This Saturday, my family processed our year’s supply of chickens. We have been raising our own broilers since we moved to Maine as a way to reconnect to our food by closing the gap between producer and consumer.
But I used to be a vegetarian. Over a decade ago, I swore off all meat consumption in response to animal rights literature that focused on the inhumaneness of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. It was a life changing moment for me. Even though after some time I reluctantly began eating meat again, it was only later through reading the writings of responsible, considerate omnivores (particularly Joel Salatin) that my conscience was fully cleared. I then saw that the God of righteousness, justice, and equity permitted his people to eat meat while, at the same time, commanding them to “regard the life of [their] animals.” This shows us that there is a way for humans to be respectful and grateful participants in the natural world.
There are many ways to ensure animals are respected and treated with care when they are raised for meat production. One of the most direct ways is to educate yourself about humane ways to care for animals and raise them yourself. To be intimately involved in your animals through receiving day-old chicks, the daily hauling of food and water, protecting them from predators, to the slaughter and processing, enables a person to appreciate the cost of taking an animal’s life to sustain his or her own.
So this is not a practice I take lightly. While I do now eat meat with a clear conscience, I have great regard for animal wellbeing and wish more of my fellow omnivores shared this concern. (It always saddens me when death – of animals or humans – is joked about and made light of because the death of any creature is a solemn thing.)
Raising your own meat is, by no means, the only way to be a responsible consumer. There are an increasing number of farms that regard the life of their animals and provide a wonderful product to their communities. For me, though, I am grateful for the opportunities both to experience the beauty of farm yard creatures and to participate in such a bountiful harvest. This closing of the producer/consumer gap is fulfilling in a way that putting packages in a grocery cart never was.