Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Eating Something with a Face (and Name!)

I was a vegetarian for 12 years, up until I met Dan in fact, and began the journey that would land me here on Maggie’s Farm. In all those years, I didn’t miss meat much (Though I’ll admit every once in a while, quite out of the blue, I got a mean little craving for corned beef, of all things!) but the impracticalities of a meatless/meat and potatoes household led me to eat more flexibly. It was a slippery slope—boneless chicken to burgers to… well, I haven’t progressed much farther than that.

But aspiring to become more self-sufficient, we’re prepping for the next step: consuming our own four-legged critters. We’ve eaten Archie (Mean Ol’ Rooster) and when Maggie went nutso on the guinea fowl during spring shearing, Dan and I felt that we should eat the three dead birds so as not to waste them completely. And we did without too much trouble. But other than that, nada.

One of the things we really like about Icelandic sheep is their “triple-purposeness”. They are terrific fiber, milk and meat animals. Icelandic lamb is a delicacy. Barb Webb, the breeder of our original four sheep, told us that once we had a larger flock, this aspect of shepherding would come more easily to us. But it hasn’t—yet. In fact, we’ve often looked at little James Henry Trotter, our weakling lamb, and come up with excuses to keep him. “He has such beautiful fleece,” we say. “Couldn’t we just wether him and keep him as a fleece animal?” And so we hesitate.. and hesitate. Last month we tried to send Gus off to the, um, “processor”. But we couldn’t arrange transport and our timing was off. So here he remains. But it is getting easier to think about.

Speaking of thinking, inspired by Ally (of 3 Dog Farm) and Patrick (of West Elm Farm), Dan and I have been thinking about pigs and turkeys. These animals would most certainly provide food for our family—reasonably-priced, healthy food. But would we be able to follow through? Would we ever manage to turn that adorable spring piglet into bacon and ham and chops, or would we end up with a 700 pound pet?

I should say here, I truly believe that if one is going to eat animals, one should be willing and able to take an active part in the process. It seems hypocritical to tut tut and avert my eyes then eat a big ol’ burger. I should know what (who?) it is we are eating and the kind of industry my money supports. If I am to eat meat at all, it makes complete and good sense to eat MY animals. After all, I know these animals have been well cared for and that they have led lives free of want, worry or fear. I cannot say the same for those that come to me in little white Stop N’ Shop foam trays. In an ideal world, we would all be a little more connected to the process that brings food to our tables. Eating locally—be it from one’s own backyard or from the backyard of the farmer down the road—is goal to which I absolutely aspire.

But, just the same, it ain’t so easy.

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