Friday, 3 August 2012

"There is no death, only a change of worlds" (Duwamish)

After a long hiatus (where I was in the US for a month), I am finally back in London, ready to blog more!
There were many experiences I'd like to share here , but if I had to limit it, I'd limit it to the animal slaughter I was present at, as it was something I particularly wanted to share, and also something that will especially be appreciated by real foodies.

So a neighbour farm to where I was volunteering were slaughtering two of their lambs one day, and I, along with a few others also at the farm decided to head over to witness it. It was a hot sunny day like any other, and about 15 or so of us were in a grassy field surrounded by trees. The lamb was led to a pen where it was lain on it's back by Augustine, "the guy with the knife", who was to make the cut (sheep get really docile when on their backs).  Augustine was the perfect person for the job, he was clearly an animal lover, but also one who realized this was a part of the circle of life...humans eat meat, and therefore animals must die. And when we die, our bodies are recycled back into the earth which nourishes the grass which nourishes the herbivores that we eat. This cycle is part of a much larger cycle that is essential to our ecosystem and Mother Earth. And whatever qualms one might have with killing animals, etc, this is a fact which cannot be denied. Before being cut, the animal was thanked for the sustenance it was to provide. After sharing the experience, my friend Mike made this comment which I thought was insightful and beautifully said :

"It reminds me of the ritual that was performed whenever a Native American would take one of its brothers or sisters of the wild to feed his tribe. He would place his hand on the animal as it was on its way out and lovingly say something along the lines of, "Dear brother (or sister) I thank you for your life which will now be used to sustain the lives of my family. As you know, the cycle must go on. Nothing of your corpse will be laid to waste. When you find your spirit in the form of a human and I find mine in the form of a buffalo, I will give myself to you as you have given yourself to me." 

As the animal bled, it did not look as distressed or in pain as I imagined - I would say it was certainly humanely done. While the lamb lay, everyone was silent; a few of us in the pen rested our hands on it's warm body and a few cried. Even as someone who eats meat and who finds nothing inherently wrong with killing animals for food, this was still an intense and powerful moment, and I felt like I was taking part in something much bigger than myself. It also reminded me why I do my utmost to avoid supporting conventionally raised meat. This was the slaughter of animals who were well taken care of and loved. It wasn't about efficiency or supremacy (i.e "we are humans and we're better so we can do what we want"). It honestly felt like we were all equal. Animals, humans, the earth  - we're all in this together. The concept of 'death' was also different - rather than being a horrible negative thing (as many of us in the west are led to believe), it was clear it was a natural part of life, one which needn't be feared. You can't have life without death, and this experience was a poignant reminder of this.
 When the second lamb was brought out, we sang 'The river she is flowing' as it took its final breaths...

The river she is flowing, flowing and growing
The river she is flowing, down to the sea.
Mother, carry me, your child I will always be
Mother, carry me down to the sea

Finally, the lambs were hung from some trees, and we set to work skinning and gutting them. The strong smell of the fat lingered in the air (not an unpleasant smell), and we all played 'guess the organ' as we found the good stuff. The intestines (which took up a large part of the inside of the carcass) were set aside to be thrown away, and great care was taken not to perforate them (or the smell would have been a lot worse than it was!).   Finally the heads were removed (the brain was to be used to tan the hides), and the carcasses wrapped up to be hung and then butchered.
         Once the lamb became a carcass, it didn't seem so 'real', and it was much less emotional, though of course the previous events were still fresh in our minds. In a way, it is a shame most of us buy our meat all cut and wrapped up, so it's hard to imagine the life of the animal, how it died, what it was fed, and the impact of everything from beginning to end.  It makes us very disconnected to our food, , but I guess that's an  inevitable part of modern city life, and the luxury of convenience. But even if we can't always have  one on one experiences such as this, we can think and question and make choices, whether we live on a farm or in a city, and I am very thankful for that.

The hide

I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to experience this, and it definitely made me feel more connected to nature and where my food comes from. I would highly recommend anyone  to take an opportunity like this if it ever arises!

I am sharing this on Fight back friday