A friend of ours who is a hunter dropped by yesterday with the hindquarter of a buck that his hunting party killed in the afternoon. It was kind of shocking to look at the hunk of red meat on my back porch, which hours earlier, had been inside the hide of a running deer. I found myself feeling torn between utter disgust at the consumption of meat and the killing of animals, to a sort of sacred feeling of honor toward all the animals who have died to feed humanity. The theory that herds overpopulate, risk starvation, and need thinning has its logic. As a friend of mine said, at least it lived free in the wild until it gave its life. Animals raised for the slaughterhouse enjoy no such freedom.
I still haven't sorted out how I really feel about it, but since we accepted the gift I followed the guidelines for venison preparation. We soaked it in a bucket of water with vinegar and salt for 24 hours. Agonizing over the quandaries of life and its moral decisions, I flipped open my ancient copy of "Joy of Cooking", which has recipes for everything. If you need to know how to cook a muskrat, or how to stuff a boars head, which so many modern people often do, the authors can tell you how. I set to the task of carving the meat off the bone. I kept looking at the red meat, and fascia covering it, and the various ligaments and fat. In the center of it all was the hipbone, swiveling in the socket, just like God designed. I thought, yesterday this buck was running through the woods. I wondered how many seasons he had outwitted the dogs and the hunters.
When we first had children, we bought the Disney movie, "Bambi". There's a significant moment of warning when Bambi's mother breathes to Bambi, "Man -- is in the forest." I always wondered as a child why wild animals wouldn't let us approach them when we had friendly intent. Now I know why. They spend about a fourth of the year running from hunters. By the time they calm down it starts all over again.
Driving along a highway yesterday I saw a hunter stamping his feet and shaking his fists by the side of the road. I was a little worried that maybe his hat was too tight. As I passed him I saw that his hunting dog, a cute little beagle, had been hit by a car. Another sad sacrifice on the animal altar. Poor little feller.
We watched the final episode of "Frontier House", on PBS last week. The show is a documentary depicting the lives of several families who agreed to live like homesteaders in Montana from the late 1800's. One of the families had raised a pig that they were going to butcher for a fall harvest fair. Their ten year old son was in the pen, saying his good-byes to the little pig. Then the father leaned over the fence and called, "Here Joe-Joe". The little dog-like pig wandered up to his owner trustingly and took a bullet in the head. The little boy yelled at his father and ran off. The mother admonished the boy about the cycle of life, and the reason for raising the pig in the first place. At the harvest fair, the blackened body of Joe-Joe turned on a spit, feeding the families. When the "Frontier House" experiment was over, the family was filmed back in suburbia. The little boy had emersed himself in mind-numbing video games.
Sometimes all this is too much for me. It's like the old question, if we're not supposed to eat animals, then why are they made of meat? I hope someday we can create a balance in the world, between feeding the hungry and not misusing God's creatures. Sometimes I even wonder if I'm hurting the little innocent potato while I'm merrily peeling off the skin. One could become uncorked, pondering all these things.
If things hadn't gone awry in Eden, who knows what manner of food we'd all be eating today, and how we would be conducting ourselves in relation to the animals and all things. Like the old Joni Mitchell song says, "we got to get ourselves back to the garden".
Kim lives in Maine, which is lovely, and where she continues her enthusiastic relationship with Art, Music, Nature, Books, Animals, Humor and Trees.