Why farming changed the way I eat

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Once upon a time, not so long ago, I was a vegetarian. Then I became a farmer, and it completely changed my food attitude.

Over the next few weeks I’ll explain why raising livestock and growing produce reformed my view of food politics and subsequently the way I eat.

Carnivore convert

Why farming changed the way I eat: Part two

“Vegetarian” is a broad term that covers a wide spectrum of non-meat eaters. At the far left are vegans, who do not consume any animal products what-so-ever. Moving right on the spectrum, you’ll find ovo and lacto vegetarians, which allow eggs and dairy respectively. To the far right are “vegetarians” who eat fish, which everyone else considers meat. Plenty of folks sit somewhere in between right and left. It goes to show just how varied vegetarian diets can be.

As a vegetarian I leaned to the left. I used to describe my vegetarian diet as, “I don’t consume anything with eyes, except potatoes.” To me that meant eggs (potential eyes), meat (definite eyes), and dairy (source has eyeballs). But that all changed when I became a farmer.

Why farming change the way I eat: Part three

Eggs

My husband and I bought our farm in February. In March, the first flock of Silver Laced Wyandotte laying hens arrived. If there is any doubt in your mind that chickens are

designed to live in a natural environment, seek out a free-range farm and watch poultry delight in the natural world. I love watching “my girls” bask in the sun and take dust baths as the roosters bug hunt in the barnyard. At Dickie Bird Farm, we do not administer antibiotics or hormones to our birds, but they never get sick. I attribute their high level of health to low-stress, clean living.

Dickie Bird EggsBefore I farmed, I didn’t eat eggs because I hated the idea of hens confined in a laying barn. I was suspicious of the supermarket’s brilliant white eggs, and their neon pink stamps of approval.

Exactly five months after I began raising poultry, smooth brown eggs with delicious deep yellow yolks filled my fridge and my belly. Farming enables me to enjoy eggs as thank-you-gifts from “my girls” for the happy, quality life I provide them.

Death and processing

In the 1980s Fuddruckers Restaurants had in-house butcheries. My dad took my sister and me to Fuddruckers for an educational evening out. I vividly remember a wall lined with large glass windows that gave customers a clear view of the hanging room. He pointed to the hanging beef carcasses and said, “See where burgers come from?” In retrospect I admire my dad for trying to connect the dots in his little city-girl’s minds.

Average consumers don’t know much about the death and processing of livestock for meat. Before the field trip with my dad, you could have counted me as one of them. As a vegetarian, I kept meat out of sight and mind. But that all changed when I became a farmer.

Today we raise chicken and turkey for meat. My husband and I slaughter and dress the birds on our farm. We typically process birds 2 or 3 times a year. As a famer, I am proud of our healthy, home-grown meat for three reasons:

First, I have participated in the entire life cycle of the animal. I rest assured knowing the animal has lived a good life and a humane death. Second, small-scale sustainable processing is nothing like industrial-sized assembly line slaughter. Poultry is not widgets, and should not be processed the same. Last, I am in complete control. I am certain every single bird is healthy before it is butchered. I sanitize the slaughtering equipment and butchering area so I could eat off it, because fundamentally I do. Additionally, processing fewer birds takes less time, less people, and means less exposure to pathogens.

You are what you eat

In conclusion, being a vegetarian allowed me to skirt responsibility because it put meat out of sight and mind. Farming helped me understand that vegetarianism is not a solution to the protein problem. Sustainable production and processing of protein is.

Average consumers don’t know much about the death and processing of livestock for meat. But a new push towards local, fresh and environmentally friendly food, promotes eater-awareness in where their burgers come from.

Remember neighborhood hog killings? Let’s bring that back.

Participating in the death and processing of an animal for food deepens a person’s appreciation not only for meat, but also the life of livestock. Farmers are in a unique position to educate consumers on what it takes to turn pig to pork chop. Providing friends, neighbors and customers an opportunity to participate in the death and processing of an animal on the farm is a fantastic way to educate consumers. A cattleman’s explanation of what makes “grassfed” beef a healthy choice for humans and the environment can have a huge impact on consumers buying decisions. Knowledgeable, friendly farmer-educators just might change the way consumers eat.

About the Author

Ivory Harlow lives and farms in Southern Ohio with her husband, pet turkey “Big Mama”, and other livestock. Be her farm friend at www.facebook.com/dickiebirdfarm or email farmer@dickiebirdfarm.com . More Stories by Ivory Harlow

15 Comments

  1. hiraman says:

    Hello Ivory
    You’re right being a farmer changes your perspective about the seasons, fruits, crops etc. It makes you appreciate your surroundings. As I grow mangoes I do panic if there is a unseasonal shower when my mango flowers are blooming.

    • Ivory says:

      hiraman,
      Oh the things I would grow if lived in a tropical climate! I am jealous of your mangos. We have a native tree in Southern Ohio called a Paw Paw. The fruit looks mangoish and have a creamy texture.

  2. On one hand the author claims to give “her girls” a good life… On the other it’s explained how they are “processed” for meat. Which is it? A good life doesn’t end at a fraction of the time that could have been – And it certainly doesn’t end with the sharp end of a knife held by someone you once trusted.

    It’s also disheartening to read several times that these animals come to a “humane” “death”. These animals aren’t “dying” by any means – They are being killed, snuffed from a life they supposedly love! Perhaps “humane” isn’t the right word after all?

    From Webster’s New World Dictionary
    Humane Hu·mane / hyoomáyn / adj. 1. having what are considered the best qualities of human beings; kind, tender, merciful, sympathetic, compassionate.

    So where does the orchestrated, for profit and/or personal pleasure, killing of healthy, sentient beings fit into the “kind” or merciful act of slaughter. Language counts. Words mean things – Please don’t try to pretty up such deeds as killing. It’s not kind. Not benevolent. And it certainly isn’t necessary as we can thrive on a plant based diet.

    • Ivory says:

      Bea,
      Thanks for your concern. My intention was to point out the difference between a free range life, which eventually ends at death and processing, and a confined life, which eventually ends at death and processing.

      You point out an important truth, “we can thrive on a plant based diet”. But my hope is that those of us who eat eggs, meat and other animal proteins do so responsibly and sustainably.

      • Hi Ivory – My point was to challenge your definition of a “humane” death. I still see a contradiction in your use of that word that you haven’t clarified. That these animals are killed (without “necessity”) may be described as “less cruel” than the industrial model – But please… In all honesty you surely must realize that killing them is not providing them with a “humane” death. Yes?

        Also, as far as people eating eggs, meat and dairy “sustainably” – Those would be just the people who were like you and living in a position to raise/kill their own food – correct? My understanding is that unless a food system applies to everyone – It can’t be considered sustainable. What would you say to the few billion other people who live in urban areas? You and yours may eat your cows, pigs and chickens… But what about those in metropolitan areas? What is their food system to look like? It seems rather elitist some to have “free range” animal products while the rest don’t/can’t. Seems more like a system that will cause division and inequity rather than sustainability or abundance. Yes?

  3. Correction: “It seems rather elitist *for* some to have “free range” animal products…”

  4. Also, I was wondering if you knew what happened to the “useless” brothers of the Silver Laced Wyandotte hens you bought? As I understand most hatcheries destroy these chicks at a day or so of age: http://www.mercyforanimals.org/hatchery/

  5. Dennis L says:

    Bea, why be such a pain in the A## ? Ivory has explained it perfectly. Go eat some lettuce and leave the rest of us alone.

    • Hello Dennis L – I don’t see any explanation that justifies snuffing the life of another. I see rationalizations. Ivory surely knows that she can live fine without flesh as she stated she was once a vegetarian. That puts her in a position of admitting to killing these creatures simply for the way their bodies taste. Sorry, but no rational person would accept that as a “humane” way of life.

      I’d also love to “leave the rest of you” alone – But there are victims here and everything I was taught almost 60 years ago tells me that defending them is the right thing to do. If you were in the position of being stabbed *for no good reason*, you’d want someone to speak on your behalf as well. Yes?

      • Larry Steiner says:

        Bea…Do you drive a car, do you travel, do you control rodents in your home. Unless you never travel and never eat, then you too are responsible for the the death of animals, flies, mosquitos, birds and the like. So get off your damned high horse. Why do you kill plants before their time? When you drive or travel you kill worms flies etc. When you eat plants that have been killed before their time and those plants are transported to your super market, the vehicles hauling your murdered plants also kill valuable flies and criters. So you too are guilty! It’s amazing how some of you clowns expect everyone to abide by your religion of criter worship. Oh if everyone would be just like you!

  6. Dave says:

    Wow! Bea apparently has an agenda, and there is room for nothing short of a militant vegan lifestyle!

    Well-written, Ivory! You apparently have stepped off Bea’s reservation and now must be put in your place.

    The truth is, I’ve seen “the girls” firsthand. They are VERY well-cared for. You and The Farmer do a fantastic job. Your eggs are the best around and we miss them terribly. Can’t wait for “the girls” to get busy again!

    A far as meat goes, I am certain that slaughter day at Dickie Bird Farm is done quickly, efficiently and as cleanly as possible. THAT IS humane! I wonder Bea’s feelings on a wild pack of dogs coming through your chicken yard? I’m sure if the chickens were given the choice between your method and the dogs’ method, they would choose the HUMANE way!

    Death is part of life. It’s all around us. Like it or not, animals kill one another – it’s part of nature. If Bea chooses to not be a carnivore, then good for her! But it is her CHOICE! And we who eat meat CHOOSE to eat meat. Ivory, your approach makes SO MUCH sense. My family tries to buy as little supermarket meat as possible (I cannot remember the last time I bought meat from Kroger!). We pay more for going straight to the farmer. But we know how our meat has been raised and we know how well the animals have been treated. They are not diseased, nor packed together in stockyards or breeding houses nor living under any other inhumane conditions.

    I am educated and grew up in a semi-rural community just outside Silicon Valley. I understand big-city and small-town mind-sets. With that said, I have learned a WEALTH of information from Ivory, either by reading her Facebook posts, stopping by the farm and chatting or reading her articles. I’ve even tried some new varieties of produce out on my family because of seeing it at the farm or reading about it online in a post by Ivory. I now have a much better appreciation for sustainable living thanks to Ivory’s willingness to pass on the information she’s learned and is learning.

    • Hi Dave – Perhaps you’re right… I am militantly… Radically compassionate. I honestly can’t stand to see innocent life being harmed when there’s no necessity to do so. That just seems like what a bully or thug would do – And I just can’t believe Ivory is that sort of person.

      Slaughter day at the Dickie Bird Farm is filled with unnecessary death. Some view it in comparison to wolves or coyotes tearing at living flesh as if there was only a choice between the two. I can tolerate the coyotes as they aren’t moral agents… I can excuse the wolves as they MUST eat meat to survive. We *ARE* moral beings and hardly need meat at all! Your analogy isn’t accurate at all…

      Bea does choose not to be a carnivore! She also refuses to give a pass to anyone who promotes “happy meat” – As if the animals killed didn’t mind their loss of life. It’s true that death happens all the time — But may we all escape the theft of life, for that is the difference between what is just or not. If you don’t believe me here’s a little quiz attributed to George Bernard Shaw: “If a group of beings from another planet were to land on Earth – beings who considered themselves as superior to you as you feel yourself to be to other animals – would you concede them the rights over you that you assume over other animals?” Didn’t think so…

      • Dave says:

        Guess what? Your cuckoo views are yours. They are not shared with the majority of people around the world.

        Pack up and go to India, the most likely place you will find a large number of lacto vegetarians, or are they robbing the dairy animals of their milk?

        You’ve proved yourself to be unable to cope with the rest of society. Your crazy fringe views get you nowhere.

        I suspect you don’t even know Ivory. I do. She’s kind, compassionate, patient and generous. Just because she has chosen a path different than yours doesn’t mean she’s a bad person.

        Your views aren’t shared by the vast majority. I tell you what, I won’t make you eat a delicious, juicy pasture fed, hormone and antibiotic free T-Bone and you can quit lecturing the rest of us about eating our veggies.

        If you’d like to respond, go ahead, but there will be no more discussion from me. There’s no good arguing with a fool.

        I’d suggest you go and post on PETA, Humane Society and ASPCA websites, you’ll find good company there.

    • Hi Larry Steiner – I wanted to first respond to your concern about eating plants… Plants are not sentient. They are not “aware” like we animals are. They have no central nervous system. No pain receptors. They do not/cannot suffer the way we can…

      Furthermore, we MUST eat plants in order to live – The same is certainly not true about eating animals. But if you are really concerned about plant “pain”, you’d still spare that many more plants if you ate them directly rather than filtering 10 times the amount through fattened “meat” animals.

      As far as me killing insects, rodents, I try whenever possible to avoid doing so. I don’t “breed” worms, flies, mosquitoes, or birds simply to destroy them. Of course just living demands a certain amount of injury to others – But there’s a world of difference between minimizing one’s harm as much as possible and deliberately creating sentient life just to kill it. By your logic since we cannot always avoid accidents on the road, we should make no effort to avoid hitting another car or person. Since we cannot insure that everyone will not be mugged… We should all go around and steal whenever we want. See how that doesn’t make sense???

      It’s not about perfection – It’s about doing what we all can to reduce/eliminate harm when we can. In the case of meat, dairy and eggs – All of us in progressed nations can do this very easily… And to our own benefit as well. I assure you I’m not on a “high horse” – I am not the one who is advocating that other “lesser”, innocent creatures be killed for my non-essential wants. I’m not the one who sees my own frivolous desires worth more than the lives of others. Please re-examine what being on a “high horse” really means.

  7. Hi again Dave – I’m sorry you feel it necessary to reduce your part of the debate to ad hominem attacks. But I assure you I’m neither “crazy” or “cuckoo”. Just because a majority of people approve of certain practices doesn’t make them right… Obviously in this country we all once thought it was perfectly acceptable to own/use other people, to beat children and to deny civil rights to women. Fortunately as we progress, we enlighten ourselves to better ways that include all others in our circle of moral concern.

    Your arguments haven’t addressed any of my concerns: The unnecessary killing of innocent life being the most important one. As far as being “unable to cope with society”? I offer this last quote also from Jiddu Krishnamurti: “It’s no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Good day.

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