Monday, March 19th, 2012
Mlle. Maigret died yesterday. She was the daughter of Mme. Maigret and sister of very devoted brother Le Commissaire. She was the largest of our hens, black and statuesque and stunningly beautiful. She was discovered by a farm caretaker who said it looked like perhaps she got stuck or wedged up against a board in the barn – sadly, this happens sometimes. That it “happens sometimes” does not make it any better for her, for me, or for her brother. But it’s been my choice to let the chickens here range freely over pasture, picking over the wonderful smorgasbord worm assortment on the compost pile, flying up and perching on fences, enjoying the sunshine. Free will for chickens. And sometimes, just like people, they get themselves into jams. I wish I could protect them all, all of the time, but then they’d be locked up.
I had been off in Ohio taking an Alpaca shearing seminar and competing in the North American Alpaca Shearing Contest (first female to ever compete and place! – just had to work that in there!). And during the 13 hours of driving, the only as yet unlistened-to book on tape I had in the car was one I had intended to return to the library. But cross country radio is lame, at best, and so I reluctantly popped in “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer. I was going to return it unopened, because I had figured it would be some tiresome justification for human domination over the beasts, or a discussion on the marvels of homo sapiens’ omnivorous set of teeth. Instead, I was brought on a 13 hour journey of discovery: statistics on factory farming that gave me whiplash, and stories so gruesome I nearly had to pull over to the side of the highway while my gut recovered from being kicked squarely, if even only through my ears.
I knew all of this. I knew about battery cages and de-beaking, cutting off of turkey toes, and pig gestation crates. I knew about surgical procedures without anesthesia and badly botched first cuts in the slaughterhouse. I didn’t know about “thumping”. This is so disturbing that I will not describe it here, but invite the more stout of you to look it up. I also didn’t know the history: how recent all of this mass raising of animals in unnatural surroundings is. What was really brought home to me, though, was the volume of the torture and the almost inescapable prevalence of horror-show turned into food. It also reinforced my enthusiasm for the ‘locavore’ movement, something that is gaining momentum across the country and right here in my little corner of agricultural Montgomery County. “Know your food.”
I mourn the loss of one chicken. One beautiful hen named Mademoiselle Maigret who lived a free life with family and friends, ate healthy grain and a great many bugs, and perched safely in a cozy barn every night. Can I grieve for the chicken who does not have cute a French name, who lives in a cage smaller than a size of letter paper, bred to fatten so quickly so her bones can’t catch up and break easily when handled. Who never sees sunshine or a worm, who was born from artificial insemination, raised by an incubator, stuffed in a cage, and carted off to a bad and not necessarily clean death at the age of 42 days? She was probably not big and black and beautiful, either. But if I do, am I anthropomorphizing other people’s food? Or is my reaction of distress a normal human reaction that, I dare say, any of you would have, meat eater or vegetarian.
Mlle. Maigret was not food. Her purpose was simply to be beautiful and to live a beautiful life. A luxury, for sure. But let’s just imagine for an instant that she was destined to be someone’s dinner. That someone would feel assured that he was eating a healthy bird who had lived a good life. If you don’t know where your chicken pieces wrapped in plastic or breaded and fried came from, the chances are pretty good that the chicken led a life of hell. I’m just saying. It’s awful to think about; but 50 or 100 years ago most people had a pretty good idea of where their animal protein came from. We don’t, anymore. Anyone remember the movie “Soylent Green”?
This morning, sun streaming in through the windows, animals peacefully snoring, I realized how bizarre my farm is, and how wonderful. It’s not perfect. The pastures need seeding, fence boards are patched together and the paint is peeling off, Mr. Newman Goat has continued to work on the deconstruction of the barn walls, and money is always scarily tight. But every animal who lives here is given freedom to roam, offered healthy food and clean water, and given excellent medical care. Every animal who lives here counts. I don’t know if any of this can make up for the torment suffered by billions of their brethren. But it surely makes you think, doesn’t it?
Till next time,
Star Gazing Farm 501(c)3
A haven for retired farm animals and wayward goats