Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Semantics and Stupid People

Fair warning: if you are easily offended, proto-vegetarian, or reading this to your children, then go read a different post.  This one is probably going to upset you and make you want to write stupid things in my comment box. There are also no photos this post. More next time. 

Okay, so if you're still with me, then off we go! This week was my week off from work. I won't call it a vacation, because I think of vacations as trips to the beach, reading a dozen books, lounging around doing nothing. That isn't my life these days. I spend this week trying to catch up on farm chores, and the one I look forward to the least was what I refer to as "D-Day for the birds". This time it was the ducks turn to become food for people.

So this is my blog today: the problem of language to describe what we do. What do we call this thing we do when we raise our animals and then turn them into food for our table? I have run across a lot of words for it lately: harvest, process, butcher, slaughter, kill. I'm sure there are more, but those are the more recent finds.  My question has more to do with cultural/social semantics than actual descriptive use.  All those words mean the same thing: to turn a live animal into food.  Yes, 'process' and 'harvest' are nicer ways to say it than 'butcher' or slaughter' or even 'kill'.  I usually say 'process', because I think 'harvest' is a bit too precious. Yes, there is a history in the OED for use of the word in referencing animal harvest, but still, it just sounds like I am actively avoiding the truth or something.  The odd thing is, that when I say, "I'm going to process the ducks tomorrow", what I hear in my head is, "I'm going to butcher and dress the ducks tomorrow".  But I say 'process' because it sounds nicer for my listener/reader to hear.  NOT because I'm trying to make the deed nice, but because I have seen the look of horror on people's faces when I say "butcher". I do enjoy a lively debate about the question of "should we all be vegetarians?" (No), but I refuse to be engaged by idiots raving about the End Time because I eat meat and it is cruel to the animals to eat them.

Actually, the animals survival as a species is connected to our use of them (be it eating, showing, working, whatever), so my eating one of my ducks keeps that particular breed alive because I'll need to breed more next year, and maybe my neighbor will want one, so I give him two to breed, etc., etc.  There is no cruelty inherent in eating animals, it is what we have done for thousands of years. The cruelty comes from how we treat the animals while we raise them and in how we butcher them.  If I eat a hamburger from Fast Food Joint A, then yes, I am eating meat that is cruel. There's no getting around that, kids.  Feed lot cows live in filth they can't escape and eat food that will kill them by the time they reach ten months of age, so it's lucky we slaughter them at seven months.  Similarly, if I go to Grocery Store B and get a "On Sale today pork tenderloin $2.99 per pound" I can promise you that hog did not roam freely on pasture and roll in nice, clean mud, but lived in highly stressful feed lot conditions and fed some soy-packed feed that smells like shit.  But we must have our cheap food, mustn't we?  If I had to eat that crap I'd be a vegetarian, too.

I eat meat. I didn't used to eat meat. I was a vegetarian for 20 years and I ate lots of processed junk that was sold as "Health Food".  It worked for me for 15 years, then it stopped working and I got very sick and gained a lot of weight and got even sicker.  After five more years of being ill I tried eating meat again, and I started to feel better and eventually lost some weight. I did make a conscious choice to only eat meat raised by people with a soul, rather than feed lot animals. This meant I had to do some homework on farmers, and some running around all over Georgia to find meat raised and processed humanely.  I also like to think I was a non-blame vegetarian, although my tag line was always, "If more people had to kill what they ate, there would be a lot more vegetarians in the world".  I still believe that. I wish more people would get more involved in the raising of their own food, rather than swinging by McDonald's or Burger King for the Dollar Menu.   The animals deserve better than a cheap dollar burger (of which the farmer might make ten cents, by the way).

A local farmer keeps his customers updated on the farm doings by posting on facebook. He recently let everyone know about how their day started: "4:00 am & pulling out for drive to USDA processor. Taking 4 beautiful grass fed cows."

They are leaving at 4:00 am because the closest place to get your meat processed at a USDA facility is four hours from the metro-Atlanta area, in South Carolina.  Now THAT should be what gets people angry. Why don't we have more USDA processors so we don't have to drive our animals to their deaths in another state? Well, that is another blog post. What got me ready to rumble was this reply-post by someone, I assume one of their customers, but I don't know. She takes issue with their Twitter-like post, above: 

"shouldn't we call it what it is, though....not "process" but "slaughter"? i like how you honor the animals by saying they were it hard on them to be transported to usda you stay with them as they go through the slaughterhouse to keep them as calm as possible? i know of a farm here that does a co-op, so she doesn't have to load them on a truck, send them to the slaughterhouse. they go up to them in the field with molasses treats, talk to them kindly and then use the bolt gun to quickly kill them. would that be something you could incorporate? just wondering...keep up the humane things you do and thanks ahead for sharing!"

This kind of thing just pisses me off!  Really? THAT is your post to these farmers who clearly care about their animals and aren't an industrial feed lot killing hundreds of animals an hour??!!  I don't know this person, but it seems painfully clear to me she has never raised animals to be butchered, never butchered them herself.  Should she have to butcher them herself? No, but she also can't lecture about what she doesn't know or understand, either.  In order to be able to sell his meat to customers, the Farmer has to take his cows to a USDA facility.  They don't allow tourists in those places. You drop off your animal and come back later to retrieve the meat.  That is the deal.  Most of us would rather have a mobile unit( comes to the farm and we then could walk the animal up to the line and let the butchers take care of her, but in the current model we can't do that.  People drive me crazy sometimes. 

Poultry, and for some reason rabbits, are allowed to be butchered on-farm in Georgia.  There are rules and regulations of course, but being able to process our own birds makes it less stressful on them.  It isn't easy killing animals for food. I would rather not do it, but I also don't want to hand it over to someone who cared less about the welfare of the animals than I do.  It isn't easy, and it never should be easy, but I do it and I am grateful for the animals.  I like to think the good life they have of roaming the pasture and woods of our farm makes up for processing day for them.  In the wild most animals are lucky to survive a year and raise young before being killed by a predator.  Well, I guess I'm the predator in this world.  

I know I said no pictures, but I feel like I have to have something.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I've heard 'butcher' far more than the others, but I have to say, 'process' sounds like they're waiting in line with paperwork, ready to be stamped by a clerk. "NEXT" :)

  3. Thank you for your consideration in using "process", but as a former vegetarian myself I can tell you that I am ok with "butcher". It is what it is, plus it denotes a certain skill set.

    Thanks for what you are doing to stem the tide of Big Agriculture :)

  4. Hello,

    I am interested in sustainable food, and I'm coming to Atlanta (Johns Creek, to be exact) for Thanksgiving. I'm wondering if you can point me in the direction of a farmer nearby that sells turkeys. I would love if you emailed me a suggestion or two.



  5. Dear Sally
    My name is Mathew Newton Robertson I live
    in Calhoun,Ga Gordon County . My father is
    William Gordon Robertson he is ninety-one years
    old, son of Thomas Gordon Robertson * Dane Robertson, 1912 Audubon community, Gordon County Thomas Gordon owned a general merchandize store.
    Robertson's Store and his father Mathew Robertson owned one in Fidele ,Ga.
    Thomas Gordon in 1918 moved to the city of Calhoun,open a store downtown for 67 years
    Robertson Department Store . We would love to
    visit your farm sometime, buy some veggie and
    honey & jams , perhaps we may be kin folks.
    Mathew & Mandy
    124 Lexington Dr
    Calhoun, Ga 30701

  6. Your Blog expresses what my husband and I thought for 40 years. People gasped when they found out we slaughtered our own animals. They wondered how we could eat them. We countered, asking them how they could eat the feed lot meat not know what or how it was fed, or if it was given meds hazzardous to our health.

    We found a local butcher to whom we turned the job over to, and yes we stayed while the job was done. He was very humane and did not rush the animals. He called processing, the part when he cut and packaged the meat. butchering was what you did after you killed them, Our butcher is a preacher on the weekends.

    When you take care of your own stock and do your own "processing" you gain a respect for life. Our children were involved in all segments of growing their own food. They have grown into compassionate adults. Properly raised vegetables and meat have more flavor than their commercially raised counterparts (not to mention they are healthier).