Casaubon's Book

“It is funny, but not that funny.”

Eric’s comment does not stop my uncontrollable giggling. My step-mother comes over to see why I’m hysterical. She agrees with Eric – it is funny, but not funny enough to explain why tears of laughter are literally coming out of my eyes.

I’m reading a passage in Michael Perry’s excellent book _Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting_. I gave the book to my step-mother for her birthday, and during a family visit (note blog silence) from which we returned last night, I finally read it.

Now I read a lot of the “How We Done Moved to a Farm and Made Fools of Ourselves” genre of literature, because people give them to me and lend them to me, and I’m one of those people who will read anything. Some of them, like Perry’s missive, are good. Some of them are dreadful (I will try to refrain from naming names here.) There are sub-categories to the genre – “How my wife/husband dragged my behind to the farm and I learned to put up with it” (_Hit by a Farm_, _Stronger than Dirt_), “How I bought a farm and actually didn’t do any farming but hired other people to do it and wrote cute stories about animals” (_50 Acres and a Poodle_ and various books by Michael Korda and Jon Katz_), “How we Farm Very, Very Seriously and Work Very, Very Hard” (_Harvest_ and the totally luminous and wonderful _Seasons on Henry’s Farm_.)

When the books are good, I often read them not for the charming stories of the pet rooster or the melodic prose about tomatoes, but for the odd recognitions of common reality – the things people who farm (or sort of farm) know but other people don’t, or even secreted tips about how to do things. From _Seasons on Henry’s Farm_ for example I recently got a new idea about how to start broccoli seedlings that I plan to steal and I smiled with recognition at the stories about how the farmer actually gets all the seconds – the tomatoes with the bird pecks and melons with soft spots. I actually learned to preserve food precisely because during the years we ran our CSA, I don’t think I ever ate a perfect tomato. Ate plenty of good ones, though.

But back to my irrepressible giggling about Michael Perry’s book. Somewhere in the middle of his book, which is as much family narrative as farm book, summer comes and rabbits begin to overrun his family farm. Perry goes out and shoots them to protect their garden, but can’t decide what do with the dead rabbits. He remembers that he was told never to eat summer rabbits, because of the risk of Tularemia, but his country-upbringing left him with a deep aversion to shooting anything he was not prepared to eat (this is one of the best ethics of rural life, and nearly every young hunter I know has a story of eating something they shot by accident or stupid youthful intent, and that a parent forced them to consume – literally eating crow is an excellent moral lesson in its own way.)

Unwilling to feed them to his family, Perry finally gives the dead rabbits to the pigs. Pigs, being omnivores, devour them with bright delight and enthusiasm. Perry observes that he is not easily grossed out, but that watching it was pretty disgusting. The description alone is worth the book.

But the part that set me rolling on my Mothers’ couch was not that unappetizing bit, but Perry’s meditation on the possibilities of this food source. After all, he observes, in summer he has a nearly unlimited supply of cottontails roaming his property and eating his lettuces. This free food then could be set to supply protein to his pigs, which could then be marketed as fed on truly local, home produced feed.

Perry observes, however, that he anticipates trouble at the farmer’s market. While “grass fed beef” offers up an unmistakable visual image of green pastures and bovine contentment, the same does not arise from the image of “rabbit-fed pork.” It was his suggestions of possible marketing slogans that sent me into hysterics.

You probably think this is funny, but not that funny too. And you may be right, but the reason it tickled me so much is that I’ve spent a lot of time in the last near-decade trying to explain food to people, and I can see precisely how this would go over at most of my local farmer’s markets. I can envision myself with my banner advertising “locally produced and sustainably raised rabbit-fed pork.” I can see the kind shoppers figuring “rabbit fed…does that mean they are fed on lettuces and dandelions like rabbits….it can’t mean…” and coming over to see. I can see myself putting up a poster board, like many fellow farmers have of the steps in production, with pictures of me holding up a .20-.20 and pointing it at the rabbits, and the recoil of horror by many kindhearted folks who don’t like guns and don’t quite grasp that they are a basic tool of the trade out here.

I can see the expressions of horror growing as the next picture shows me proudly holding up a dead cottontail. And then the shot of the pigs…well, let’s just leave it there. What’s funny about this is that it involves actually marketing the parts of agricultural life that most farmers wisely try and leave out of the discussion, recognizing the limits of their audience. Because the bucolic day to day life includes many things that make people unfamiliar with agriculture look horrified – and the best way to make suburban or urban affluent audiences happy is to leave those bits out when we can. We run into too many people who still are grasping that yes, all eggs come out of some bird’s butt and yes, so do my nice, grass fed ones.

The ignorance that people have about their food is starting to soften – in 2003 when our CSA began, we often had to explain to people that no, we don’t raise strawberries all year round and that certain things will only be available at certain times, and yes, eggs really do come from chicken, even when they come from the store and the beef is not born in styrofoam packaging (you think I’m joking, but I’m not!). Those conversations still go on but less often, and more and more people recognize obscure vegetables or can ask about how animals are raised. But there are still fundamental barriers. A number of times, for example, I have had people ask me whether the meat birds I raise for sale were raised as vegetarians.

I understand what people are asking, and I don’t blame them for it. They know that cows really are supposed to be vegetarians, that feeding cows bits of other cows and the old belief that “protein is protein” has turned out to be wrong, and they assume that’s true of chickens as well. But what they don’t know is that chickens are omnivores – probably because most of them have rarely ever seen a chicken, much less what they eat.

Chickens do eat grass, and ours gets plenty of pastures and plenty of vegetables, but they also eat bugs, the occasional rodent or small snake, and any meat scraps they can get their hands on. Given a choice between kale and a baby mouse, my chickens will take the mouse with enthusiasm and delight. The only way to raise vegetarian chickens would be to confine them. Left to themselves, if one of my other chickens dies, my hens would cannibalize it (we don’t leave them to themselves on this subject, but not because we don’t want them eating other chickens).

Pigs also have a taste for meat. Consider the scene in the film The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy falls into the pigpen, and Bert Lahr’s farmhand, helping rescue her, has heart palpitations and has to sit down – proof that he is a coward. Modern folks wonder what the big deal was about Dorothy getting all muddy – but the reason Dorothy’s fall is rightly frightening is that had she not been able to get out, the pigs would have devoured her.

Most of us choose not to know that sort of thing – that pigs happily eat meat of any kind, including human, and that along with table scraps and fresh produce, raw cottontail would make a perfectly nice supplement to a pig’s diet. Given the wild abundance of rabbits, I can’t see why they shouldn’t be fed to pigs, and would happily go and buy Perry’s rabbit-fed pork (except, of course that we don’t eat pork) – but I would be one of a very few people who didn’t turn away in horror.

I am on record as believing that the de-industrialization of our agriculture is both wise and inevitable – I do not believe we will have the wealth, the energy resources or the ability to absorb the outputs of our present agricultural model over the long term, and that because such a transition is necessary, we’d be better off doing it sooner than later, and more gradually than not. I believe in necessity of that transition, and I also believe it is viable to drop the energy intensiveness of our agriculture dramatically while still feeding people – the argument is largely laid out in _A Nation of Farmers_ although I’ve come to some refinements on that take since the book was written 3 years ago.

But what I don’t believe is that this will take us back to a world of perfect purity, to what I think many of my customers and most customers are looking for. For this reason, I’m not an organic purist, for example – I think it will be necessary to reduce inputs, but I don’t expect that reduction to go to 0 anytime in the immediate future, and given tough enough times, I can certainly imagine circumstances in which I’d be pretty grateful for a few bags of 10-10-10. I admire farmers who produce food organically, and I do so myself and have for years – but I know it is easy now when the Agway is just over the hill, and make no promises of absolute purity. 90% organic would be fine with me. I patronise not the organic orchards far from me, but the local ones – the ones trying to reduce pesticide use, trying to bring in new, disease-resistant varieties, and most of all, trying to make a living at a business that suffers even more than average from vagaries of weather.

A friend of mine sells fruit – and this is a damned hard way to make a living in our climate. She sprays as little as she can, and not at all whenever possible, and uses mostly organic materials – but she can’t get a reliable crop of peaches or apples every year without using a few things that aren’t organically certified, and she depends on that money. Every time she goes to market, she explains, no, she’s not organic, but she’s getting closer every year, and points out the things that aren’t sprayed at all, and explains what she does use and why. And every year a few people roll their eyes at her and say they are off to buy organic peaches from far away. I can understand, I really can, and who knows their necessities. I also know that if she doesn’t stay in business, there will be no low-spray local peaches, and probably never any organic ones. I buy hers. I think more would stay if they understood how hard it is to deal with fruit tree diseases in our climate and region.

A woman I asked recently asked me how I felt about cows being fed on bagged old bakery bread – she observed that couldn’t be natural, which, of course, it isn’t. But she is headed for the country, has thought about this stuff and was thoughtful when I argued that I felt that raising some animals on food waste, particularly in and near populated areas, was essential if we’re going to create resilient cities. I know many people object to the idea of meat chickens raised on conventional food scraps, preferring pricey organic bagged grains. Me, I think if we’re concerned about sustainability, we’re going to have to raise some of our protein on the waste of our own communities – and that disdaining a chicken fed a few doritoes, along with vegetable scraps and bread – is a little strange given that most our bodies contain the residue of a few doritoes as well, no matter how purely organic we are most of the time ;-). We do not eat without any blood, contamination or imperfections – asking farmers to feed our animals that way is a false choice.

I am all for pasturing animals – we all know that feedlots and CAFO agriculture is pretty bloody horrible. There are no animals that deserve to live the way we raise them in industrial food systems. I raise all my animals on pasture, and since well managed pastures with high levels of organic matter can sequester almost as much carbon as forests and support more diverse wildlife than almost anything but forests and wetlands – including many endangered species that depend on open grassland that are not mowed constantly – I think pasturage is a wonderful thing. I live in an area that grows grass well, and everything else less well – my property is wet, steep and rocky, and its best use is the conversion of grass into meat, milk and eggs.

At the same time, however, as in some ways I live the bucolic ideal, I also live in the grubby world of blood and mess – when an animal dies on my farms, if it is suitable for human consumption and its death certainly not from any risky cause, we eat it. If not, we toss it to the dogs, or the coyotes, or the chickens. When we butcher, entrails go to these creatures as well. I raise some animals simply to feed to other animals – my extra red worms go to the chickens as a winter protein supplement. The cute bunnies on my porch love when my children push dandelion greens to them, but their offspring will be butchered and eaten by my dogs, to reduce my dependence on the industrial pet food system. My “grass fed dogfood” is good – but I also know that my dogs roam the wood eating random horrible things they find. Of course, some of them probably ate grass too…

My tools include hoe and shovel – and guns, which are kept carefully locked away, but come out when the sheep are threatened (I do not shoot coyotes, since I benefit more from having predators in my ecosystem than I lose from their predation, but I do make loud noises to scare them away) or when I have to put down an injured animal, or when groundhogs dig under my garden fence.

This is the part that most people who have bought food from me would prefer not to think about. The blood and guts, the imperfections, the hard choices, the ugliness and the fact that there’s nothing pure about my work. In _A Nation of Farmers_ Aaron and I quote Clayton Brascoupe who says “When you farm, at the end of the day, your hands are dirty, but your hands are clean.” And that’s true, as far as it goes. You do good work, and your hands get dirty with the complexities of farm life, but cleaned by the fact that you are as honest as you can be about them. But honesty only gets you so far – they are still awfully messy. And the choices are going to stay messy – and complicated and hard as we attempt to deal with the reality that our current system won’t last. What we get in the future will have trade offs and hard realities to it too, no mistaking – and things that most folks may not like to think too hard about.

And I guess that’s what made me laugh so hard in Perry’s narrative – the way he so perfectly put his finger on what would have to change for a customer to come walking gaily into his farmstand and ask that he give him five pounds of that rabbit-fed bacon. We’ve begun to teach people some of the truth about where their food comes from, but it is only just a beginning, and it is a long trip to get a whole picture. That day may even come – it depends on the quality of teaching that farmers and cooks and people who write about food manage to do.

Most people don’t go into farming to become teachers – but that is just part of the job. Particularly if you are growing something unusual or doing it in a new (or old) way, you have to teach people why what you do or what you grow is something interesting or tasty or better for the planet. It isn’t easy, and most of us don’t hold a candle to Madison Avenue when it comes to advertising our wares. Still, I take hope from the fact that Madison Avenue has been able to sell so much bad tasting, bad for you junk, and am working up that photo display for when rabbit-fed pork becomes all the rage.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Edward Bryant
    May 5, 2010

    I loved this essay.

    I too have problems making people understand the choices and realities of raising animals. Also, it makes my practice of live-trapping mice and then feeding them to the chickens seem less like a gladiatorial game and more like a sound, farmerly decision.

  2. #2 Adrienne
    May 5, 2010

    I love this! Especially the bit about buying not-totally-organic produce; I do that too b/c I’d rather buy the local thing than the most “pure” thing. A lot of the folks at the farmer’s market aren’t certified organic ’cause of the cost involved (in fact one of the stands has a sign that says “Now certification free!” LOL) but do their best to not use pesticides & junk.

    I think what the phrase “rabbit-fed pork” leaves out is the information that the rabbits were something harmful and unwanted, and feeding them to the pigs is a way of using them up instead of wasting them- as opposed to being fed rabbits b/c that’s the best thing for them, as in “grass fed beef.” Personally I think I’d rather eat Perry’s rabbit-fed pork than any of the feedlot pork from the grocery store.

  3. #3 becca
    May 5, 2010

    Do you happen to know where I can purchase “dorrito fed chicken eggs”? I think they would make delicious omelets.

  4. #4 darwinsdog
    May 5, 2010

    The Buddha taught the principle of “right livelihood”: to make a living in such a way as to do no harm. Both farming and teaching should be done in such a way as to do no harm, but seldom are. Engineered economic realities make it difficult to farm or teach in such a way as to do no harm but if you can’t farm or teach in a harmless manner, you have no business farming or teaching.

    What’s a .20-.20? I’m not familiar with that round. Surely you wouldn’t kill a rabbit with a .30-.30. No head left to feed to the hog. Do you mean the .22 long rifle rimfire cartridge?

  5. #5 Susan
    May 5, 2010

    Pigs are, biologically speaking, very close to humans. Why would you feed something that may be contaminated with a potentially fatal bacteria in humans to a pig? Do you want them to get sick as well?

    Other than that, I agree with the whole ‘waste not, want not’ thinking.

  6. #6 Prometheus
    May 5, 2010

    Yay Sharon,

    My favorite post yet. Funny with cost benefit analysis and a thorough dressing down of people who equate squeamishness with morality. What’s not to like.

    becca@#3

    “Do you happen to know where I can purchase “dorrito fed chicken eggs”? I think they would make delicious omelets.”

    The grocery store. Lots of chicken feed uses “bakery waste” I once got some eggs from a guy who had been feeding his Araucanas whey and a baking industry recovered feed product called Cookie Meal all winter. They were fantastic.

    I made a girl throw up once when I explained how a good farm dog learns to lie still and let the chickens pick the ticks off him.

    P.S. You left “The Egg and I” off of your list. Betty MacDonald should get a mention since she started the genre and was hands down hilarious.

    She gave us Ma and Pa Kettle.

  7. #7 Prometheus
    May 5, 2010

    PPS

    darwinsdog,

    20-Caliber and 17-Caliber are marble models for “varmits” They make small holes and shoot flat for a mile.

    Those plagued by coyotes are partial to the Weatherby’s .17 HMR rifle but ammo is often hard to find.

  8. #8 rheather
    May 5, 2010

    I can testify to the omnivorousness of pigs-I have a pet pig(I taught him manners as a baby and now he won’t give me an excuse to eat him) and as a smaller-than-a-cat piglet he found a dead frog. I wanted to make sure it was a. really dead and b. not a toad, so I tried to take it away. I was able to tell it was dried up frog but only because it wouldn’t all fit in his mouth-I couldn’t get it out. And it took him about 15 minutes to manage to chew it up. Since then he’s expanded to leftover dog leavings-bits of armadillos and rabbit that they missed.

    So I’m totally behind rabbit-fed pork. Maybe described as second degree pasture raised?

  9. #9 darwinsdog
    May 5, 2010

    Thanks for responding Prometheus. The only .20 factory load I’m aware of is the .204 Ruger. There may be others but I’ve never heard of the .20-.20 round. I suppose it’s possible that someone necked down the .30-.30 cartridge to .20 and chambered a custom rifle for it but I don’t see why anyone would do so when there’s certainly ballistically superior factory loads on the market, such as the .223. I knew a gunsmith in Illinois who necked down a .308 cartridge, I think it was, to accept a .177 bullet, and built a custom rifle to fire it in. That little bullet would punch thru a bulldozer blade! I’m guessing that Sharon meant the .22 rimfire as her rabbit killing round.

    I have a little single-shot .22 pistol – a “garter gun” – that will only accept the .22 short. I’m tender-hearted and always pop a critter in the brainstem with it before I butcher. It’ll drop a goat or sheep with nary a bleat or twitch, so long as it’s to the medulla and not the forebrain. Of course, the Navajo always thought I was silly for insisting on shooting a sheep before butchering it. Said it wouldn’t bleed out right if shot first, but I didn’t care. I just couldn’t bring myself to cut an animal’s throat without shooting it first. I suspect that Sharon feels the same or else she’d just ring the bunny’s neck.

    I’d like to affirm the fact that hogs are dangerous. People have been killed by hogs. When my daughter was little she played with the goats and other animals but we always warned her to stay away from the hog out behind the barn. I’d buy little ruptured pigs – umbilical or inguinal hernias – at the sale barn for little or nothing, sew them up, shoot ‘em full of combiotic and, if they lived, raise them up to butcher. The hog might seem friendly but I told my daughter not to go in the pen with it. A hog will knock a kid down & kill it. And pity the poor snake that hogs discover in their pen. Even a rattlesnake will be killed & eaten by hogs.

  10. #10 Rob Monkey
    May 5, 2010

    Susan, your statement that pigs are biologically close to humans is true, but depending on your scale, those fatal bacteria are biologically close to us as well. Pigs’ skin is very similar to human skin (except I don’t think they sweat), but that doesn’t mean they are entirely like us. AFAIK, their stomachs can handle things that are far worse than what humans can handle. Heck, I know my dog would be able to best me at a Fear Factor game any day ;)

    I’ve never heard of this disease before, so I looked up a few things. It appears that the only real danger with a “summer rabbit” is in dressing them. You should wear gloves and of course cover any open wounds, but as long as the meat is cooked, there’s no real risk. There were some pretty obvious signs to watch for in the rabbits as well, such as an infected tick bite with bare skin around it, and you can check the liver’s appearance after dressing. In fact, it seemed like the majority of places were saying that the real risk to humans is from ticks (of course those nasty bastards would be in on the game).

    Great article, and I love the take on organic vs. sustainable. In my mind, it’s not that hard a choice between locally grown 90% organic with minimal pesticides vs. certified “organic” (note sarcasm in quotation mark form) that’s been trucked 3000 miles after being picked green.

    Oh, and rheather, I’m so jealous right now, I’ve always wanted a pet pig. The frog story was sad though, as I share a residence with a White’s Tree Frog who is probably waiting patiently for some crickets as I type.

  11. #11 Mitty
    May 5, 2010

    When we lived in Vermont some years ago, our church made money off the tourists with a summer fair and barbecue. One year a local rabbit farmer who supplied French restaurants in NYC donated several dozen dressed rabbits. To my surprise, rather than being impressed with the fancy eats we had available, the tourists were horrified. Almost all of them ate hot dogs instead of “bunny BBQ”.
    Many of my extended family farmed, and I remember that scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy is walking the fence and starts to lose her balance used to give me chills. We kids were told the truth with no varnish about staying out of the hog pen.

  12. #12 Wendy
    May 5, 2010

    Great commentary.

    My emphasis is always on local and in season vs. organic. Like you, I feel like if we don’t support our local farmers and other local businesses that they will close their doors, and we’ll have fewer and fewer options, until Big Box is all there is … and when they go bankrupt, which they will, we’ll be left with no choices.

    I’d eat rabbit-fed pork from a local farmer. It’s far better than the CAFO antibiotic laced pork from the grocery store – which we never eat!

  13. #13 darwinsdog
    May 5, 2010

    Susan, your statement that pigs are biologically close to humans is true…

    Depends on what your definition of “close” is. Hogs belong to the clade Cetartiodactyla which includes whales, dolphins, and even-toed ungulates. Humans belong to the clade Euarchonta which includes primates, colugos & treeshrews. The smallest group that would include both hogs & humans is the placentals exclusive of the xenarthrans: sloths & such. Bats are considerably closer to humans than hogs are. “When pigs fly” maybe they’ll actually be “close” to humans.

  14. #14 abbie
    May 5, 2010

    My favorite questions from a customers, and my grandmother’s responses:

    Q: Do you milk the cow in the petting zoo?
    A: He’s a baby bull, and he doesn’t like to be milked.

    Q: Why are the rabbits in a cage, isn’t that cruel?
    A: Well getting ripped to shreds by a coyote is cruel, too.

    Q: Are the bananas local?
    A: *laughter* No, bananas don’t grow in Connecticut.

  15. #15 Prometheus
    May 5, 2010

    darwinsdog,

    This site has a lot ballistic data for the popular brands. What they are not telling you on this page is that they are crazy loud.

    http://www.6mmbr.com/20Caliber.html

  16. #16 Jim Thomerson
    May 5, 2010

    When I was young person, mother would give me 25 cents for each armadillo I killed. They dug in her garden. We would shell them out and hang them on the fence of the chicken pen where they would be skeletonized fairly quickly. Wild rabbits and squirrels we ate ourselves.

  17. #17 Greenpa
    May 5, 2010

    Awwwright. What is this, a gross-out party?? :-)

    Since you guys have already set my (sensitive) stomach roiling- take THIS:

    http://www.themodernhomestead.us/article/Feeding-Chickens-Maggots.html
    :-)

  18. #18 Sheila Z
    May 5, 2010

    I thought it was funny. Laughed till I had tears. Rabbit fed pork sure has a different ring to it than say, milk fed pork. Not something a farmer is ever going to be able to pull off advertising. My grandfather would have quietly fed his pigs from what ever source was available and kept that information to himself. Most people really don’t want to know what goes into the sausage making. Thanks for the book review. I’ll have to check out Michael Perry’s work.

  19. #19 Kelly R
    May 5, 2010

    Hmmmm, I can almost hear Joel Salatin saying pigs eating rabbits is expressing their pigness. Porcine philsophy!

    I had a customer who kept pigs. God bless the poor animal that got caught in the pig pen…he lost more cats that way. And the pigs hunted them! I often say, if cows were omnivorous, they’d eat us, too.

  20. #20 Mike Cagle
    May 5, 2010

    Well, I have mixed feelings about this. I can see how it all makes sense from your point of view. And there’s a long history to the genre of “making fun of the educated city slickers who just don’t understand life in the country.” It was a staple of cartoonists in the early 20th century, when more Americans lived in rural settings.
    But it’s a good example of why I could never be a part of the traditional or typical rural culture or mindset. One of the “family values” of the family I grew up in was “be kind to animals.” I don’t even snort derisively at the saying “love animals, don’t eat them” (though I wouldn’t exactly put it that way, since it seems a little sappy). I grew up in the countryside (we weren’t from a rural background, though — my dad was an academic). And I liked some of the individual people I knew. But by and large I never cared much for the culture of rural people. Part of it was the widespread prejudices against outsiders, educated people, professors, artists, liberals, nonconformists, hippies, science, scholarship, foreigners, Jews, gay people, city people, atheists, (and on and on and on)… But a big part of it was the casual and cavalier (callous, in my view) attitude toward animal suffering. The instrumental view of animals, as though they are just another piece of equipment, rather than creatures in their own right, with their own reasons for being here. And on top of that, the attitude of smug superiority toward “city slickers” with “sentimental” feelings toward animals. That really grates on me when I encounter it. “My grandpa used to put the kittens and puppies in bags and throw them in the pond,” one person told me. Well, excuse me for considering the fellow to be depraved. Similarly, when I was a kid we had a neighbor who shot up a bunch of birds in one of our trees. Apparently they were eating from his garden. Us kids saved the one injured surviving bird and nursed it back to health. Named it chip-chip and released it. Maybe it ate some more of the idiot’s garden — hope so! :-) That man was vile.
    Anyway, I sure wouldn’t eat “bunny-fed pork” (well, I don’t eat meat); and if that guy were my neighbor, I would shun him. I can see how it could be considered funny to feed dead bunnies to pigs (they were already dead anyway, so no additional harm to the bunnies) anything really surprising and incongruous could conceivably be funny — but isn’t it also kind of a revolting idea? It’s not so much a moral issue as an aesthetic one!
    I mean, yuck. Really.
    My sister lives in the country, raises chickens. She recently posted on Facebook about taking an injured bunny to the vet, and then to the wildlife rehabilitation center. Good for her, I say! I think that’s a better thing to do with bunnies than feeding them to pigs, honest I do. It builds character, too: a compassionate and kind character, rather than an emotionally calloused one. You guys can keep on showing off to one another how emotionally tough and realistic you are, and look down your nose at me if you wanna (it’s part of the grand tradition of contempt for those city folks who think they’re so smart). I will continue to be in my sister’s camp. I think I’d support raising kids to believe in “be kind to animals” rather than thinking of slaughter as just another household chore. Personally, I try to minimize, to the extent practical, the amount I contribute to unnecessary animal suffering — and yes, you bet, especially of animals I consider cute, animals who are directly known to me personally, and animals who are in endangered species. Irrational? Illogical? Not sensible? Unrealistic? Maybe. Whatever. It’s part of who I am, and I’m happy to stay this way. But one final thought: “be kind to animals” (and “try not to hurt animals”) is surely no less sensible than “of course, we don’t eat pork.” So don’t start pointing fingers at me for not being logical! “We don’t eat pork” isn’t based on compassion or empathy. I’m not sure what it’s based on (Marvin Harris had a theory), but I’m pretty sure at this point it’s just a matter of inertia and conformity.

  21. #21 knutty knitter
    May 6, 2010

    Never had much to do with pigs but that is a great use of rabbits! I wouldn’t trust a pig anyhow – I’ve seen what they can do to dogs etc when hunted. Wild pork is delicious by the way! So is rabbit casserole :)

    I am a country girl but not a farm one. Nevertheless I do know where food comes from including all the nasty bits and my only thing is being humane in our treatment of animals.

    Vegetarianism is only possible locally when the land is suitable. Our area wasn’t. It was sheep and cattle country with a short growing season so veg was rather limited. We grew a large garden but some things just weren’t possible. In this scenario you have two choices – eat meat as well or suffer deficiencies.

    viv in nz

  22. #22 Sharon Astyk
    May 6, 2010

    DD, you got it just right – I’m thinking “.22″ and .30-.30 simultaneously (I own a .22) and my brain is typing something else altogether. Not quite as amusing as when I called the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Atkinson ;-), but my brain does that sometimes.

    I’ve never actually shot a rabbit – realistically, to do the photoboard in question I’d probably have to have better eyesight than I do – or get Eric to do it. They are small and fast moving.

    Mike, I’m actually surprised more people haven’t taken offense at this ;-). I do think that you’ve already decided what I think of you (which isn’t necessarily what I actually think) and are already defending against arguments I’m probably not going to make ;-).

    At the same time, I think it isn’t so much making fun of city slickers (plenty of rural kids grow up fairly ignorant of where their food comes from too, because they may see it grown, but don’t have any way of connecting that field of corn to the doritoes they actually eat) so much as dealing with the reality that we won’t be able to feed everyone without a certain level of practicality – one most people are bothered by. And some of that may well be for legitimate reasons.

    I enormously respect vegetarianism as a choice – and if you are going to be a vegetarian, there’s no reason to eat or support rabbit fed pork – the people who trouble me are the ones who want meat without any of the complexities of meat. Those who say they won’t participate in meat production have made other choices, and have found other ways at getting a little way towards honesty.

    I think my view of animals isn’t quite the one you are anxious to attribute to me – for example, one of the reason I raise some of the breeds of animals I do is because unless they are raised to be eaten, they will go extinct. There is no such thing as a refuge for endangered livestock species – they exist in some kind of instrumental relationship with humans or they and their genes and their history disappear forever. No one keeps pet tom turkeys, rams or bulls. Unless they are economically viable – and for some species, edible, they are gone. And I consider their endangered status to matter.

    We have rescued animals too. We believe in being kind to animals too. I can understand why someone can’t imagine it is possible to be kind to animals, to rescue and preserve them and also kill and eat them, but I think it is. And indeed, even a vegetarian needs sometimes to protect their food sources from animals that also want it.

    One way or another, feeding 9-10billion people is going to drive us to the very edge of our capacities – I do not believe we can throw away that land that cannot be tilled, that is steep and rocky, or food scraps in that project – period. And if we do, that’s more land that is taken into production of other foods, more land that is converted to fields of corn and soy, stripped naked of all animals that can’t live on a single diet, and then run over with a combine to mix soy and ground nesting baby birds. There’s blood in everything.

    Sharon

    My own observation is that the prejudices of rural communities are often somewhat overstated – having lived a lot of my life in cities, and living now with the obvious cultural markers of alienness – ie, we’re visibly Jewish, we’re visibly leftist, etc… in a rural area, my observation is that while urbanites are instinctively tolerant of difference in ways that other people are not, they are also

  23. #23 Anna
    May 6, 2010

    You are spot on about this, but my question is only semi-related.

    We’re raising broilers this spring, and decided to incorporate food scraps into their diets (preferably turned into black soldier fly larvae.) But my husband and I make very little food waste, so we decided to get some of the copious waste from the local grocery store in our nearest town. Sure enough, the random worker in the produce section informed us that they throw away a few trash bags of unsellable produce every day, but when we talked to his manager we discovered that the company now has a corporate policy that this food waste has to be destroyed. We called all of the grocery stores in our surrounding area, and all of them had the same policy.

    I suspect you may have talked with people who have jumped through the hoops to find a source of food waste. Where did they find it?!

  24. #24 Sharon Astyk
    May 6, 2010

    Some of them dumpster dive behind grocery stores and restaurants because of exactly the policies you mention, Anna. Sometimes restaurants are willing to save scraps in special bins – my step mother goes to the local cafe where they put scraps aside, and for a while a friend of ours who runs a sandwich shop did the same (it didn’t work out for us since we just didn’t drive past the sandwich shop often enough). Right now Eric is negotiating with SUNY to put up bins for students to scrape scraps into that he will pick up as part of their sustainability project. It is a cheap and easy way for them to get points. Aaron gets them from a coffee shop in his neighborhood.

    I think it is probably easier to work with small institutions not large enough to have formal policies.

    Sharon

  25. #25 Prometheus
    May 6, 2010

    As I said before food waste at the manufacturing point is a major part of feed production.

    Griffin Industries??? I think.

    There have been several attempts to consolidate food waste at the retail point for use as feed or compost.

    The problem is that you need a lot of hands to separate the spoiled food from its packaging and in the process a lot of people are going to be exposed to a lot of scary bacteria and fungi.

    If you could find a way to do it so that it does not violate every health code regulation a dozen times you would become quite rich quite quickly.

    After all, a bag of potting soil costs more than a bag of Doritos.

    The hitch is the initial step of less and biodegradable pcb free packaging.

    If we could get over the need for everything to be tamper proofed blister packed and the insanity of a piece of fish wrapped in clear plastic with a sticker with a picture of a piece of fish on it we could just burn retail food waste, generate electricity and have lovely potash the farmers would line up for.

    Oh and Mike Cagle@#20

    For somebody flogging their own compassion liberalism and open mindedness your post indicates a affinity for wicked petty self aggrandizing pejoratives that would fit right in at a Klan meeting. If you are an example of the present character of urbane tolerance in Gotham, stay there.

    I have to go now, a bunch of us dirty ignorant inbred racist sexist homophobic fascist hicks are going to poke kittens with sharp sticks before we take bites out of the last narwhal for lunch.

  26. #26 risa
    May 6, 2010

    As far as vegetarianism — can’t find it now, but wasn’t there a study on why certain kinds of malnutrition cropped up suddenly in India and they traced it to “improved” standards in cleaning up veggies for market? Not enough bugs in the diet …

  27. #27 Dale
    May 6, 2010

    Asian people are very efficient.

    I read of outhouses built over pig pens and fish ponds. The pigs and fish eat the human manure. I understand that its high in protein, form all the bacteria growing in our gut.

  28. #28 Elizabeth
    May 6, 2010

    Woah, Dale … that grossed me out WAY more than rabbit-fed pork ever could. :/

    Y’all have given me the motivation to approach our local (non-chain) grocery store and restaurants to ask about scraps/produce. Thanks!

  29. #29 Prometheus
    May 6, 2010

    #26 Risa

    “..wasn’t there a study on why certain kinds of malnutrition cropped up suddenly in India and they traced it to “improved” standards in cleaning up veggies for market?”

    The Jains were developing micro nutrient deficiencies from a lack of insects and microorganisms in their food. (vitamin A, B12 and vitamin D deficiencies).

    Jain vegetarianism was already the strictest form(no root vegetables, filtered water, nothing fermented, nothing with a lot of seeds etc.)so when their hygiene practices overlapped commercially cleaned food, it made them ill.

    Now most Jains take supplements (particularly during phases when they are not allowed to eat chlorophyll).

    shojin ryori vegetarians haven’t had any problems I have heard about but it is a lot less strict (The Buddha ate meat when it was offered to him as a gift).

  30. #30 Jesse Pino
    May 6, 2010

    @sharon in 22: Rowan Atkinson played an Archbishop of Canterbury as Blackadder in the first season (a plot making fun of the story of thomas a becket). But a very funny thought/slip!

  31. #31 Cathy
    May 7, 2010

    If feeling physically ill when I hear that the “low-spray” apples are treated with “agricultural streptomycin” means I’m a city-slicker, then I’m definitely guilty.

  32. #32 Greenpa
    May 7, 2010

    Dale- well, a little oversimplified, but yeah. I was in China in 1988, way in the back country where it wasn’t all cleaned up for western consumption. On a long stretch of empty road, one of the guys in the minivan urgently needed to go. No problem! Every 1/2 mile or so, there’s an outhouse at the roadside. Built by the farmer. For the convenience of the travelers. And the fertilizer.

    In the same area, they’ve got the diaper problem solved, too. No diapers. No bottoms to the pants. When you can, you hold the kid out over the road; there will be a dog or pig or chicken along in a couple moments to clean it up.

    I could go on. :-)

  33. #33 Sharon Astyk
    May 7, 2010

    Depends on the apples – agricultural streptomycin is common in large scale orchards, not so much in the ones I’m talking about.

    Sharon

  34. #34 Nomen Nescio
    May 10, 2010

    i see nothing inherently wrong with eating meat that was raised on stuff i wouldn’t eat myself. far as i’m concerned, the intestines, skin, and immune system of whatever ate that stuff is insulation enough; if the animal managed to survive decently well eating the thing-i-won’t-eat, then its muscle tissue is far enough removed from the taboo to be okay by me, and any lingering ickiness disappears in the frying pan.

    after all, i’ll happily eat farmed tilapia, and i’ve seen the videos of how they’re raised. fish farms use tilapia as the first stage in cleaning up tanks polluted past the use of other fish species; they’re basically raised in somewhat diluted fish-shit mud. still taste pretty decent fried, though.

    making an issue of the aesthetics involved is a slippery slope, because very few non-human animals give a hoot about the aesthetics of their living conditions; i’ve seen dairy cattle up close, and if i worried much about their aesthetics, i’d be unable to consume milk products ever again. i suspect much the same could be said of goats.

  35. #35 Luane Todd
    May 22, 2010

    I liked Perry’s description of ‘pancake kitties’. It did for me what the ‘rabbit fed pork’ did for you….uncontrolled giggling, for several minutes, and everytime I reread the passage that evening. I know it isn’t really funny, but I’ve watched cows collapse in a heap many times and the mental picture was too much.

    Love your work…keep it coming.