A few years ago, we didn’t put too much thought into the meat we’d buy at the grocery store. Sure, we’d try to pick the packages with labels like “organic” or “pasture-raised,” but the full connection to the reality that those little lumps of pink flesh were recently living, feeling, breathing animals with unique personalities just wasn’t fully there in our minds.
How could it be?
The way we used to source our meat had the same desensitizing effect that many people in our society have developed towards violence. Those aren’t “real” animals we’re buying and eating, they’re cheap chunks of protein. Likewise, that’s not a “real” person being injured or murdered, that’s just some other video game character, TV actor or unfortunate person being talked about on the nightly news.
None of it is real. None of it matters. None of it is connected to ME. And ME is all that matters in the game called “life on earth.” Or so we believe.
“I don’t care how you do it, just feed me cheaply.” “I don’t care who or what has to die or suffer in the process, just give me a constant stream of cheap calories and entertainment.” This is what we tell the market to deliver, and the market delivers it to us with ruthless, devastating efficiency. To make sure we don’t notice what we’re responsible for, the market hides the externalities created by our cheap decisions in foreign sweat shops, polluted ecosystems, and welfare costs that “somebody else” has to pay for. It’s not my fault, and if you try to tell me it is, then I’ll choose to change the channel to something more emotionally soothing or distracting.
A Conscious Life
Today, Larry, one of our Welsh Harlequin ducks, had the only bad two minutes of his entire life. We raised him since he was just a couple of weeks old, feeding him the best possible food; letting him forage daily for insects, worms and fresh organic produce in our garden; providing a pool with clean, fresh water that he swam in daily; putting him up and taking him out of his protected coop (aka the “Quacker Box“) each night and morning so no predators could get to him while he slept; and petting him and feeding him special treats almost daily.
We should also add that Larry was a bit of a jerk. When we got our first four ducks (for the purpose of egg production), we didn’t know how to sex them (male and female ducklings look pretty much identical). We picked out four ducklings from a local breeder, crossed our fingers and hoped for more females than males.
As our ducks matured, we realized we’d picked out three males and one female. Oops. Now, if you know anything about ducks, you know that 3 boys:1 girl is not a good ratio given their mating and socializing habits. The ideal ratios are a minimum of two females for every male.
Even as a duckling, Larry was always a bit anti-social. He hated being handled and he didn’t seem to enjoy socializing with the rest of his flock. When he matured, he became very aggressive to the two other males and was even violent towards Margaret Thrasher, our female.
After we realized that our first “flock” was mostly males, we got three new female Welsh Harlequin ducklings. Larry hated these fuzzy, yellow balls of duckling adorableness with a passion. Despite the fact that the three new females are now nearly adults, Larry still constantly tried to attack and injure them. We tried every means of socializing the two flocks together that we could think of, experimenting with multiple cooping and fencing strategies to get them used to being near each other without Larry being able to actually get a hold of them. Nothing worked. Larry was never going to let the two flocks integrate and he was going to be aggressive towards any males or females he could get his beak on.
So, yesterday we picked Larry up, petted him one last time, put him into a hand-made contraption to hold him firmly in place, then cut the jugular vein in his neck. He barely kicked, and he was dead in just a few minutes. Throughout the process, we looked Larry in the eyes and talked to him. We thanked him for his life and told him that no part of him would go to waste or be forgotten. We apologized to him if he was experiencing pain or suffering and told him it would be over soon. This was probably the most difficult thing the two of us have ever done together, and we’d be lying to say that we haven’t cried many times during and after the act.
Larry wasn’t just a piece of meat, he was part of our flock; he was (and is) part of us. The most disrespectful treatment we could possibly pay this beautiful animal would be to expect his life to simply be reduced to a ten second financial transaction, wherein his entire existence boiled down to how cheaply we can purchase the meat from his once-living body. How barbaric. How inhumane. How cruel to the animal and to the person.
We humans have the capacity to be so much smarter and more ethical than we’re currently demonstrating in our numbed-downed and dumbed-down state.
We refuse to be numb, desensitized or uncaring. We want to know where the products we buy (food included) come from and what their TRUE costs are. We feel we have a responsibility to do so. Being one or two steps removed from the outsourcing of pain, suffering, brutality, exploitation, deaths, etc doesn’t mean that we’re not responsible for the outcomes we create, just like hiring a hit man doesn’t mean we’re not murderers. It would just mean we’re blithely indifferent and intellectually dishonest, which in many ways is far worse than being the actual people, companies or governments we ultimately hire to commit these acts on our behalf.
The Virtuous Cycle
One truth about this world is that some life dies so that other life can live. And the cycle repeats. It can and should be a profoundly beautiful, virtuous cycle. To make it such, requires us to be awake and aware, connected to the consequences of our decisions and the web of life that we’re each a part of.
Every part of Larry the Duck will be used either in our garden or on our dinner plate. His physical parts will not be wasted or squandered, and they will give rise to new life which will eventually give rise to more new life, in a continuous rhythmic dance that is as old as life on our planet.
We hope that sharing Larry’s life and death with others will also help ensure that the non-physical parts of the animal will be used to their highest potential as well. If reading this article helps you further grasp the importance of sourcing humanely raised, healthy animals for food (or choose to become a vegetarian or vegan), then that’s a beautiful, worthy outcome of Larry’s life.
What’s the spark inside us that makes our component parts come to life? What happens to that spark when an animal or plant dies? Those are questions that each of us can and should explore in our own ways, to the best of our abilities. However, if we want to create and share a planet that we purposefully design in such a way as to optimize the health and wellbeing of all living plants and animals on it (including humans, not just FOR humans), we should not allow ourselves to be desensitized to the full impact of our decisions. If you choose to eat meat, the price tag should be the last feature that you’re concerned about. Otherwise, please choose to be a vegetarian—and of course, eat as much local, organic produce (preferably raised by you) as possible!
Your life matters. Your decisions matter. We are deeply and profoundly connected to each other and the other life forms on this planet. Don’t ever let those truths be manipulated or taken from you.
The two “flocks” merged immediately after Larry was gone and have spent the past 12 hours sleeping, eating, playing, swimming and foraging together. Each male now has two females, and we intend to provide all six animals with a life-long environment designed for their optimal happiness and healthiness. In return, they’ll provide us with many hours of wholesome entertainment, lots of garden fertilizer, pest control, and the best, freshest, healthiest eggs we can possibly eat. When our ducks eventually succumb to old age, their humans will put them back into the earth, plant a perennial plant over them, and watch in awe as the virtuous cycle that we’re a part of starts anew.