I’m writing this article from the viewpoint of a meat eater. Years ago and perhaps another story to be told, I was a vegetarian but for various reasons decided that was not what I wanted or needed so have been a meat eater for most of my life.
When I was young, I never put much thought into the life and death of the meat that was served to me around the dinner table. Even though we got our beef from my uncle’s farm and I spent many weekends and holidays visiting the farm and seeing the cows, my relationship to them really wasn’t talked about and I never thought to ask. Now, as an adult, I often have conversations with others and ask myself these questions: what is my relationship with meat? Can I raise, kill and serve the family cow for dinner? What does this kind of connection feel like and how do I form a relationship in order to be at peace within myself and maintain my integrity. Is my act of killing any different than other animals?
These questions surfaced with the start of this story:
It began 18 years ago with my family moving into a rural area and buying land for the beginning of our adventure into building a house. I came to understand that as a family, there was no way to take care of the amount of land that we had bought without the help of animals and we proceeded to receive a variety with no effort on our part. As my saying goes “have land, they will come” and sure enough, all kinds of animals entered our lives with some leaving or taken by the local predators of the area and some staying and multiplying. With land comes the responsibility to take care of it. I believe that the land I own on paper isn’t really a possession or ownership but is a relationship that is formed to meet my needs as well as the land and all who live there. I soon realized that animals are an integrated part of this relationship. Animals including ourselves have always been a part of this nurturing interconnected system.
With the hopes of providing for ourselves, I started learning about how to grow food and with this, once again, realized that animal manure is an essential part of growing food. The cows helped with this and my garden flourished. In addition to this, the cow’s job was to mow the lawn, thin out the brush and trim up the trees to create less risk for extreme forest fires which is something we all think about when living in the forest.
So, now with cows on the land doing their job, they are, like any animal, multiplying. What is to be done when there isn’t enough food and space to provide for them along with risks of interbreeding. My question of killing the cow for dinner arises along with forming a healthy relationship.
My first thoughts to this question is to think about the difference between domesticated versus wild animals and the differences in my relationship with each of them in terms of killing. The relationship with the wild animal seems to be a distant relationship with them going about their lives and you doing the same until you get hungry and decide to hunt and kill them. With the animals that we have domesticated this relationship has changed. Cows are grazers and they don’t care about property lines just like those wild animals and they would prefer to go where the food is. But with the idea of individuals taking care of our own land that we have signed up for, fences now become a necessity in having animals otherwise the cows would be happy roaming up to the neighbor’s pool for a drink and some yummy rose snacks.
In this situation, we have restricted the cows movements and their broad food and water source, so we must now supply them with what they need. It seems to me that I would want as close to the wild animal scenario as I can get. To develop a close friendship relationship seems traitorous if you have plans on killing the animal for your food. That would be like eating my cat which certainly doesn’t feel right so the same would go for any other animal.
My first cow that I butchered fell into the friendship category. As a newborn, the bond between mother and calf got broken because a couple of dogs interrupted the initial nursing bond and the calf didn’t learn how to suckle. He was dying because he couldn’t figure it out so after several days of watching him give up and sit in a corner dying, I took matters into my own hands, milked the mom, put the milk into a bottle and forced it into the calves mouth. I slowly walked the calf over to mom and brought the bottle next to mom’s teat and he began his nursing with enthusiasm. But because I did this, he was really friendly toward us. So when it came time to butcher him, I felt like a traitor to him and it was a crushing experience for me. I vowed never again would I form this type of relationship if I planned on killing them for meat.
Another part of this relationship with the cows is my attitude toward them. Do I consider myself as dominate over them or as equals? If I have the domination over attitude then I might go about thinking I can treat them however I like that fits only my needs without regard to what they may want with an almost slavery type relationship. If I treat them as equal then I would honor and respect how they are meant to live and do my best to place them in an environment that meets their needs. This equal path would have a relationship be formed with mutual respect as vital with love and a nurturing bond but not necessarily in terms of what we think of as friendship.
I think it’s easy today to think of the killing act done with an immoral and violent intent and there are not enough examples out there to show that killing and death can be in alignment with the natural balance of living. Death has its rightful place in this world and can be done with love, honor, kindness and gratitude.
I believe this healthy relationship and attitude makes the difference as to whether I feel right and at peace within myself. Once again, just like the land, I do not own the animals, I take care of them and they in return take care of me.
In order to maintain this relationship, I have made a deal with them to not take anything off the land that raised them. Every part of them that I can have legally, I will take and put into the garden for its health and every part of the animal that I can use, I will use. I will not waste their life by not honoring their death. When I think about this, I think about what the cow is giving.
When taking care of cows, this honoring can begin the day they show up to the day they leave this life and for every day they show up at the table. The understanding of what has taken place to get that steak to our table becomes deeply profound and a thank you acknowledgement can be sincerely felt.
What an amazing thought that what you eat not only nourishes you but literally becomes part of you. The bond this creates should not to be taken nonchalantly . The emotion behind the actual act of killing the cow and the process that follows is there for a reason. Every time I kill a cow, that powerful emotion rises once again inside of but me it’s there to always remind me to not forget the seriousness of what has just taken place. When we buy our meat from the super market, these missing links can easily be stripped and forgotten. It’s easy to disassociate ourself from packaged meat from the store or restaurant and not even link that steak to a real living cow.
Another way of honoring the cow is to bless that food as a reminder to never forget what has taken place and what that cow has given to us.
Whether we raise our own or get it from the store, I believe these thoughts need to be kept in mind and a blessing given, always for the humble cow.
May this food nourish and bless this body.