I have read a lot of stories lately about eating meat. About animal cruelty. Mostly about human stupidity. Most recently, I read a wonderful article by another blogger about the “Animal Lover’s Dilemma”. It was a brilliantly executed article discussing the author’s experiences from a vegetarian youth to owning a farm with pastured livestock and eating said livestock. I cannot recommend this article enough.
Now. Onto my own ramblings: I spent my childhood years in rural Montana, a midst wide open spaces consisting of a checkerboard of public and private land. Most of this private land was owned by local ranchers who kept cattle, horses, sheep, and sometimes grew hay for their stock or for sale. The public land was a myriad of shale hills, rugged sage flats, and wooded draws on Custer National Forest, where whitetail deer, mule deer, and even the odd elk, bighorn sheep, and wolf resided. The coyotes, of course, were indiscriminate and ran everywhere.
As I grew up, I learned to shoot a gun, to use a knife, and clean an animal. Whether wild game, farm-raised cattle, or fish from the rivers and streams, I knew what was on my plate from the beginning. I knew that the cute fluffy chicks would someday make the omelets I was eating, and the roast chicken we slow-cooked. I knew that the pheasants with their beautiful plumage were delicious. I discovered that while calves were adorable, and would suck on your fingers like a pacifier, that I adored them almost as much as veal cutlets on my plate. All of this was before I was in school. It was normal state of affairs. I did not discover that this was not the case for most people until moving in the midst of my childhood to the Western part of the state, and the rather eccentric Missoula.
The first time I learned what a vegetarian was, I wrinkled my nose and asked not why, but “How?”. When I learned what a vegan was, I just shook my head. Not out of any spite for those individuals, and not out of mockery, but simply because I could not comprehend their disdain for such a dominate part of the human diet. From this statement, you might take away that I have some dislike for vegetables. On the contrary, I love vegetables. I even make vegetarian meals sometimes, but not because they are vegetarian – simply because they did not include meat (eggplant Parmesan, for example, is a favorite of mine).
I understood the concerns for human treatment of animals that many vegetarians express. I have many of the same reservations, and whenever possible, I eat meat that I can trace origin on. For example: my freezer is currently full of venison from the recent hunting season. I was fortunate enough to take species of deer and some elk. I also have a chicken raised by my brother’s family, and my grandfather usually slaughters a cow he pastures on some land he owns in central Montana once a year and shares the meat out to my rather large family. The eggs in my fridge are from my little cousin, whose parents let her get chickens (she even decorates my egg cartons for me) and I should be getting some pork from some pigs my brother has been helping to raise soon as well.
In all of these cases, I knew the origin of the animal, and I knew that the animals were well treated, and the products were handled with care (we butcher everything ourselves). My one regret in that regard is that I do not have room to learn how to tan hides. Once less thing to go to waste… but I digress.
My point is, you can be a responsible carnivore. Just as you can be a responsible vegetarian. Buy local when you can, and try to buy things that are in season (less likely to have been shipped halfway around world if its in season here). I found a great resource for seasonal food recently that shows what is in season for any given week. It gives some good ideas. I’m not saying I do not eat out of season. Sometimes in the dead of winter, I want spring mix. It happens. Just be aware, if you’re planning a menu for the week.
So. I have talked a great deal about eating meat. A little about the humane treatment of animals. I have not, however, discussed the love of animals. I love animals. Not just the pet kinds, I think all animals, even the deadly ones, are amazing creatures that we share our global home.
Unfortunately we are not always the best of neighbors. We have nasty habit of habitat destruction and specicide. We need to protect our natural resources, and this includes the animals that reside there. The problem begins when most people have naively think that “protection” equals leaving things alone. The answer, however, is management, not cessation of interaction. If we left the whitetail population in Eastern Montana alone, blue tongue would wipe it out, which has happened in previously poor-managed years. Why? Well, we killed off all the natural predators, of course. So lets just introduce predators and let things stabilize, right? Wrong again.
The powers that be tried that with wolves in the Yellowstone National Park. While I truly believe having wolves back is a wonderful thing, there were issues with the management. First, they used the wrong wolves. The Canadian wolves introduced were significantly larger than the wolves the government had eradicated in the early 1900′s. The second large problem was the underestimated numbers of wolf predation on the park’s herbivore population, and the populations of said prey dropped not only due to this, but due to a great deal of stress and less-than-ideal nutrition brought about by their flight from the newly-introduced wolves.
Bottom line: we messed up. And unfortunately, we are not very good at managing wildlife simply because there is so much more complex interaction that is going on behind the scenes. As a species, we frequently do not realize our infractions until it is far too late to rectify them. Currently, with much contested de-listing of wolves and their subsequent hunting, I think we are trying to get on top of things. Will this management strategy work? Who can say. Our vigilance is required to ensure we are caring for our natural resources in a way in keeping with a positive outlook for all species.
One of my favorite examples of the juxtaposition between loving animals and caring for them is rabbits:
You have a den of rabbits. They are so cute and fluffy! Especially the little ones. Time goes on. They breed. And breed. And breed. Eventually you are overrun with rabbits, your garden is non-existent, and all the wooden surfaces you have are chewed beyond recognition. Then the rabbits start killing each other for room, or get sick and all die, or any number of other scenarios, because they were within a sphere of human management (natural predators not doing their job due to proximity to people). Wouldn’t it have been kinda to eat them? Rabbit pot pie as delicious as those bunnies are cute.