My dad and his five sisters grew up on a farm. They had a few horses, cows, chickens, and a number of other foul.
One anecdote my grandma likes to tell me is of a pet goose one of my aunts—my dad’s sisters—had. The goose was good for a while, but started to get real mean. My aunt came in one night in October and said to my grandpa, “I want to get rid of the goose.” They had goose for Thanksgiving.
It’s a type of black humour that I don’t agree with: eating your pet, in a sense. True, they had a small farm, but the goose started out as a sort of pet. I’m exposed to jokes about eating your pet. I have a rabbit. It seems that every damn middle-aged man who discovers I have a pet rabbit asks some question about what kind of stew I’ll make, how much meat is on him, how scrawny he is and how he won’t amount to a good soup. Fuck off. Just fuck off.
I’m not opposed to eating meat. It’s hard to oppose eating meat when your relatives raised and slaughtered livestock. Meat-eating is normalised in my family. One of my aunts recently remarried and moved to Florida, where she is starting her own little farm. My dad has thought about raising chickens in his backyard because the price of chicken is increasing.
I think it takes a certain kind of person to be a farmer. I couldn’t be a farmer. I like the distance I have from livestock. I can’t handle giblets very well, let alone skinning and dressing an animal. I probably couldn’t do it with fish either. But I’m still going to eat meat, because… well, it doesn’t matter. I don’t have to justify why I eat what I eat, because what I eat doesn’t require a bibliography to count as acceptable. My food is not your problem. My food is not your concern.
Part of why I’m okay eating meat comes from the fact that my dad, my aunts, and my grandparents were okay producing that meat. On my mother’s side, her aunts and uncles were farmers too. I am not far distanced from the realities of taking care of and eating animal products.
One time in a class, the professor asked if anyone knew how to milk a cow. I was the only one to raise a hand. I think the majority of people in urban places are used to an urban life. I know how to milk a cow and I know how to churn butter. There’s a fad mentality about “knowing where your food comes from”—and I do. I know what I’m eating when I eat eggs, butter, milk, steak, chicken breast. I know I’m eating something that was living. Same with plants. They were once living, but with a different source of energy and a different type of life. I get grossed out by giblets, but I also get grossed out by the slimy inner seeds of tomatoes.
The entire universe works on a life-death cycle. I will die and provide sustenance for some other life form. I want to be cremated, so my carbon ashes will fertilise something. Even if only worms eat me, at least I’ll be returned to the cycle. Everyone is part of a greater cycle, so it’s up to you—the luxury of humans, actually—to decide where you fit in that cycle. Where in that food chain you’ll sit.
It’s like in The Lion King, when Simba asks Mufasa about eating antelope. Mufasa tells him, “When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass; and so, we are all connected in the great circle of life.”
You could be the antelope or you could be the lion. Or you could be both.
(I am aware of the large-scale effects of meat eating and production; I am one person who does not eat a lot of meat and tries to contribute less to that unfortunate reality. Don’t jump down my throat about how I’m contributing to the atrocities of capitalist livestock consumption, because I’ll be dead in 50 years and I buy and consume less than 1kg of meat each month.)