Over the course of just a few generations (in my case just two) we have gone from a world where everyone knew where their food came from to a world where you really don’t even know which continent supplied the ingredients in your meal. I do not think we have benefited from the change.
Verlyn speaks in his column today of the generational changes in the conversion of the pigs he raised into the meat he will eat. His explanation of the reason behind his taming of his pigs spoke to that part of me that has participated in the rituals of harvesting the meat I would be eating. It brought to mind the images of the shepherdess in the movie Cold Mountain as she gently and with great reverence ended the life of her charge to prolong the life of Inman.
The questions people ask make it sound as though I should be morally outraged at myself, as if it’s impossible to scratch the pigs behind the ears and still intend to kill them. If I belonged to a more coherent, traditional rural community — one that comes together for pig-butchering in the fall — I would get to celebrate the ritual in it all, the sudden abundance a well-fed pig represents. It’s hard to act that out when the cast is a gruff farmer and son, and my wife and me, who have been silenced by the solemnity of what we’re watching.
Society today is perceived to frown upon the harvesting of the very meat that so many of us expect in our meals. It is this very perception of disapproval that has allowed the way we treat our farm animals to be shunted into the dark corners of daily life. What we can not see, do not think about, we can not be held to account for…Or so we seem to think.
How different from our grandparents generation. One of my Great Grandfather’s had a brother-in -law who was known in his community as the local butcher. He had no shop, he was a farmer by trade. But during the fall, he would take a wagon that was outfitted with all of the tools of the trade and travel to the different farms in the community and do the butchering for the different families. Everyone raised their own animals. Most farmers could do their own butchering. But this uncle of mine was know for his skills and was respected as a member of the community for those skills to such an extent that they eventually were written of in a history of that Texas Hill Country town.
I can remember a visit with my relatives in the fall that involved the putting up of the winter supply of chickens for the freezer. The large tub of boiling water for the plucking, the way the whole family was involved in every aspect of the process. These were the chickens that had been a part of family life all summer long. Scratching in the yard. Being chased by the boy’s and fed by the girls. Now they were going into the freezer to become Sunday dinners in the coming winter months.
There was a reverence for life even as we took the life of these animals. We knew what we were doing, we knew why, we took no great joy in the doing…But we were not ashamed of what we were doing either. That is were we seem to have changed…We seem to have been shamed for following the traditional diet of our forefathers.
A big part of what appears to be ailing this country seems to stem from our diet. We have lost that middle ground of eating a healthy mix of natural foods. The industrial agricultural standard in this country depends too much on chemical/hormonal additives to maintain production. No one is bothering to follow up on the effects these additives are having on us. Mostly we aren’t even aware of the additives we ingest, yet, everyone is aware that the obesity problem in America comes from our inability to just say no to food and push ourselves away from the table and go out and exercise…Right!
At least when we raised our own, we were aware of what went in the front end…And what came out the rear end fed the garden. Traditions take generations to grow and prosper but only a few short years to be put down…
This muse has run long and could go even further, but I really need to get to work…Thanks Verlyn…For the seed thought.