Once upon a time (okay, so like two weeks ago), I traveled north to learn about rabbits. My effort to more fully understand and recognize the consequences of my choices conveniently coincided with a rabbit processing class organized by Annette @ Sustainable Eats. One of the easiest to raise and most sustainable meat options, rabbits are more or less the urban or suburban homesteader’s dream. They are easy to raise, and can be humanely kept in a backyard. They are also easy to process quickly and humanely with – let’s face it – minimal mess (no feathers is what I’m getting at here). Because they are so easy to process, they’re a good animal for a beginner to start with.
I’m not going to lie to you. This was hard for me. At first it was hard, then it got harder, then I did it, and it felt easier. But over the last week I have found myself intermittently unsettled by my rabbit experience. I imagined that processing my own rabbit – or failing to process my own rabbit – would be the final piece of the puzzle for me. If I could do it, it would confirm my conclusion: it is ethical to eat meat that is locally sourced, sustainably raised, and humanely and compassionately handled and killed. If I could not kill this rabbit, then as far as I was concerned, I’d have no business eating meat at all. Back to being a vegetarian.
Why is it that just when you think you’ve reached some degree of peace within yourself, something comes and messes it all up? Something like a rabbit processing class in a backyard in Seattle. And why is all of this so freaking complicated?
People Need To Eat
People need to eat. I get that. All creatures need to eat. Humans are naturally omnivorous, and while it is certainly possible to be vegetarian or vegan, neither has proven to be a healthy solution for me on a long-term basis. It just didn’t go well, even when I was careful and meticulous about it. I have pretty much resigned myself to eating some amount of animal products, but sourcing them as sustainably and humanely as possible.
But since the class, I’ve been seriously questioning the ethics behind raising domestic livestock for human consumption. And I hate that, because 1) I really like meat, 2) these are complex doubts, and 3) it’s downright inconvenient to be questioning these things.
In retrospect, I sort of saw this coming. The other day when I visited my CSA farm and saw the Cornish Cross chickens hanging out with the laying hens, pastured in a chicken tractor. But they were kind of just lying there. No, not kind of. They really were just lying there. Eating and lying around, like a couch potato, reality TV watching, junk food eating version of real chickens. A thought flickered past me that maybe, just maybe, the very act of breeding animals like these was inhumane. I quickly pushed it aside but it never completely went away.
So what about wild meat? I have eaten venison. In fact, during my most recent bout of vegetarianism, I made an exception for some venison stew. (I recently read somewhere that it is easier to tell someone that you are a vegetarian than it is to explain to them that you eat meat, just not their kind of meat. I guess that’s the kind of “vegetarianism” I was practicing this last time.) This deer was shot by a friend, killed quickly and humanely. The bread bowls were baked from scratch. It was real food to the very core. I don’t remember having any qualms about eating this venison. But I also didn’t kill the deer myself. Perhaps that is the difference?
A Fighting Chance
I don’t think the difference is that I killed the rabbit and not the deer, but I won’t know for sure unless I go hunting myself. That may very well be the next step for me. (Anyone mind if I tag along on a hunting trip?) But I think it has more to do with the fact that the deer had a life outside of feeding my needs. And the deer had a fighting chance. The rabbits (and the chickens) were conceived, born, and raised to be eaten. Their whole existence revolves around becoming food or being reserved for breeding to create more food. And while I am almost positive that the rabbits did not understand what was about to happen to them, even if they had, they would not have had a chance. They were victims, ultimately vulnerable and powerless. And that has been bothering me. Not the cost of a life. I think I am ultimately okay with that. But the lack of risk on my part and the lack of a chance on behalf of my “prey” bothers me.
In case any of you are interested in details about the rabbits, Annette has written a post about the class and what it means to process your own rabbit. If you don’t want the details, I’d still encourage you to jump down to the last four paragraphs and the ensuing discussion in the comments. It has been interesting to see that even people who understand, are conscious and actively care about these issues struggle with this kind of food. I actually killed not one, but two rabbits. The first I kept, and the second went my lovely neighbors – gardeners, real foodies, fellow CSA members, and kindred spirits in so many ways. It was hard, they said, eating this rabbit and knowing where it came from. I know how they feel, even though I don’t entirely understand why we feel this way. It seems like it should be the other way around.
I haven’t eaten my rabbit yet. While it was a shame to freeze what was undoubtedly the freshest meat I have ever seen, it feels shamefully decadent to eat an entire rabbit by myself, even over a period of several days. I’d end up freezing it anyways, so into the freezer it went. I just hope DH won’t be too perturbed by where it came from to help me eat it when he returns.