that support a sustainable economy instead of supporting the slave trades in foreign countries or the chemically-enhanced food processes of our own. If we take option B there just might be hope, but more than ever we need to think locally… the global part will naturally follow.

Do yourself a favour. Go to your local farmer’s market or butcher shop and buy something from the person who knows where your meat spends its days. Go to a craft store and purchase a sweater that was knit with fingers instead of machines. And next time you’re in the supermarket, if the label says that an item was made or grown in any place more than 100 miles away, put it back and take the time to find a closer alternative.

Even if locally produced goods look like they cost more, the real cost of not making that choice could be everything. Just ask the Canadians currently battling with E.coli. There’s a good reason that some places sell toilet tissue in bulk just a few aisles down from their meat.