Though the inspiration for this post came, part of me was afraid to write it. Why? Because of my dear sweet vegetarian readers, that’s why. One day I’m posting adorable pictures of fluffy ducklings and the next talking about harvest day. It’s all a part of farm life here, but I found myself holding back from writing about it.
Even for those of us who do eat meat, we’re typically used to getting it at a point where our only responsibility in bringing it to the table, is to stick it in the oven or cook it on the stovetop first. Being so removed from our food has made many of us horrified about the process behind the scenes, that we don’t much like to think about.
When I felt a bit timid to write about all this, I asked myself why.
I thought about the years I struggled with eating meat and became vegetarian and then vegan. I thought of the constant pressure and guilt from a friend to be vegetarian again when I had started eating meat once more. I thought about the people I’d known who thought eating “flesh” was sinning and that those who did would certainly go to hell. I thought about the group I met, where you were only cool and trendy if you were vegan and played drums with plastic heads instead of leather. And the times they said being vegan was more spiritual and better for the environment. I thought about the woman who passionately advocated an all-raw fruit diet throughout pregnancy, believing it was the only pure food. I remembered when raw food vegans asked about Bracken’s first foods, and squirming as I mentioned bone broth and saw the look of horror cross their faces.
The majority of people are shocked when I reply with “bone broth, a touch of sauerkraut juice, chicken, a little liver powder from grass-fed cows…” When I say Bracken likes to eat “avocado with breastmilk, butternut squash, and blueberries” people tend to get a lot more comfortable and relaxed. But when they discover our love for lard (and that we eat it- gasp- regularly, well…) Many people think of Jeff and I as healthy eaters and most associate that with salads, sprouts, and carrots. Well, we do eat those things, but we also eat lots of lard, tallow, duck fat, grass-fed and pastured meats, eggs, and bone broths, which aren’t the sort of things that are encouraged in all the low-fat diets nowadays.
I thought about all those things and it made me hesitate for a moment.
Then I started writing.
The point is, in today’s world, with so many vegetarians and vegans (and high praise to everything low-fat), there are a lot of judgements about eating meat. I personally know people who believe they are superior to all meat eaters. So I’ve tended to tip-toe around them, as I’ve spent so much time in my life not wanting to offend anyone.
But here’s the thing. I eat meat.
I am who I am. Although I can still be respectful, it’s time to stop tip-toeing around. And this space is for being myself and sharing my truth.
My ancestors ate meat. I don’t believe it’s a sin. My brain thought it would be great to be a vegetarian and not have to rely on any animals for my food, but my body didn’t agree. My body needs meat and animal products to be healthy and thrive. So I eat meat. I strive to be a conscientious and respectful meat-eater, knowing where the animals come from and what kind of life they lived. Since I eat meat, I want to play a larger role in raising it and bringing it to the table because it makes me have a deeper appreciation for the life that was given to feed mine. (That’s where the next part comes in.)
What I’m saying is, it’s not about right and wrong. Each of us have our own path to walk in this life. And no one is superior to anyone else. We can enjoy each other so much more when we let go of our judgements and stop worrying about the judgements on us.
In that spirit,
About Harvesting Ducks:
When we got ducklings in the spring, it was cost prohibitive to buy all females. So we got males and females. We ordered twice as many as we wanted and knew we would harvest all the males when the time came. We had twenty ducks in all and guessed we would have about half and half, give or take a few. We planned on keeping the females for eggs.
But our free-ranging idea didn’t work out because they ate the garden. Plus we realized we didn’t like their messy poops all over the yard (especially with how much Jeff and Bracken like to roll around on the ground.) Without free-ranging, we had them in their yard, which was large, but was mostly dirt and hardly any greens to eat. Our options were to keep them in the yard and feed them grains (they eat a lot so that gets expensive real fast) or put up fencing (plus build a new house) and make a new yard that was filled with lush greens and then supplement with some grains. The fencing and building project was going to be big and we weren’t ready for it. We couldn’t have them outside the fences because they would be vulnerable to our neighbor’s dog. We only have so much space here for animals and we were starting to miss chickens. We thought we’d rather build a new coop and lush yard for a few chickens instead (who conveniently lay their eggs in the nesting boxes.) The ducks never warmed up to us, whereas our chickens used to follow us everywhere. I thought ducks would be our “dream animals” here because they eat slugs and snails, which we have such a problem with, being so close to the coast. I was the one who was idealistic and enthusiastic about ducks, but realistically Jeff was the one caring for them. He was the one hauling their water, closing the door to keep them safe at night, letting them out in the morning, and dealing with their messy stinky poops. Finally, we decided it wasn’t the right time for us to raise ducks, because we were feeling more stress than enjoyment about it all.
This last week was time to harvest ducks. We did something we rarely (if ever) do and asked for help. Our neighbors Teri and Peter had experience harvesting their chickens and came to help us for the day. Jeff used to raise chickens for meat every year so he also had experience. I didn’t. I’d grown vegetables, picked berries, and although I loved eating meat, I’d never been a part of the process of harvesting it before.
It wasn’t easy. It was a hard thing to do, which instilled in me a deeper appreciation for the meat I eat. It gave me a new connection to what I was actually eating in a way I had never experienced before. I helped with the plucking, since it was what I could do with Bracken in the pack. We harvested 13 ducks that day. It was a long day.
We were grateful for Teri and Peter’s help and the enjoyment of their company. We were grateful for the nourishment the ducks were providing for our family. To be filling our freezer up with ducks (one of our favorite meats) was a good feeling.
All the parts had a purpose. We ate the hearts and livers. We saved the feet for making gelatin-rich broth. The feathers, blood, and intestines etc. went into making compost that will fertilize our garden.
What about the last 7 ducks? They went to live at our friend Star’s house with more pasture for free-ranging than they could ever possibly eat. We might get a few ducks again someday, but having ducks here just wasn’t the right fit for us right now.
Although the time is not right for ducks, we are planning on getting a few chickens again in the fall. Our friends will have some full grown hens for sale then and that will give us some incentive to finish that new coop we are dreaming of and give us time to prepare.
I realize that when I harvest a vegetable, I am taking a life. When I harvest an animal, I am taking a life. For me to eat, to be alive, requires taking a life. It is the cycle. Everything transforms into new life. It is ever-changing, ever-flowing. It seems our world today celebrates birth and shuns death. Yet both are a sacred part of the wheel. Our experience last week helped me realize that.