A Reluctant Meat-Eater Learns Butchering


Jennifer QuinnDeer parts

Growing up in New York City, unlike many people these days whose only concept of meat is an amorphous blob sealed in plastic in a supermarket case, I was accustomed to the sight of meat carcasses hanging in a butcher shop's window. Though I loved animals — and hated the thought of hunting — I never gave much thought to the source of my meat until adulthood, when I began to read about the horrors of slaughterhouses, particularly in the beef industry.

For a time I swore off beef, then realized that the conditions for poultry were about as bad. Later, I discovered the appeal of vegetarian cuisine, reveling in brown rice, pita sandwiches filled with falafel or babaganoush, and other delicacies. So I thought, “Why eat meat?” and became essentially a vegetarian for several years.

Eventually, I reluctantly began adding meat back into my diet. This was partly due to health concerns, but there were other, more compelling reasons. First, I had long been interested in sustainable agriculture and had made a tour of organic farms and homesteads, staying for a few days or a week as a volunteer worker and learning about organic farming. I learned that, while not absolutely necessary, animals make an important contribution to our ability to grow and harvest food from the earth.

Second, I had come to realize that any use of animal products — including eggs and milk — requires the killing of animals, if only excess males. For every female calf or chicken born there will be approximately one male, and very few males are needed or can be kept in the flock without male-on-male aggression. Weaker or less desirable animals need to be culled in order to maintain and improve the quality of the herd.

Third, I realized that our beloved farm animals couldn’t even exist — except in zoos and preserves — if they didn’t have a job providing us with meat and other products. In return, we provide them with food, care, shelter, and protection. In the words of one formerly-vegetarian farmer: “I’m giving them the only life they have.”

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