Mostly, here, I’m talking about meats, but produce can apply in some sense. A discussion started over at Cheap Healthy Good over Leigh’s post involving the issues surrounding vegetarianism – why people have made the choice to leave meat behind, and would they ever go back to eating meat? Most responses there have been of the vegetarian or vegan opinion (though flexitarians and a few carnivores are present), and several have referenced their desire to get away because of the ethical concerns – scare-tactic food documentaries, PETA objections to corporate cruelty, and the environmental impact of meat operations. I don’t believe in any of those things, only what I’ve experienced – and what I’ve experienced in my life doesn’t lead me to understand the basis of belief for some, even if I accept them.
I’m originally from central Kentucky, and it will not be soon enough until I can get back to it permanently. Tomorrow morning, at around 0300, I’ll be on my way from ATL to the thriving metropolis of Paris, my little ol’ hometown. It’s about a 5.5 hour drive, but I’ll have the dog to keep me company. I can’t guarantee that I’ll be posting anything from tomorrow until 6 July (a week from this Sunday), but you never know what may happen. I’m going to try my damndest to get around anyway.
This may not have to do with food, again, but it does have to do with the beginnings of my love for food. And I’ll go ahead and say that I’m not sorry for anything I say here, because it’s all true. It started because of this article in my school paper. It offended me, just as any anti-industry sentiment expressed this way offends me. And I have a right to it. If you want to comment, pro or anti my position, go ahead. I’ll take it either way. Please don’t be rude or deliberately offensive to anyone in particular. That would be unnecessary.
Dad has long made his living as a cowboy – you heard me correctly. A cowboy. He came back from Vietnam and instead of finishing his forestry degree, he decided he was going to be a cowboy. He took off out West and learned from some old sure-enough hands, came back and made a life out of it. “Cowboyin’ is a damn good life, but it’s a helluva way to make a living.” He always told me that, and it never stopped me wanting to be one. Even in college, the pull is still there.
Growing up a farm kid, I lived close to my food, especially in the late ’80s when we were almost completely self-sustainable. We killed our own hog and beefs (yes, beefs) every year. We kept a full chicken house, complete with two hateful little roosters, for eggs and meat. We had goats and dairy cows for milk and homemade cheese. Mom kept a sizable garden that I was apparently fond of eating straight out of (dirt and all). We raised a small plot of tobacco and some corn that we sold for a little extra profit, plus Dad’s revenue, and we plowed by draft horses – we had a pair of Belgians and a pair of dappled Clydesdales, one of which I climbed under one day and scared the living hell out of my mother. When I got older, Dad took managed some feeder operations in addition to cowboying, and we always raised tomatoes and cucumbers in addition to sweet corn with the year’s sunflowers (for dove season, you see). We had parties that revolved around team roping, bulldogging and most importantly, team penning, that would last until the wee hours of the morning, when everyone would fall asleep with full bellies of good food and good bourbon.
I know where my food comes from. And it makes me unbearably sad, sometimes angry, that a growing majority of the public does not. I am a meat-loving omnivore. I know the meat chain process, from birth to slaughter. I know that corn grows on stalks and that beef has four legs and a head before it becomes a carcass. Produce does not sprout forth magically from behind the Astroturf-lined counter, nor does meat appear prepackaged in styrofoam trays and clingwrap. It is all real before it becomes your food.
No, the lifestyle is not glamorous. You get up early, especially in the summer, to beat the dawn to work your herds and your rows. You get home late, covered in cow shit and mud and tractor grease, to sit down and eat dinner. You are tired and achy, your feet hurt and you’ve probably burnt your hand on an engine or cut it with a knife but you are satisfied. You are doing something with the land, with your cattle, with your goats, with your tobacco or your corn or your soybeans. You are creating something and nurturing the earth. You are pushing the cycle forward.
People will damn you if you ranch. It is the truth, and I hate it, but can do nothing about it because there are louder anti-industry proponents than pro-industry. Yes, there are individuals in this world that will abuse animals. There are also people in this world that will abuse, even kill, other people, but we do not classify the entire human race by those individuals. We don’t say that because of a serial rapist, all humans are rapists; or because of a mass murderer, that all humans will kill wantonly. Yet if an industry worker is caught abusing a downer cow, the entire meat industry is cruel and deviant, a collection of killers and criminals. Maybe we should start applying that to our society, and see how well it shapes up to say that because of a few, the whole is damned, too.
I’ve discovered that often enough, when people accuse me of being an animal abuser, they have no idea what it means. They think because I give my herd shots and keep them in pasture that it means I hate my cattle and I want them dead. They’re idiots. I don’t hate cattle; how could I? Cattle fund my existence. Without my herd, I wouldn’t have clothes, food or shelter. I don’t beat my cattle mercilessly, without reason, into the ground until they’re a bloody mess. It’s not morally right, it’s not profitable and it’s stupid. If I hit a steer with a plastic paddle, it’s to save myself. Contrary to what you activists might believe, livestock are not made of sweetness and light. They do not have emotions. They survive on instinct. Sometimes instinct means trying to grind the person working them into the dirt. Go work at a feeder operation and tell me that you would stand in front of a charging 850-pound steer, let him throw you into the side of a barn. The lifestyle I lead is not cruel, it is not abhorrent, it is not a wicked lifestyle. More often than not, I will come home at the end of the day with more bumps, bruises, gashes, rashes, scrapes and lost skin, blood and sweat than my cattle will ever need to worry about. They will be eating their evening grass and grain, placidly chewing their cud and playing like calves after they’ve been vaccinated and moved, while I’m sitting in the house cleaning blood off my skin and wrapping myself with gauze and Vetwrap, applying Absorbine Jr. to my sore joints and muscles.
People have told me that they have the right to live their life as they wish. Don’t I have the right to live mine that way too? I ranch because I love it. I eat meat because I love it. I eat as local and as fresh as possible. I buy my vegetables from a friend who runs a produce farm. I buy my meat from the local processing lab on campus, and I know where every cut comes from: a producer within 50 miles of the university. I do the best I can not to leave my mark too deep in the earth. I will never be a vegetarian, or a vegan, but I’m okay with anyone who chooses that lifestyle, or whatever lifestyle doesn’t match mine. I don’t understand it, but I respect the decision to live a different way from how I live. Why is it so hard for other people to do the same for me and mine?