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.