As I watched Miss Lady take over with the potato fork in the garden the other day so she could have a turn digging up potatoes, I was impressed by the strength, skill, and knowledge this 6 (and a half) year old little girl already possesses. I was reminded yet again about why we have chosen this life for our family. There isn’t just one reason that we homestead, but an important reason that we do is that we want our children to understand what our food is and where it comes from. I think that if you’re gonna be a meat eater there are two things you need to understand: No. 1, Where your food comes from and what it is, and no. 2 appreciate, and value that which you eat.
(*Psst. I’ve tried writing this post quite a few times, and I just can’t keep it short. Sorry. I hope you take the time to read it through… I think it’s worth reading, so save it for when you have more time if you need to, and sit down with a cup of hot cocoa or coffee when you are good and ready! The contents of this post are my opinions and the opinions of some other homesteaders, but do not necessarily reflect the exact feelings of all people who homestead or farm. )
(** Psssssst… this post contains an affiliate link. Please read the full disclosure in our sidebar or at the bottom of our page.)
Before We Begin
Lately, the topic of what food is and where it comes from has been coming up in some of the Facebook communities I am a part of and elsewhere. The issue isn’t that we don’t know these things, it’s that there seems to be a large portion of our society that doesn’t understand. Some of these people have been living and breathing the homesteading, gardening, or farming life forever, some not. I haven’t always lived this way, and there are plenty of things that I’ve learned since we started cooking from scratch and gardening and even since we started homesteading, yet I grew up in an agricultural community. Having grown up in that environment, there are some things you just don’t go into adulthood without knowing.
I know that this is not what everybody grows up around, so I get why not everybody would automatically know the things I take as common knowledge. I know that even from person to person (take my siblings for instance) you can have one person absorb most of what they grew up around and have another person whose head it goes right over. I want to be clear that my intention with this post is not to insult anybody. The fact is that it breaks our hearts that people don’t know or care more about their food.
#1. Food is the Foundation of Life
It probably sounds a bit dramatic to say that it breaks our hearts that people don’t know or care more about their food, but it’s true. Whether or not you realize it, your life revolves around food. The food you consume impacts your health. If you don’t eat, you starve to death. If money gets tight, you might try and find ways to reduce your expenses… you’d get late on the mortgage or the rent, you’d sell that which you didn’t need, and you’d spend your limited income either finding a new source of income, or getting food. If you lost your job, lost everything you had, and didn’t have a penny to your name, your first goal (maybe after finding shelter for the night) would be to find a way to get food.
But it doesn’t just stop there. First dates are often had over dinner or lunch or coffee. We gather together on holidays to share in a feast with our family or friends. Nightly dinner as a family is a must for many people. Some husbands and wives eat every breakfast and lunch together. Shared meals are a time to catch up with one another or get to know each other better. When we experience the death of a loved one or a friend, people bring meals. When we’re sick, or fall on hard times, people bring meals. They do it to comfort, and also to help, because food is important and because sometimes when the stress is too much, it’s really difficult to find the energy to feed ourselves. People bring meals when a new baby is born because it’s crazy hard to cook anything when there’s a sweet new bundle in the house. Culture and tradition revolve largely around food. Your heritage probably impacts what kinds of food you eat, or how and when you eat.
As homesteaders, gardeners, or farmers, many of these people work to raise their own food because they know that it’s better for their health, and most of them will tell you that it just tastes better. And not just because they raised it themselves. Like I said earlier, I just want to focus on eating meat today. I could go into other aspects, but this post would never end, and you might hate me for it. So let’s look at the different comments some of us have heard from friends, family, acquaintances, and complete strangers. There are many other comments on the topic of meat-eating I could discuss, but I mainly want to concentrate on those that are made from other people who eat meat or people who object based on similar reasoning.
#2. Meat Comes from Animals
It doesn’t matter if you get your meat from a grocery store, restaurant, or somewhere else. All meat started out as a living, breathing animal. The fact that meat comes from animals that gave their lives so you could eat and sustain yourself. It’s hard for some people to swallow, and that’s okay. It’s really, really important that we understand that fact. I’d go so far as to say that this is the biggest reason we shouldn’t waste food (meat in particular). I mean, I get it. Sometimes you get so full, you just can’t possibly eat another bite. Sometimes there is not a good or safe way to keep the meat for another meal, and a lot of folks can’t simply feed it to their dog or cat. But how many times have you let a cut of meat or a pound of ground beef spoil in your fridge because you forgot it was there? Threw out leftovers when you could have frozen them or refrigerated them? Left out the leftovers after dinner long enough that they are no longer safe to keep? And on top of that, there are a lot of people who practically live off of meat without either understanding, caring, or respecting where that food came from.
I know this sounds obvious to a lot of people, but apparently it’s not as obvious as I once thought. So many people are so far removed from the food process and as a result, there’s a lot about food that people just don’t know anymore. It’s not fair to blame it on anyone or anything in particular. Things have changed. Our society has changed. And there’s just not a great motivator for people to know some of this. In fact, there was even a person in one of the homesteading Facebook groups who admitted that it wasn’t until she was in college that she realized that meat doesn’t come from a grocery store. Personally, it’s something I’ve always known, but the fact is that the point wasn’t really, truly driven home to me until we raised and butchered our first batch of chickens.
#3. “How could you eat your pets?! That’s so cruel!”
That comment followed with something along the lines of “Why don’t you just get your meat at the grocery store like a normal person?” Real comments from real people. Let’s just address that first part. Anybody who butchers their own meat or raises animals for meat will tell you that these animals are NOT pets. That doesn’t mean they aren’t well cared for and deeply appreciated. But for somebody who raises animals for meat, it’s not the same. Some people will name the animals, but most won’t. If they do, they might seem like “dark” names to some, but they do it to keep things in perspective… a lot of people will name their turkeys “Thanksgiving” and “Christmas.” Some people name their pigs things like “Porkchop,” “Bacon,” and “Ham.”
There are also a lot of people who have raised animals with the intention of one day butchering them, but just couldn’t find it in their hearts to do it. They did get attached to the animals, and the animals inadvertently became pets. Some of these folks would willingly go help a friend to butcher their animals, some of them fully and completely understand what butchering is and are okay with it, but don’t have the space or equipment or time or desire to do the butchering on their own. But it’s like I said, nobody who raises animals for meat will tell you that these animals are pets. They are livestock. Their life purpose is different from that of the milk cow or the family dog.
Now, if you have a problem with killing an animal for the sake of eating it, really I hope you don’t eat meat, because as I said before, that’s the reality of what meat is. Getting it from the grocery store does not somehow make it more “clean” or “humane” or less…animal. If you object and abstain, I can respect that, but it’s just insanely hypocritical to say that it’s cruel to kill an animal to a farmer who raises their own meat and yet you go and buy meat from the store. That’s where the meat in the store came from… an animal on a farm! Meat is muscle tissue. Organs are, well, bodily organs! Just because you get your meat from the store does not somehow mean you are not partaking in the death of an animal. You did because of the very fact that you purchased that meat. Somebody killed that animal FOR YOU.
Listen, I have long known that meat comes from animals, and that the majority of meat that people eats comes from animals that were raised on farms. But I have to admit that it was a really different and eye-opening experience for me to raise and butcher chickens for the first time. I remember getting the baby chicks and having to consciously think about what those chicks’ life purpose was. I remember picking up the meat birds at night to put them back into the coop, and holding them and feeling that they were warm, and feeling them breathe. And I remember seeing the change from when life was flowing through them, to when it stopped, along with participating in the process of turning that bird that was alive just a few minutes prior into something that could be cooked and served up on our dinner table. It was a deeply humbling experience, and not just for me, but our whole family. When we butchered our first deer, it was just extremely eye opening to see what such a large animal compared to a chicken offers up in exchange for it’s life.
A lot of people who butcher animals will say a humble prayer either before or after butchering. When they sit down to a meal, they know exactly what they need to be grateful for, and they aren’t willing to let anything go to waste if they can help it. There is a profound understanding of what is placed before them.
Bonnie of The Not-so-Modern Housewife had this to say:
“The most common comment I get is “How can you eat something you’ve raised from a baby?” To which I reply, “I’d rather eat an animal that I raised, knowing that it lived a good life and met a humane end. My animals enjoy dirt and sunshine and living as naturally as possible.”’
Ashley of Practical Self Reliance said:
“I spent many years as a vegan because it just didn’t seem right to eat meat without taking responsibility for taking that life. I started eating meat again when I was able to raise the animals myself, and know that they had a good life. People think it’s a strange thing to go from vegan to processing your own meat, but to me, it makes perfect sense. These days, we include a lot of wild meat into our diet, and though I didn’t raise it, it raised itself happier and healthier than I ever could. “
Michelle of Souly Rested summed it up perfectly:
“Honestly, I feel awful when I pick up a steak or a few chicken breasts at the store. Because I know the awful life those cows and hens lived in order to die an awful death for my meal. Have you visited a slaughterhouse or watched a documentary about the subpar existence these animals live? The poor unnatural diet they’re fed? Instead, the animals raised on our farm have truly lived a good life. They’ve been well loved, well fed, and genuinely cared for. And, of course, they never would have even existed if we had not bred them here, on our homestead. So we were here to see them enter the world and it is our responsibility to make sure they have a humane death, here in the calmness of their home, not the terror and fear of a slaughterhouse. Yes, every single time we butcher it’s hard. Yes, every single time I remind myself that this was not the way God originally intended, before sin entered the world. But along with sin came bloodshed and hardship just to provide for our family’s food. Yes, every single time I stop and say a prayer of thanksgiving to the Creator and Lord of my life who provides all good things, even the nutritious food our family can raise and care for ourselves. And, yes, I am so thankful.”
#4. The “Cruel” Factor
But let’s address what is cruel. Yes, I get that many people who feel strongly that eating meat is wrong would love to tell me just how cruel eating meat is. You’re entitled to your opinion, but so am I.
Somehow the notion that meat you get from the store is more “humane” has begun to filter into peoples’ heads over the years. Somehow people have started to believe a myth that the meat in the store doesn’t come from animals. I mean, I know that there are experiments to grow meat in laboratories, but that’s NOT what you are getting in the store! By and large, the meat from the grocery store (more so now than ever before) was raised on a large-scale or factory farm.
*I’m not gonna get into bashing factory farms. Farmers have a very hard time making a decent living off of the products they offer in order to sustain OUR lives. Nobody serves the good of the public like a farmer. Factory farms exist because of the demands that we as a society place. Their practices are the result of trying to find a way to actually make a living off of the work that they do. If I don’t agree with those practices, then I need to bring my business elsewhere or find a way to raise my own food.
The truth is that a lot (not all) of the meat you get in the grocery store is from animals raised in confinement. “Non-GMO,” doesn’t always guarantee that the animal was raised with the best practices, and neither does “organic.” And even “Pasture-raised” can have a slippery definition. Some of it is raised with good practices, and some of it is not. You need to do your own research to figure that out. The solution to this problem is not to give up meat, boycott companies and try and put them out of business, or harass or harm the people involved in these practices. Lots of them care deeply about what they do and are not “just in it” for the profit. If we want to see better practices, we need to start by changing our habits. Think about how often you eat meat, think about what you eat when you go out. Think about the last time you let your food go to waste. If more people start doing that, we’ll see changes in the industry, because the demand will have changed. Shop from small-scale, local farms so that they stand a fighting chance against the big farms, and the practices you do support have a chance to flourish.
While the animals we raise might not be pets, we certainly don’t take their upbringing lightly.
Jenna of The Flip Flop Barnyard has received some hateful remarks, but she handles it well:
“I have had some very nasty comments telling me I should die and that someone should stab me like we did the pig. The most common is people calling me an idiot and telling me that I should buy my meat at the grocery store like a normal person instead of killing an animal for it… What I tell people that eat meat is this: I’d rather raise my own meat or buy it from a local small farm where I know exactly how it was raised, what it was fed, and that it was humanely harvested. You don’t even know what country the store bought meat comes from, much less how humanely (or not) it was raised or harvested. I’d much rather supply meat for my family or purchase from and support another family instead of a giant corporation. Also, you have to remember that an animal does in fact die when meat is produced, it doesn’t magically appear on a shelf. ” (*emphasis added)
You can disagree with taking a life in order that you might live, but don’t be a hypocrite about it. And please bear in mind that just because the animal died does not mean it lived in some horrible conditions before it’s death or that it was abused or tortured. At least on the small scale, most farmers are doing everything and anything they can to give that animal the best life possible. A lot of these animals are allowed to roam around, graze (if that’s what they do), and are given great care and consideration. Some people only feed their animals organic foods so that it’s as healthy as possible, not only because they plan to eat the meat someday, but because the animal will likely be healthier for it throughout the duration of it’s life.
#5. “Meat from the store is cleaner!”
Sorry, it’s really hard for me to not laugh at this statement. Meat from the store is not cleaner than meat from a farm. Meat from the store COMES FROM a farm. Yes, farms can be dirty, muddy places. Cow patties might be out in the field. The farmer might have mud leading up to their back door. But it’s not cleaner at a factory farm. They might use different chemicals to clean things, and because of the scale of their operation, I guess less people are dirty because less people are farmers than they used to be, but that doesn’t make it cleaner.
Animals belong in nature. Some animals raised in captivity won’t do well if left to fend for themselves in nature because they weren’t raised with that instinct, but if your dog didn’t live in your house, he’d be out scavenging for food. If your cat didn’t live in a city apartment, it WOULD hunt birds. They’d be more than happy to drink out of a mud puddle, just like they don’t hesitate to drink out of the fish bowl, a toilet, or the cup you left sitting out. And they wouldn’t poop in a liter box. Animals are inherently a part nature.
Again, I’m not gonna bash factory farms, but if we’re gonna be real, what’s better for the animals’ health? To be raised in a large barn where they never see the light of day and breathe in the air that’s filled with dust from their feces? Or for them to maybe peck bugs out of a piece of poop in the yard, but breathe fresh air and eat lots of fresh, green grass. Fresh is better for animals, too.
If you want to read a some really eye-opening info on how clean your chicken from the store really is, read the first few chapters of Joel Salatin’s book, Pastured Poultry Profits. (Affiliate link)
#6. Animals, The Environment, and Veganism
Animals are a part of nature. They are an integral part of the circle of life. When they poop, they fertilize plants, when they eat, they become food for other animals. If they are the predators, then they die and their corpses rot, and their bones nourish the land, as does their blood, and insects and scavengers will feed off of their flesh, muscles, and organs.
Lynda pointed out that:
“Veganism leads to more animal death and is harder on the planet as compared to free range, grass feed animals. To plant enough crops to support veganism, wildlife is slaughtered and driven from their homes. Mice, rats, snakes, lizards, voles etc are killed by plowing the fields. Deer and birds are driven off to protect those crops. With livestock grazing, wildlife can live in harmony with wildlife, (to a degree) and there is no damage to smaller animals. Also the ground is healthier with grazing than with mono cropping. You don’t have to add chemicals.”
Another woman, Adele said:
“The other issue is it takes a lot more vegetables to equal the same amount of calories as animal protein. Plus not all land is equal: grazers can flourish on land that can’t support farming. I had a friend who lived as a hunter gatherer for three years…we had an in depth conversation about his diet and he estimated that 75% of his calories during that time came from meat. He pulled this stunt in Montana. Also, the ecosystems of North America and Europe are already based around large grazers and browsers… Organisms in poor soil actually depend on manure from grazers for nutrition.”
#7. What it Boils Down to is Respect
Respect the life that was taken in order to sustain yours. Respect the farmers who work their entire lives to feed you. Respect the animals around you. Respect the land around you. Respect that we all have to make decisions for ourselves, and that we should be striving to make the best decision for ourselves and our families.
The comment below highlights how even though we can have differences in life practices and opinions, we can still be respectful of other people and their decisions:
“For us, our animals become family members, who are entitled to their retirement, just like grandparents who are cared for in their old age. We are not against people who eat meat, but strongly believe the animal should be well cared for during it’s lifetime, and butchered with consideration and respect, wasting no parts of the animal.
Taking life is a serious thing, taken much too lightly overall. And since the majority of meat-eaters do not raise their own, it leaves the door open for large-scale operations, which by necessity of the sheer numbers, must end up severely mistreating their animals.”
If you really can’t stand the idea that an animal has to die in order for you to eat meat, then please, don’t eat it. It might be difficult to accept the truth, but be informed, and take your time and examine your choices. If you now feel motivated to start genuinely learning more from a non-hateful place, reach out to a small-scale farmer and see if they’d be willing to teach you how to raise an animal or even butcher one. A member of one of the Facebook groups I mentioned, Derek, holds classes regularly to teach others how to butcher chickens. Many people come to him or people like him because they want to raise and butcher their own animals, because they feel they need to do it at least once in their life if they plan to continue to eat meat, or because they simply wish to gain a deeper appreciation for their food. If you live in my area and are interested in learning more, contact me, and we’ll see what we can do.
At the end of the day, this post isn’t about whether or not you decide to eat meat. It’s about getting to know your food and respecting where it comes from. If you have any questions for me, I’ll be happy to answer them to the best of my ability, and I pray that you gain the insight you seek.