Saturday, February 13, 2016

Remembering Death 2

Something that I sometimes feel but seldom name, living an urban life now, is how disconnected from food sources most people are, particularly meat. Never having to kill and dress an animal for food, I find most people in a city have either an indifferent attitude toward animals used for meat or else have overly sentimentalized ideas.

Now, this is not a diatribe for or against eating meat. I've become convinced that eating less meat is a sound decision for health and environmental reasons. Also, having grown up on a farm, I can also agree that most animals raised for meat in big business situations are kept in grossly inhumane situations. As a result of conversations with my doctor and his own evolving understanding of diet and nutrition, I've started eating a lot less meat. I currently eat animal products (in which we include eggs and dairy) 2 or 3 times a week. I have not developed any moral argument against meat (I always feel like I then need to consider all the carnivores of the animal kingdom---starting with my beloved cats---as immoral, which makes no sense to me), but I have lost a little weight on a mostly plant diet, so that's good for my heart and diabetes concerns. So there's that.

On our farm, we did our best to treat animals well, even those we ate. I seldom say anything when people say they don't eat anything with a face, but I can put names on some of the food I've eaten. Immediately, I think of a calf that was born on April 1 and so was, of course, named April (this was before I had niece named April). I cried and begged not to have April sent to the slaughter house, but in the end, she was tasty and I ate her along with the rest of the family. We had a pair of hogs named Schnickels and Fritz (schnickelfritz being a sort of [American?] German slang term of endearment for children) that I was somewhat attached to. They, too (I believe both) became sausage, ham, and bacon. I think this is a common experience for farm children through the ages. Perhaps it's a way we learned to grieve and move on.

What I don't believe is that it made us less caring toward other people or animals. It was the natural order of thing, and as much as I'm open to examining that and critiquing it (yes, under my current understanding of diet, we ate way too much meat), if anything it made us make sure they had a good life until it was time to be slaughtered. This is, perhaps, nonsensical to some people. I, on the other hand, see more a trend towards inhumanity to other humans (in warfare and crime) as we move away, as a society, from seeing animals slaughtered. It's all hidden away now. We don't connect the steak or tray of drumsticks in the meat counter to the blood on the ground or slaughterhouse floor. Neither do we connect warfare and policing to blood spilled. As consuming meat became more distant and sanitized, so has our warfare become colder, harsher. Correlation does not mean causation, but while I'm digressing here, I put it out there. (I'd also recommend the book On Killing for more on how warfare has become colder.)

Where was I?

Death. Remembering death. While I will be remembering specific people more as we go through lent, I felt I couldn't ignore the place death played in my childhood as a farm boy. The same woman who chopped the heads off chickens with a hatchet also made sure her children treated animals well, were never cruel to them. She was the same woman who didn't like us having toy guns, even though we had a couple, and those we had, she wouldn't allow us to point at one another. This made playing cops and robbers or (in our much less enlightened time) cowboys and Indians really difficult---so we mostly played with toy trucks and tractors and the like.

Make of it all what you will. Honestly, I don't know that I can tell you more than this is how it was, this is how I experienced it. Death in my current, urban setting feels set aside, far off from the hamburgers that are available every block or two and I simply wonder what that does to us as a society.


  1. As somebody who spent 10 years on active duty in this country's military, I believe that our trend of becoming disconnected from death is growing worse. The people who uge us to war with other countries are seldom the same one's whose children have to go and do the deed. And now, with the use of drones to do the killing from half a world away, the killing is reduced to the level of a fancy video game - for the perpetrators. To me, this makes war even more evil. There was at least a shred of justice when soldiers had to step over the bodies of those they had killed in order to advance, and in some cases, to bury them.

    A friend who is very much into New Age beliefs once criticized me because I had hunted with my Grandfather and Father as a boy. Grandpa and Dad had rules - never shoot at a bird unless you could see the blue sky behind it (A shame that VP Cheney didn't believe in that rule), an if you killed it, you had better be prepared to eat it. But I digress. The criticism towards me was made over a steak dinner in a restaurant. I simply replied that somebody had killed the steer on behalf of my friend, and therefore he had role in it.

    Be similarly warned about drone warfare.

  2. Thank you for this. Lots of hard won wisdom in it, I feel.

    I recall, last presidential election, asking why drones were a bigger part of the debates and campaigns. I agree they are a new level in evil.