Sunday, July 13, 2008

thank you, Tabasco

When we bought into our cowshare, the farmers had another cow that they planned to breed and milk next year. Her name was Tabasco, and she was a Jersey/Angus cross.

I saw "was" because it became apparent that Tabasco's temperament was not well-suited to dairying. She had always been a little high-spirited, but as she grew older she became aggressive, and finally started getting into the vegetable sections of the farm, which was just not cool at all. Her aggression made it unlikely she would ever allow herself to be milked, and you just can't let a cow with dairy genes be bred if she won't be milked. Dairy cows produce far, far more milk than their calves can use, and if they won't be milked, they become very sick and suffer a lot of pain.

So, Tabasco was humanely and respectfully slaughtered by the farmers, and sent off to a butcher.

I couldn't be more grateful that this happened when it did. Because I have a 2 1/2 year old child who is fully, conversationally verbal, and right smack in the middle of her "why" phase, trying to sort out the world. So when Tabasco wasn't at the farm any more, she of course started asking questions. And I was able to tell her the unvarnished truth, and she is young enough to accept it, but old enough to understand some of the implications. The conversation went something like this.

Rowan: Why isn't Tabasco at the farm anymore?
me: Tabasco was starting to be mean to people, and she wouldn't have made a good dairy cow, so [the farmers] slaughtered her and she was cut up into steaks and things.
Rowan: Why wasn't she good at dairy cow?
me: She wouldn't have let people milk her, and that would have made her sick and hurt. There are only two possibilities for cows, they can be dairy cows or they can be beef cows, and Tabasco had to be a beef cow.
Rowan: That was very nice of Tabasco, to give us her steaks.
me: Well sweetie, Tabasco didn't have a choice in the matter, but you're right that we should be very thankful.

And I am thankful, SO thankful, that we are able to get our place in the world as omnivores introduced into Rowan's little brain while she is young enough to accept things without judgement. We ate Tabasco (or bits of her, anyway), she was delicious, and we are thankful.

I know a lot of people have a hard time explaining where meat comes from to children. In some senses, I think if you can't justify it to your kids, you shouldn't be eating it or asking them to. As much as I think that a modest amount of good-quality, pasture-raised meat is one of the healthiest things you can give a kid, there are always considerations other than health for what you eat.

But having to explain meat to a child can also help assuage any over-educated first-world guilt we as adults feel. The reality of the situation is that cattle and other animals are given life by farmers, and under the circumstances that produce healthful meat, they have good and happy lives, free from predation, stress and hunger. Their deaths - again, under ideal circumstances - are free from fear and stress, quick, and painless. Death is part of life no matter how you look at that; we are the only species to place such an intense and overriding morality around the consumption of death to fuel our own lives.

I think the attempt to avoid and hide from this is the reason factory farms have been so successful - people are quick to avoid complicity and happy to have the realities of being an omnivore hidden from them. But I prefer to feel the faint twinge of guilt that a beautiful animal that I knew, whose nose I had stroked, died to produce the brisket I ate last night. And it was a spectacular brisket, as the steaks we ate on Canada Day were spectacular steaks. It makes me more conscious of the implications of my food, and I DO want Rowan to question her food, and foster a sense in her that food should not be anonymous, and that yes, we SHOULD be grateful for cows that give us their steaks.


Blogger Susan said...

The next chapter of this story comes when Rowan's a little older and is ready to talk about class and privilege. You can anthropomorphize Tabasco (or her successor) and talk about how, for some people, there ARE no real choices in life. Beef cow or dairy cow, we are all just pawns of the industrialist society we live in. Our only choices are just illusions. Will I be a doctor or a dentist? Go to college or university? Beef or dairy? Either way, we are all just cogs in the machine.

OK I really need to get some sleep now.

9:34 PM  

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