The other day while giving a farm tour, a good friend asked me how I name the sheep and then eat them. It’s a great question, and one that opens a door many fear to go through, mostly, for ethical reasons. We do not talk about ethics that often, which seems a real loss to the overall development of humanity. So, I’d like to take a moment now to address the above question, and delve into the ethics of food and farming here at EEC Forest Stewardship. This is my own interpretation of both my friend’s question, and an approach to raising livestock. I do not think this is the right or wrong answer, as though there are only two sides to any subject, but one of many ways to strive for better consumption awareness and action. Other opinions might strive for vegetarianism, as though the plant world and fossil fuel cartel running industrial agriculture are not still deeply attached to vegetable production and harmful pollution. But the real crux of my friend’s question, the ethical debate we often face, but do not want to address, is taking life to sustain our own.
We have to consume for survival. In this modern age, the military industrial complex runs our survival through economy, and those participating in the dominion over resources (financial service industry nations), adjusted to this routine frighteningly well, but the planet cannot support this structure for mankind globally. Until we’re ready to embrace new ideas about survival, playing within the confines of the current system’s legal framework seems a nessesity. Here at EEC, there is a great amount of privilege, offering alternative living for those who can. Within The US, economic disparities in food availability and affordability runs rampant, and because of Neo-liberal capitalism, the entire food web as we perceive it has been in tropic cascade. The cost of industrial food (the only way to sustain our world population and perpetuate it in it’s current form) remains hidden to most consumers. The world pays in agricultural subsidies, ecological collapse, and poor health due to eating food preserved with countless artificial additives. But when we’re faced with confronting our dietary habits, most of us don’t get past the whole meat vs vegetable debate.
(Below is a side by side of cattle feed lot and palm oil plantation)
Industrial meat is bad, and most commercial livestock production destroys the environment, the animals used in this production, and the workers (usually economically trapped) perpetuating it. Choosing to avoid industrial meat is a good step in wanting to help change the way food is produced, but avoiding meat all together still perpetuates industrial farming- soy, palm oil, corn, and sugar cane are just as destructive in their own way- it’s about economy, as I’ve stated earlier. Humans are designed to eat a wider variety of foods- and we should, we can, if we steward that food in a good way, with mindfulness. You are what you eat- and some are privileged enough to have access to mindful food- produced locally, organically, and whatever other ethical tag you’d like to put on it. But, it’s still only accessible to a few, and would not produce enough to feed the world- hence industrial ag- and there’s no way around it, unless we actively stop breeding like rabbits, or all start producing food. Mother nature is already stepping in with her plan, and it’s tragic for many. However, the current population consumes too much for Earth to support in our current state of evolution, so nature corrects.
At EEC Forest Stewardship, we are making our own correction to help restore balance. I am not reproducing- no future generation of consumer. That’s the greatest footprint you can leave as a privileged person, at this time on Earth. If you are craving kids- foster or adopt, and I know, that also takes a lot of privilege, but there are countless children in need of a good home. Source as much food as you can from local, small growers. When you do buy something at a box store- choose organic whenever possible. Choose to eat meat that is locally sourced from humane situations. Though EEC is not Humane Certified or USDA Organic (we are too small to afford such certifications) we follow standards of care for animals (domestic and wild), the environment, and people living here. We do not use any chemicals on our land and our animals are fed USDA organic feeds produced within our state. Our advertising is word of mouth, and farm tours are offered whenever possible.
Part of “standard of care” is relating and connecting with our animals. This is where naming comes in. The chickens do not respond or relate to their names, so we don’t name many, but the sheep do know their names, and it helps when working with them. Naming our food also helps keep track of the generations by using a different letter of the alphabet for each year’s lambs. Some farmers name their animals more abstractly, like “Thanksgiving” for a Turkey, or “Easter” for a lamb. Other livestock producers keep to numbers (usually ear tags), which seems a little too industrial for me. I name the sheep because they are beings with personality. At the same time, I do not think of these animals as pets, and do not cuddle and snuggle with them. Instead, I let the animals live as a herd- grazing in the fields and napping in the lovely dry barn we built for them. They are well fed, protected from predators, and together in an extended family unit. We strive to mimic wild ungulate action on the land and in the lives of the sheep.
These sheep have a great life on pasture together, and then experience one bad day before heading into the freezer to sustain our lives for the better. When I kill an animal for food on this land, I thank it for all its work, recognizing that I will sustain myself from its life, and that one day, my body will sustain the grasses and plants which will feed future generations. We are all connected, and the plants are just as alive and aware of their existence, though without fluffy faces we can relate to. Many people rank the importance of one species over another, and as a humanist, I would defiantly choose to save a person over a plant if it was momentary life or death, but in recognizing that one cannot live without the other, how am I to rank value? The plant, if living within an intact ecosystem, can survive without any outside inputs, and provides structure for a diversity of other species it co-exists with. Humans rarely do the same, and therefore, if we rank by productivity and sustainability, people are at the bottom of the list.
When humans are following their original instructions as stewards of the landscape they are deeply a part of, they tend to thrive and develop hand in hand with the nature they rely on. But in a world of scare resources due to over-consumption, and a push towards apocalyptic pulp fantasy with guns blazing, it’s hard to see a future of thriving humanity. Intact “native” living is often romanticized by privileged “developed” populations as garden of Eden situations. But nature is not all abundance and pleasure, she is often brutal, harsh, and demanding, which is why man has set himself against her and fixates on transcending Earthly form for yet another romanticized place like heaven. We have caste off our attachment to nature, cementing her down, and building palaces of opulent wealth upon her chest. Industry desperately digs into her body and continually takes from her for profit and power. I’d like to reflect on this abuse of life- all life. This is the root cause of suffering in our world today, and makes Mother Nature really look like a story book in comparison.
The rosy glasses are easy to look through when we become distracted by the naming. I don’t name my food to make it like me, nor do I shy away from relating to it by calling it something removed from my world view. I just want to remember each animal- and some do get names like “Freckles” or “Stripe”, which sound more pet like. For me, naming the animals is a simple way to track them, and I love getting to come up with new names each Spring. Our first two lambs born in 2021 were ewes, and I named them “Madonna” for the Arles Black Madonna (and the singer) and “Mariah Carry” for the singer. Their Mother, “Ubah Hassan” named after the Canadian-Somalian model, had a pair of boys last year which I named “Lenny Kravits” and “Louis Armstrong”, so I’m following my own tune- so to speak, with entertainment names. If you have not already picked up on the alphabetical track- 2020 was “L” names and 2021 is “M”. One gal last year came out with a swirl on her nose and I called her “Lickity Split”. I do not look at my sheep and feel any guilt for what’s coming. I look at how they are thriving on the land, adding long term fertility for the ecosystem, and keeping my dollar purchasing out of the industrial meat market. Thank you livestock!