On Eating Meat & Other Tangents

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paganvaluesChrysalis challenged the blogosphere to write about Pagan Values. I had hoped to do some writing of my own – and a recurring topic came up today. Here’s what I came up with!

Pagan Values: Respecting All Life

1. On Eating Meat and Other Tangents
For many years, I have contemplated becoming a vegetarian. Growing up in Beef Producing Alberta, I was probably in the minority in my exposure to vegetarianism. My mother’s mother was raised as one, so my mother was also. (She was the black sheep of the family though, and left England to come to Canada to marry into a family of meat salesmen.) I knew that Granny didn’t eat animal products because she felt that animals were our friends and we shouldn’t kill them for food. I understood that we had to look out for things like gelatin, but that cheese and eggs were okay.

Later in life, I learned what the difference was between that and vegan. No animal products whatsoever! Naturally, I thought I should go all the way with this path if I were ever to make a decision and stick with it.
But that has always been a problem for me – making a decision and sticking with it. And also respecting both sides of my family history – my father and his father supported their families by working for Canada Packers/Maple Leaf. To become vegan would seem to be disrespectful of their efforts.

Now, my body seems to be telling me other things. I have been dairy intolerant for some time. Cheese is a dream lost to me now! But lately I am also feeling upset when eating wheat and/or gluten, and last night, a nice steak. So perhaps my body is making the decision for me?

The question of whether to eat meat comes up repeatedly. It began again when I embarked on this path to train as a biologist. Observing life would seem to include an inherent respect for it. Observing life would also include a desire to sustain the ecosystem in which it lives: something which does not seem inherent in our current agricultural practices.

I am a city girl, I know very little of farm life. A few of my classmates have grown up on farms, and we’ve danced around this conversation a few times. I think I might be visiting a farm this weekend – I’ll have to ask some questions!

However, I do know what it’s like to drive past cattle on these rural roads, and past the feedlots that populate the highways in Southern Alberta. I passed one today. The cattle in one of the lots were following behind a truck as it drove through the lot, presumably feeding them. It brought to mind the images of people starving for food, following behind army trucks as they pass out food in war torn countries. It was not a pleasant image. And then, as I drive down a rural road, the calves are gamboling in the fields, and pretend to challenge my truck as if they can take it on. (Okay a little bit of anthropomorphizing here. I do not know if cows feel/think this way.) The two do not seem to fit together, nor does the thought of me eating the calf (and yet, that is what I did last night).

Then comes up the debate with hunting and fishing. As part of our curriculum we have studies mammals, birds, fish, and resource law. I learned about hunting and fishing regulations in Alberta. With my city-girl past, I have never done either. A few years ago I was still much against hunting as a sport. I still am, but have developed a different view of hunting as a way to feed yourself. It takes very little resources – the animals are already there, and they feed themselves. Unlike raising cattle and pigs and chickens. Would it not be better to harvest life that is free-ranging, part of the natural ecosystem, and not ‘poisoned’ with excess hormones, pesticides, insecticides and who knows what else?
(If I were to follow this tangent, I would also have to investigate where I get my vegetables from. I’m not quite ready to go there yet. Also, there is the whole concept of if everyone where to hunt, we’d ruin the entire landscape and everything would die. Humans are a pox on the earth sometimes. Back to my debate.)

While studying the above, we did a number of necropsies – the scientific word for dissecting animals, or, performing an autopsy on an animal and not a human. Why they have to have different names, I don’t know. The whole process was distasteful to me, and I would think if I can’t cut into a dead animal, how can I eat one? Since it was unlikely that I could see myself becoming vegan right then, I got the idea into my head that I would learn to fish this summer, and possibly even hunt, so that I could be the one to kill the living flesh I would consume. While I’ve gotten as far as getting my WIN card, I still need to get a fishing license and rod. I am sure I still have a somewhat romantic view. After all, I have yet to kill something yet. And maybe the wild things would rather be penned and fed lovely meals than to have to search for their own food.

I am writing all this perched above the hoodoos in Dinosaur Provincial Park. After a day of work at my current job: field assistant for Burrowing Owl Research. Learning this has been fascinating. Thank goodness I am coming late to the project and do not have to handle the owls. I find it stressful just watching, and wonder about my path. Can you be a biologist without stressing or harming the life that you study?

I do not yet know the answer to that question. I do know I am going to do my best to find out. There is a bird calling, grasshoppers singing, and the wind caressing my face. I’m going to go enjoy that while I celebrate the life I find here!

Writing this has brought a few other topics to mind:
2. On harvesting wild plants
3. On eating organic and local
4. On offering libations – how does this effect the ecosystem/microhabitat where you do this?

I have also posted “the Creed of my Sacred Journey”.

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i tried it on my own today

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ST wasn’t feeling well today, so she left after the quiz. Which meant FN and I were left behind to do the cat dissection on our own. She wasn’t up for it, but I thought I better at least try. Which is a bit of a turnaround from my post of before.

With all the drama around choosing the stream for next year, I’ve been trying to open up to the idea of further dissections. If I want to challenge myself, I need to push my boundaries a little. This does not mean I cannot be respectful around our cats, and treat their death (and contribution to my knowledge) accordingly.  So I opted to try the dissection myself today. It went better than I expected – mostly because the skinning had already been done. But our cat also has a very large bruise on her side – likely the reason she died. That was a little tricky to work around. And then I needed to cut through some of the muscle sheaths, and the muscles themselves. Since I wasn’t sure if I was doing it correctly, and because I was feeing a little grossed out, I decided not to continue. I am very proud of myself for trying. But I don’t know if I’ll try again.

I am not sure if I am disappointed or not at the fact that it is getting easier. In some ways I wish it wouldn’t – I become desensitized and am no longer as concerned.  I don’t wish for death to become commonplace, or for a lack of respect to enter in. We shall see how things continue.

further thoughts on death

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I’ve been thinking more about my reaction to the dissection this morning. I felt tired for the rest of the day, sometimes feeling quite withdrawn, and sometimes feeling more like myself. Once I got home, I gave in to the lethargy, possibly some self pity, and the general ‘traumatization’ as my roommate put it.
I did not have such a reaction to the dissections from last semester. In fact, I was quite rude to the squid that I cut up. F teased me about it, and I responded with, what’s the matter, it’s already dead? But the beings we dissected last semester where all alien to me. I have never seen one living. Especially the horseshore crabs. They look like creatures from a science fiction film.
But yet I am upset at today’s behaviour because of death. I have clued in to the reason why – the cats are the first real dead being I have been forced to acknowledge, and even examine. Even when Trix passed away on New Year’s Day, I only looked at him long enough to tell he was dead and to put him in a bag for burial. I felt as though it would be wrong to look at him in detail. Like it would be disrespectful for others to know I was curious about his being dead. Perhaps the giddiness and high energy of today is just the others’ way of handling their curiousity – by joking and making light.
Trix’s death was tidy, and put away quickly (although I have not yet buried him, since it the ground is frozen). Being confronted with the stiff, wet, preserved, smelly bodies of the cats in class forces me to look at my feelings around death. I would be further traumatized if I had to look at my cats in that way – empty of life, static. I am uncomfortable with Death. Not for the sake of those who die, but instead my own sake. (After all, we are all selfish beings – the world revolves around our own egocentric view.) I would bemoan the loss of those who die, for how they make me feel. For the comfort of their presence in my life. If that presence is removed, I would be sad.
And I am not always certain what to do with my sadness. My emotions are confusing to me, buried deeply in my ‘psyche’ or what ever I should call it. I am getting better at understanding and acknowledging my emotions and how they effect me daily. I think that is partly why I did not fight my reaction today, but let it have control, let it happen, and dare I say, even embellished it a little. For someone who dreams less in words, and more in feelings, you would think I would have a better grasp on my daytime processes. Nope.

in the name of science & the pursuit of knowledge

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We began our dissection of the cat in vertebrate zoology today. It made me question what we do in the name of science, the pursuit of knowledge. If our society valued other beings more, would we still perform such dissections so routinely?
For one girl in my class, it is her third time. She is not bothered by it at all, despite having her own cats as pets. Thankfully she is also the one doing the actual dissection. But why do we assume it is okay to do such things? Just because the animal is dead? Does the body have no meaning/value after death? Is it related to how we view death as well? That in a mainstream, Christian dominated society, what’s left behind on earth after the soul gets to heaven doesn’t matter anymore?
If our society were different, would we still work on real animals, or would we have developed some sort of plastic anatomy models we could look at and learn from?
Yes, technically, learning about mammalian anatomy is interesting. But must we learn in such a casual and empty way? It seems as though there is a void of compassion, or a lack of respect for what the form used to be, if that makes sense. Since the animal is dead, shouldn’t it’s body be free to return to the Dark Mother, to be decomposed and recycled, as all energy is recycled in the universe?
It felt pretty horrible to watch people trim and cut, and some classmates took photos with their cell phones. Why you would want a picture of a preserved cat on your cell phone is beyond me. One boy was going to show it to his girlfriend, since it looked like her cat. If it were me, I don’t know if he would still be my boyfriend after that. The smell was terrible. Not only the preservative (they use formalin now, since formaldehyde is carcinogenic), but also the disinfectant spray that we have to clean the tables with. I hate Cavicide. It’s a horrible distasteful spray that smells and gets stuck at the back of the throat. But we have to use it in all the labs. Ick.
I am very grateful that I am choosing to work with soils, plants, and other forms of life. I could not be a veterinarian, or even a park warden. Of course, now that I am writing this, I remember killing bacteria earlier in the weak. Why is it okay for me to heat fix microbes, but I can’t dissect a cat? Talk about the value of Life in all its levels of magnitude. Perhaps that is a post for another day.