I Live in Dichotomy House

bull steer

I’m standing at the kitchen counter rolling out crust to make an entrée my son wants for his birthday. Beef pies. They won’t be filled with just any beef, but the tender flesh of a two-year-old steer named Clovis who spent his whole life on our little farm. It’s hard to reconcile my feelings with the facts. Right now I’m dicing the brisket, a place where Clovis liked to be scratched.

Years ago my daughter made an excellent case for raising a dairy cow as a learning experience for her and homegrown way for us to procure healthy grassfed milk we could turn into yogurt, kefir, and cheese. On her birthday we gave her a red halter and soon after we got a lovely Guernsey. Isabelle changed her life. All our lives

The spring that Isabelle gave birth to her first bull calf was another game-changer. Initially I tried to delude myself that little Dobby  could be trained to work as an ox or that we could find him a place in some farm animal sanctuary. Delusions they were indeed. Our only option was to raise him for a year or two, knowing all our hand-fed carrots and apples couldn’t forestall his eventual fate.

When he was small my daughter halter-trained him, leading him out the pasture gate to fresh grass. Even later, at 1,600 pounds, he followed her just as future steers would do. Long before they had to leave, she wisely insured they’d be calm and unafraid for the day they’d be led to the truck taking them away.

It’s a hard truth indeed to realize that calves who love to be brushed, calves who cavort in exultation when the gate to a fresh pasture is opened, calves who are clearly attached to the mother who birthed them and continues to care for them, cannot live out their natural lifespans. We consoled ourselves knowing that at least here our steers lived every day of their lives with their mother, grazing and nursing in peace until the last day they breathed. And that Isabelle could live out her natural lifespan, more than three times longer than dairy cows are typically permitted in the U.S. This is rare, almost unheard of, on today’s farms.

But I veer from my point. (This veering is a chronic problem of mine.)

My scruples once ruled. My children were raised on vegetarian food made from scratch. I used to be pretty darn strident about this. Heck, I used to be pretty strident about all sorts of things, from education to politics. My scruples haven’t changed, at least I think they haven’t, but my ability to live with dichotomy has.

Maybe it was precipitated by that not-so-great dinner of bean patties with buckwheat groats and mushroom gravy, but at this point three out of four of my offspring now include meat in their diets. (Yes friends, it’s true, our dictates don’t inform our kids’ choices. ) My husband once ate meat only at restaurants and other people’s houses because I couldn’t bear to have the flesh of once-living creatures in our home. Then he became a hunter. People dear to me quite happily flourish on the opposite end of the political spectrum and I do my (sometimes faltering) best to establish common ground, because really, every one of us wants the same things —-among them the freedom to live in safety, do what enhances our lives, and find meaning in our everyday activities. People dear to me also raise their children very differently than I’ve chosen, from sleep training to stringently academic schooling to tough love.

Every year I’ve learned more about accepting, even embracing, differing viewpoints. It’s not easy. There’s plenty of kvetching, from me and surely from the people who do their best to put up with me. This is a very big deal. It’s the foundation of peace, the only possible way forward for our species.

I slice up the very flesh I once lavished with rubs and scratches,  then I roll out dough (yes, with whole grain flour) because my son hopes I’ll try the Cornish Pasty recipe he showed me. (For vegetarian family members, I make spinach pies that are refreshingly free of contradictions.)

I have no philosophy that fully explains this contradiction. But I try to stay awake and aware as I make food for someone I love out of the flesh of an animal I once loved. I reflect sorrowfully that, since last spring, we have no cattle at all on our back pasture. I’m sure I miss those mindful beings far less than my daughter must.

I wash the wooden cutting board, wipe the counters, and consider how complicated and paradoxical life is. We live on life, pass from life, and life goes on. I don’t know what to make of it except to rationalize a second glass of wine.

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15 thoughts on “I Live in Dichotomy House

  1. Embrace the dichotomy. I feel well when I eat meat. I feel tired and unwell when I don’t. My celiac diet is already short on protein, so I don’t fight too hard against eating meat. I would prefer it if the meat had not come from a conscious being, but short of lab-grown weirdness, it all comes from creatures with eyes and some with personalities. When I raised my own, I gave them the best life I knew how, and offered thanks and praised their sacrifice when it was time. I gave them peace and freedom, they gave me their strength. It seemed a not totally inequitable exchange.

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  2. Maybe there is a way for you not to live a dichotomous life. For you to be able to say, I am not going to control what anyone else eats, but I am not going to participate or support the untimely death of an animal I loved. So that you can be consistent with your own ethics. A dichotomous house shouldn’t mean dichotomous actions for you.

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  3. Bless you! You attend to your scruples much better than I’m able to. I would prefer to eat only pastured animals, but had a burger today at In-n-out, because stopping there meant my son would eat before heading off to hang out with friends. This is typical of how I eat these days. I haven’t yet eaten one of my chickens, but I hope to get help some day in the butchering process, so I can. It feels right. Better than buying meat and not ever killing it myself.

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  4. GREAT last line! Yes, you certainly honor all living things in your life. And while it may be painful, you manage also to honor myriad perspectives. You challenge yourself a lot more in life than most of us dare. Brava! Cheers!

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  5. Lovely and loving. Life is full of dichotomies and paradoxes. The thing is to live in creative tension remembering love is the substance of all things, everything, seen and unseen, and be grateful (as I know you are) for the mystery.

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  6. After 10 years of vegetarianism and 2 pregnancies, I ended up in the emergency room, my whole digestive system broken. This was 6 years ago. I started eating meat (only ethically raised) and started feeling better. 5 years ago, we started raising our own animals. So far we’ve raised nearly all the chicken and turkey we’ve eaten. We also buy grass fed beef from a local farm. This post is so timely for me as we embark on a new adventure. We recently bought a larger piece of land, we plan on moving to soon. We are raising pigs there currently. They are helping us root up the 1 1/2 acres of invasive knotweed I hope to turn to pasture someday . We’ve been told by everyone that the only way to get rid of those invasive weeds is spray them, but our little piggies seem to be doing a great job. When there job is finished, most will become food that sustains us (although Spotty and Peach will get a pass and live out their lives in our woods) . The first four footed animals we’ve raised for meat. As I care for them, I prepare my mind for their end. I also prepare my young children. I realize that meat is an absolute necessity in my life. I also realize that it is the most sustainable way I can walk through this life. I also realize that I am blessed with the opportunity to raise animals in a way that supports my values. Some of this makes it easier. Although I am very aware of the dichotomy inside as I truly enjoy the taste of meat now, while also realizing the great cost. Thank you for your words they spoke to my heart. I think you may enjoy the book, The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith. And knowing that we are all vegetarians in heaven brings me the most peace of all. I look forward to the day when my meat eating earthly days come to an end.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Raising animals that will end up on our tables, especially after being a vegetarian, is a strange and difficult journey isn’t it? We’ve considered pigs, but right now can’t afford the necessary fencing. And I’m not sure I can bear to start with another herd destined only for the slaughterhouse even though I know we can assure the very best life for such animals in comparison with today’s confinement farms. Right now I’m hoping we’ll be able to re-fence for a herd of sheep or goats raised for their fiber.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a thoughtfully and beautifully written piece! As someone who’s chosen a different path from many of my family members, I really identify with the insight you bring to walking that line–which often feels more like a tightrope–between different worlds and different worldviews.

    Liked by 1 person

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