playful piglets and ethics of meat

I’ve been spending time with the piglets each day, so they get used to people as not just as food and water machines. I squat next to them as they eat and gingerly stroke their backs, reaching my hands out for them to smell. They are trepidatious, but inquisitive, and definitely getting closer to the point where they will soon be lying in my lap, enjoying tummy rubs. The Large Black Hogs are such very pretty piglets, with an extremely satisfying shape to them- their proportions are more like adult pigs as babies than I have ever seen. Their tummies are nicely rounded, their toplines taut and straight, their skin a matte gloss of health and vigor. Interestingly, their legs seem more dainty than other kinds of pigs; more agile and nimble. The 2 mixed breed piggies we brought home first are almost twice the size of the 20 little Large Black Hogs, but to watch them playing together is priceless. Gracie, the red colored one, is especially social with the LBH piglets. I saw her rooting in the hay with them, then when she crashed down with a contented thud on her side, the mass of black piglets leaped upon her, nudging her around, and she just laid there as they did that for a few moments, and then with a snort, leapt up and did the “barrel-racer run around” the hoophouse, huffing and grunting in excitement, all the black piggies jumping and leaping after her in giddiness. The LBH piglets also do this funny little full body wrassling dance, swinging around each other in circles, jumping and trying to best each other as they spiral around, the hilarity accentuated by their too-big ears, flopping around like baby dumbos. I’m working on some pig sketches of their adorableness:DSC02270

Speaking of pigs, there’s this pig farmer blog I’ve been watching for sometime, waiting for a new post. Then last week, I read an update that farmer Bob of Stony Brook Farm is following his heart and quitting raising meat. In his earlier-prolific but later-infrequent blog posts, he has always been extremely openly honest about the ethical quandary he felt over facilitating death so people could eat meat. Here’s what he wrote: “After ten years of struggling with the ethics of raising animals, especially pigs, for slaughter, I decided to quit pig farming for ethical reasons. Stony Brook Farm is now officially closed.”

His decision makes my heart happy and actually proud of him. I’m disappointed that he’s choosing to not provide an alternative to factory farmed meat, although he’s still going to raise food- reincarnating his farm as an organic veganic vegetable operation. His rather brash decision caused me re-examine my own feelings about life and death and meat and animals. I….just…don’t….feel the same way. If you go through some of his archived articles (and I’d highly recommend it- what a fount of knowledge and tremendous experience-processing in his writing) you’ll read among many other topics, his respect for the natural world while struggling with the trials of trying to farm in it, as a part of it.

When I look to nature, I see death all around, not in a morbid way, but in an all-encompassing cycle. Death is part of the rest of the experience we know as life. Nature tells us to fight to stay alive, procreate so our species can continue, and then, we all die. While nature isn’t “kind” or “compassionate”- think of an eagle disemboweling a live rabbit, it writhing to escape as it’s punctured by the grip of the raptor’s talons- that doesn’t mean we should just mimick nature. We aren’t eagles. We humans for the most part, empathize with the rabbit’s situation. Does that make us fellow “prey” if we feel bad for the rabbit, despite the fact that this is just what the eagle does to eat? Just because we can allow something suffer, doesn’t mean we should. We aren’t eagles, but are we predators? If a human treated a piglet as the eagle does a rabbit, that would be wrong, right? What exactly is natural?

What I noted as an undercurrent in Bob’s writing and stance overall is what I get frustrated with as well. People are hypocrites. For instance, about the “cruelty” of nature – as a child I remember my Dad could sometimes be seen wiping a tear away during the lion stalking the zebra scenes on a PBS show. Yet he is a ravenous meat eater. He expects and demands it. When we just got together last week and I suggested a Cuban cafe to meet at, he said “Yeah, but can I get MEAT there?” He’s not oblivious to what goes on to make the plentiful and cheap meat in the stores; he sired 4 daughters who have all gone through or are still in vegan/vegetarian periods, and we have all been very open about why we chose that. The disconnect between his feeling empathy for that zebra, and the meat he eats, bothers me, but this is so common, there is no point in fighting it. I have done what I feel is my personal best in the face of life and death and meat. I eat what I raise, I love and care for who I raise, I honor and respect the animal, and make sure it has the most humane death possible, and then I enjoy the shit out if it and use every part possible, and then everything else goes to the dogs. Nothing is wasted, and that is my role in my nature.

Right now, the air in our Farmer Barn is humid and fragrant from a 5 gallon stock pot simmering on the woodstove. Inside is a cloudy broth, laden with bones from some of our pigs and our calf, a bit of salt and a couple cups of apple vinegar I made from our trees’ fruits 2 years ago. We are not nature, but we are. We are part of it, and we all can do as we choose. No one is right, no one is wrong.DSC02268

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7 thoughts on “playful piglets and ethics of meat

  1. I too experience this disconnect with meat eaters. Dear friends of ours bought a side of pork from us this summer because they wanted ethical, well raised meat. They were happy to pay the premium price I charged for that. They bought a couple of chickens from me as well, as they do every year. And then when I bumped into them they other day they were waxing lyrical about the turkey they’d managed to buy at the grocery store for 98 cents/pound. I guess I didn’t respond right, because they questioned my response, and I pointed out that there was no way their turkey could have been raised in any way approximating the quality of life enjoyed by their pork and chicken, and they got a little defensive. As they should, in my opinion. Why the heck am I, the person raising and eating only ethical meat the one who has to be careful of the bargain hunting meat buyer’s feelings? But my husband has no problem with eating meat from unknown sources either, and it’s been quite a growth curve for us as he figured out that my line in the sand regarding what sources of meat could go into our freezer was more like a line in concrete.

    I’ve visited the Stoneybrook Farm blog a few times in the past, as I realized when I followed your link. I’d say from what I remember of his previous posts that his decision has been long in the making.

    1. I SO appreciate all of your time taken to have such thoughtful responses to my posts! Oh boy, I was wincing to read about the turkey…I’ve had similar scenarios when people sometimes almost seem to want to “confess” to me -like how good that pizza was, well, but it wasn’t with your chicken, but it was soooo good, or asking if I would endorse this farm or that brand of bacon, etc….it’s so awkward, but I am learning I can only do my own personal best, and what is right for them is right for them. I’ve been like a religious zealot in my pushing in the past, but that’s ended. I will never stop thinking and examining it though, and writing about it. So glad to have connected with you!

  2. This is one of my hot-button topics. How many times have people said to me, “I could never kill and eat an animal I raised.” As if that makes them more compassionate and ethical than me. Meanwhile they regularly devour the flesh of animals tortured in factories, while I refuse to eat the meat of any animal that didn’t first live a happy life on this farm. We have a society that loves to eat cheap meat but wants to be in denial of the reality of how that meat got to their plates. Grrr…

    My wife is a vegetarian for ethical reasons and I admire and respect that. But she doesn’t judge or condemn those of us who aren’t. I struggle mightily with it sometimes. I don’t eat a lot of meat and I’d be perfectly happy as a vegetarian, but I do enjoy raising animals, I like being a part of offering a humane alternative to industrial meat and I like knowing where my food came from and how it was raised. But I HATE killing the animals. I always feel like it’s a betrayal of the trust they have in me. And I hope I always struggle with that. I hope I never become numb to it.

    Great post as always. All best wishes for a very happy New Year.

  3. “Nothing is wasted and that is my role in nature”

    I think that is our role in nature. Meat or not, we are obligated put things to their highest and best use. But manure is put to great use on a garden. And pigs make manure. And bacon is put to great use on a salad. So here I am.

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