I had a conversation with a friend today about slaughtering animals. Specifically, she used the words “dispose of a faithful friend.” “Dispose of” and “faithful friend” are words that don’t seem to fit together very well and it got me thinking about the typical way we view slaughtering animals for food in this country. The way I used to view slaughtering animals for food.
The prospect of losing Lucy breaks my heart. Call me foolishly sentimental, but this cow means more to me than any pet I’ve ever had. If you’ve ever loved a dog or cat who has offered companionship and affection, imagine an animal who has not only offered those things but has also quite literally provided sustenance to your children. One of the healthiest – perhaps the healthiest – thing our kids consume right now is the milk that comes from Lucy. Lucy is more than a pet, she’s a partner. In the mornings when I go out to milk her, I often sit and tell her about the people her milk is blessing. Every morning, sweating and freezing by turns, I sit and pray with my head against her belly. The very first part of my morning is spent with her, the last part of my day ends with her and she is quite literally the biggest contributor to our farm.
And she contributes without complaint. Twice, we’ve treated her for mastitis, which makes milking very painful, and she’s never kicked me. I put her through horrible pain almost every single morning for three weeks before her calf came, and yet she allowed me to lead her calf away from her that very night when the temperature was too cold to keep her outside. She came to us terrified to let me touch her head, and yet she stood perfectly still as I fumbled around her udder for hours, learning how to milk her. She learned to trust me by degrees and then she learned to enjoy my company. Anyone who has ever had a milk cow might scoff at my sentimentality, saying “all cows are like that,” and I say in return: what an incredible, amazing creature is the cow! God’s promised land was called “the land of milk and honey…” among the very best He gave His children included the cow.
Call it sentimental, call me a fool, but yes, I do love Lucy and the prospect of losing her breaks my heart. And yet the prospect of eating her doesn’t. I would imagine that those who have never been where I am won’t understand that. How can you love an animal so intensely, and be okay with eating her? After all, who could ever eat their pet dog?
When Lucy first came to us, Jon and I both agreed that we’d never butcher her. We decided that when she died, we’d honor her by burying her in the field. We both felt it would be wrong, somehow disrespectful, to do otherwise. But all that has changed.
Maybe it’s because I’ve butchered an animal now. Maybe it’s because I’ve asked, and been given, just a little more clarity about this world that God created and placed me into. I’ve come to understand that love doesn’t reside on one side and consumption the other, they can – and should – go hand in hand. Would it honor Lucy more to be buried in the ground, feeding the microorganisms that reside there than it would to harvest her body to feed my children? Is it more honorable to allow her flesh to rot in the dirt than to enter the bodies of my sons and daughters as the greatest facilitator of life there is? By consuming Lucy (whether in the next six months, or the next ten years) I’m doing the very opposite of “disposing.” I’m taking her into my very body, where she will become a part of me in a very literal sense.
It’s a strange sort of dichotomy. To hold in one hand an intense love for an animal and in the other a willingness to consume her. But that, to me, seems the very best way to honor an animal who is cherished and very, very loved.