Today Rooney was "processed," which is the politically correct way of saying slaughtered. I've been using the term "processed" for several weeks since it took the edge off the entire situation for no one other than myself. It has taken quite some time to make this decision. I've weighed options, considered alternatives, and finally accepted the fact that my perceptions have changed - drastically - in the 2+ years we've had the land and animals. For better or worse, I've changed a lot, too.
The decision to process Rooney represents a distinct line in the sand between the past and the future for me. There was definitely a time (like, oh, the past 30 years) in my life when I viewed slaughtering one's own animal for food as absolutely horrific - deplorable - inexcusable. To me that was only acceptable in an apocalyptic type of scenario in which absolutely no sustenance remains on earth except the family pet. Then and only then would such a thing be justifiable. To say Rooney was a pet, however, is quite a stretch. Was he given a name? Yes. Was he treated with great care? Of course. Was his purpose in our life to serve as a pasture ornament? Never.
So what's it take to go from animal rights activist to small farmer who "processes" her own backyard cattle? Not that much, as it turns out. In fact, I must pose the question, what's the difference between an animal rights activist and a small farmer who "processes" her own backyard cattle? Not that much, as it turns out.
I've never been a vegetarian. Never in my life has it crossed my mind to become one. My entire universe, at least my daily schedule, revolves around food. I love, crave, and live for a good meal (and apparently I'm not embarrassed to admit it). All meals - even those containing meat. It never occurred to me to feel outrage about the meat industry in this country, most likely because I knew how deeply disturbed I would become and how helpless I would feel. Did I really want to go down that road? Aside from choosing not to eat meat, what could I do, and really, what systemic impact would that make?
Just about the time we bought the land the locavore movement exploded, and our community became better connected with a variety of local, humanely raised meat products. Around that time I also began reading those books critical to the movement; The Omnivore's Dilemma, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - to name a few. With these books in hand I tentatively climbed atop my soap box and touted the virtues of local, pastured meats. In fact, now we had our own little spot to raise some food; those with roots and those with feet. Could I practice what I preached?
Not really. It took - it takes - a lot of time to remedy these types of internal disagreements. And beyond all of the issues I dealt with in the process, the underlying struggle had to do with the exertion of power. Choosing to end life feels a little like playing God. But it's exactly in that feeling that I found acceptance with Rooney's life cycle. Hadn't I been "playing God" all along? Every time I bought plastic wrapped meat at the grocery store or ordered a burger for dinner - wasn't I choosing to support the death of something, somewhere? And wasn't that life and that death treated with unbearable disregard? As a person who cares deeply about the welfare of animal lives that I can control, wasn't this the opportunity to support the cause of humane and careful treatment of our food (and, therefore, of animals)?
Maybe the argument isn't linear; it certainly isn't simple. And it's incredibly personal. But the point is that we should all spend more time getting personal about our food and considering the actual, and distinct, impact of our food choices. My acceptance of Rooney's fate is a significant demonstration to myself about how I can support the humane treatment of animals. Every meal created from my backyard represents fewer dollars in the pockets of national meat "manufacturers." For me, that's a powerful statement.
Sunday I said goodbye quietly in the pasture. Thanked him for the meals he would provide our families and friends. Told him I hoped he'd had a very nice life and felt completely confident that he had. I bowed out of the opportunity to actually participate in the event itself but made sure the entire process, from pasture to slaughter, would be incredibly brief to reduce stress as much as possible.
Today I'm filled with lots of small gratitudes. I'm grateful for Jeremy's urging this be done and for my father-in-law who helped enough that I didn't need to be present. I'm grateful this state (one of the few) has enough tiny slaughterhouses to ensure that small-scale farmers can process their animals quickly without long and stressful transport or waiting periods. I'm grateful for the land where food can be raised in good health and with respect. And finally, I'm so grateful to Rooney, for all of the obvious reasons.