My younger brother got chickens recently, to have fresh eggs, to enrich his children’s knowledge of animals, and to inadvertently teach them about life and death.
He started with six chicks. The first two were killed by a loose neighborhood dog. A third one died a few days later, either from sadness or internal injuries. Then one was eaten by a hawk or an owl.
Besides the heartbreak of losing the chicks, my brother said it was a solemn experience the first time they ate chicken after that. “Maybe you shouldn’t be your chicken’s friend,” he lamented.
His comment reminded me of a Brazilian friend I had in high school. Back then we called all our girl friends chicks. She’s this cool chick I know. My friend’s mother, with a complete lack of understanding of American slang, finally asked her one day (Hint: say it with a sexy Brazilian accent), “Why do you call your friends chickens?”
Besides reminding me of the good ole days when my friends were called chickens, my brother’s experiences made me think about how separated I was from life and death. In our Buy-Everything society we have forgotten that birth and death are happening all around us.
In fact, when I first got pregnant it seemed incredibly odd to me that we don’t purchase babies. Where is BABY on this list of one million useless must-have items at Babies"R"Us? (If we did buy babies, you know I would’ve waited for the After-Christmas Baby Sale and hoped to get a good one that had been returned.)
Pregnancy made me aware of my disconnect. Money is my middleman from mortality. Before my own children, I had never seen anything born, not a cat or a dog or a hamster. Even when I garden, I buy the seeds to grow the plants. I still have never seen a mammal or a bird get killed for food, and I want to hold my hands over my ears, close my eyes and never consider that they die to feed us.
I try to eat only what I am willing to kill myself, which turns out to be an occasional fish (And roaches, but is it wasteful to admit I don’t usually eat them?) I am a pesce (that means fish) vegetarian, but I buy meat for my children, and by never exposing them to the gruesomeness of being omnivores, I wonder if I am protecting them or sheltering them?
Yet the thought of letting them witness the death of anything but an osteichthyes (that also means fish) seems like cruelty to me — the same as if I let them watch a murder or see an episode of "CSI." But a cow or a chicken still dies even if I’m paying someone else to kill it.
I don’t think eating meat is wrong. Animals do it. No one is lobbying carnivorous animals to become vegans. Or are they?
When my husband and I lived in Savannah, some young girls who lived down the block from us fed their dog vegan dog food. I don’t know how they did it. I guess the poor dog was hungry enough. In any event you could smell the dog’s excrement from a block away. For awhile I kept trying to find the stables that someone must have been hiding in their backyard. No, it was just the vegan dog. That poor dog. He must have had such a tummy ache. You shouldn’t make a carnivore into a vegan.
Or should you? Even God seems to be a bit conflicted on the matter. In Genesis 1:28, it says that humans should reign over the fish in the oceans, the birds in the heavens, and all the animals that crawl upon the earth. (This is a commandment to eat meat, according to my father.) But a few books later in Isaiah it says during the Reign of Christ on earth the wolf and the lamb will graze on wild grass together and the lion will eat straw like an ox (Isaiah 65:25). Now everyone is a vegan? I wonder if Christ will magically change the wolf's and the lion’s intestinal systems because I would hate to think of how bad earth would smell. And for that matter, the carnivore's teeth would have to be changed too. Can you imagine a lion with big, rounded horsey teeth?
Though I may be as conflicted as the God of the Old Testament, mostly I wonder if it is our lack of connection with our meat that is a problem. How can we sit at our dinner tables (I’ll cover the horrific slaughter of the trees that made your table another time.) and eat without acknowledging that something died to feed us?
But what does that acknowledgment mean? Saying thank you to the soul that was lost?
Throughout most of human history, (either 200,000 years or 6,000 years depending on your sources) humans have hunted and killed their own food, but in the last 200 years the majority of us don’t.
Is it important to?
Is it important for young adults to hunt and kill animals for food in order for them to understand that something dies to feed them? Or should we be happy that we live in a time where the slaughter and butchering of animals has been removed from our lives?
And truthfully, are we really just trying to avoid thinking of our own death?
For now, I try to say a little thank you to the soul that gave my children their food.
And acknowledge that I don’t know if we should ever call our friends chickens or be our chicken’s friend.
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About this column: Pen Name Jane is a weekly column by a Dunedin mother who isn't afraid to tell it like it is.