This is a dead deer. Don’t look away.

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I have a bone to pick with you.

With some of you, at any rate.  Specifically, those of you  who object to articles about killing animals and photos of those animals, killed.

I kill animals. Over the past several years, my husband, Kevin, and I have killed most of the meat we eat. We have raised and slaughtered pigs, turkeys, ducks, and chickens here at home. In the wild, we’ve caught fish and shot deer.

I’ve written about it, and I’ve heard from readers with all varieties of objections. Some of those objections are to the killing of animals, and those I understand. Vegans, you’re entitled to object because you’ve taken a principled stand against killing. I don’t agree with you (obviously), but I respect the principle and will happily engage in a (civil) conversation about animals’ role in our food supply.

It’s you meat-eaters that don’t have a leg to stand on. And neither do you vegetarians, since eggs and milk exist only because the males are eaten (as in milk) or destroyed (as in eggs)

Every time I write about killing, I hear from someone who believes that the death of animals should simply be kept out of sight. Civilized people shouldn’t have to open their newspaper to hunting stories, or their Facebook feed to dead deer pictures.

And boy does that piss me off.

You know what happens when you keep the death of animals out of sight? Those horrifying videos of animals being mistreated at farms and slaughterhouses is what. It is because we want our meat in nice little cubes, unidentifiable as the animal of origin, that we have built a food system that pays insufficient attention to the humane treatment of livestock. That is what we get when we just don’t want to know. This is what we get when we insist on looking away.

We need to stop looking away. And so I am posting this picture of one of the deer I shot on the hunting trip Kevin and I took to Virginia. See that red hole? That’s the exit wound made by a .270 rifle bullet. The shot isn’t perfect – ideally, it would have been a little lower and a little farther back – but the deer dropped where she stood and died in the 30 seconds or so it took me to reach her.

doe16-2I want you to look. And I want you to call the desire to look away by its proper name: cowardice.

Nobody likes to think about the cute furry animal getting shot, but human existence – even vegan existence — is an animal-killing enterprise. We kill them to eat them, sure, but we also kill them when we build cities on their habitat, or we run them over with cars or combines, or we poison them to keep them out of the grain stores.

The best we can do isn’t not killing; it’s killing carefully and judiciously. To insure that’s what’s happening, we all have to look. We have to conquer our squeamishness and face it head-on. And we – and, by ‘we,’ I mean ‘you’ – certainly can’t try and turn that squeamishness into a virtue by asserting it as an elevated sensibility, a delicate and refined sensibility that is offended by blood and death.

If you don’t want to face the death of the animals you eat, you’re not an aesthete, you’re a coward.

So, look. Teach your kids to look. Visit a farm. Meet the animal that will be your pork chop or pot roast. Now that few of us kill for our own larders, maybe a slaughterhouse should be a standard senior-class high school field trip.

Learning to kill the animals I eat has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I don’t enjoy it. But I decided that I wanted to take responsibility for my food, and I made myself learn. Kevin helped me. We learned together, and I couldn’t have done it without him. And, because we learned, we drove home from Virginia yesterday with enough venison to feed us for a year.

We’ll be eating deer that lived excellent deery lives, ending in a death easier than the one they’d have experienced by predation or starvation. By taking methane-producing ruminants out of the system, we’re cutting down on greenhouse gases. By culling an overpopulated herd, we’re upping the chances that the remaining deer will live well, without overrunning their environment.

If you don’t want to look, by all means head to your supermarket for your cubes. Pick up some cupcakes while you’re there. But don’t congratulate yourself on how civilized you are. Civilized means caring about the animals that die for you. Civilized means knowing the provenance of your meat. Civilized means not looking away.

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Comments

  1. awesomeness.

    i was vegetarian for 30 years and shut down so many folks who wanted to pick at my eating habits and values. in the hopes of not being quite so a hungry farmer as i was a rock climber, i started to eat meat four years ago. venison is gifted with abandon this time of year in VT. i accept these gifts, but have not made the leap to killing for myself. i can feel it in the future.

    i have a friend hunt my land. i watch the deer destroy my crops. i hear them when they get hit trying to cross the road in front of my farm.

    i think that vegetarians don’t quite understand the extent of “wildlife management” that goes into raising their food. i rowcrop pantry items – dry beans, squash, sorghum – grow medicinal herbs and produce maple syrup. it is a constant battle with life and death. this has always been farming. it was the way of our great grandparents, for the most part. mine anyways.

  2. Yes this. I do admire how you and Kevin source your protein. That picture of that tuna still makes my mouth water thinking about it. I have spoken to a lot of people on many of the points you mention in this blog. So many people just want meat cubes so they don’t have to think about the animal they are eating. I know plenty of people who can’t bring themselves to eat meat on the bone. I know many people who eat lobster, but cannot cook them because they can’t bring themselves to kill one. It all seems rather illogical to me, but apparently it’s a thing. I do admire vegans and even vegetarians for their convictions. However, I’m just not wired like that, I don’t see a few pounds of dead animal flesh, I see a roast with my family and the good times and memories made during our evening together. Of course, I could create equally beautiful meals and memories that are vegan or vegetarian and sometime I do.

    I am not afraid to look at your deer, as a matter of fact I think when you posted that picture to Facebook my comment as “yummy!” This reminds me of something my granddaughter said a couple of years back, when visiting her paternal grandmother. The neighborhood flock of wild turkeys came into the come into the yard and the male was nicked named George, so granddaughter nonchalantly announced that “George looks delicious! Her Nana was horrified, I was proud! Great blog post Tamara, thanks for sharing.

  3. Hear hear! Great post.
    I can’t say how many people are revolted by the idea of eating at my house, so wary lest I “slip them a (delicious) piece of our homegrown rabbit”.
    Newsflash: I don’t waste good rabbit meat on people who don’t want to try it – you’re just not that special.

    • I say the same about people who worry that I will slip my homegrown chicken into something. Ha! That tasty treat is for those who deserve and appreciate it.

  4. Beth Marcus says:

    You go girl!
    Call it like it is.
    Proud to call you my friend!

  5. Nice looking doe.

  6. Great post, great topic. I couldn’t agree more with your premises.

  7. Cathy Higgins says:

    YES, This is spot on.

  8. Very well written and said. I agree 100% with everything you say here. I too respect the animals that feed me and my family. I often call myself a “Meat-a-vore” for how much I enjoy various meats. Complimentary to your stance, my family also raises our own animals that we eat on our farm, and I assure you that our animals are raised with a lot of TLC and respect. We also believe in quick deaths to respect the animal’s sacrifice, and always give thanks to our food. (Ironically, although I am quite a pacifist overall, I won’t lie about drooling over the deer in your picture… my first thought was mmmmm)

    I know people that are hard-core vegans, and they turn their nose at me when I speak this way – and what irritates me is how I am expected to respect their beliefs and virtues, yet they refuse to give me the same courtesy.

    Education is very key as you mention. My children have been exposed to slaughtering the animals, and quite frankly, I believe it teaches my kids how to respect everything around them. They have a great appreciation of the food chain, and they are educated on how the food gets on their table.

    If one day my kids decide to be vegan, I will respect their wishes. I only ask for the same courtesy in return 🙂

    Thank for for saying what you did. I wish more people were grounded and realists like we both seem to be.

    Signed – a friendly Canadian farmer

  9. Very well said, Tamar

  10. I love your blogs Tamar and look foward to reading new posts, I have never commented on any of them before until this one and just want to say that I could not agree more with what you had to say.

  11. Yes.

  12. Dawn Meier says:

    Those of us who farm and raise animals for food and also who hunt have more respect for the lives of the animals that were taken for the food that sustains us. Knowing the animals that I raised from newborns, all the work, money spent on feed, the care and even yes, the love put into raising that animal makes me respect that animal and appreciate it. I can honestly say that I never ever throw away any of the food I raise. To think that that animal who gave it’s life would be thrown in the trash because someone didn’t feel like finishing their meal, to me is a sin against God. Those who just pick up a piece of meat wrapped in cellophane with a price sticker on it are so removed from the actual animal that they don’t even consider it when they toss food in the garbage. They don’t associate that steak or roast with the actual animal that it came from. Yes, it hurts to see my pigs, steer, turkeys and chickens go to slaughter. I cry after dropping my steer off at the butcher. But, I also understand that this was their purpose in life. It makes me appreciate them all the more.

  13. Barbara Christensen says:

    Exactly! Thank you. Well said.

  14. Accidental Mick says:

    Wow ! Tamar, You appear to have built up quite a head steam before writing that I don’t remember anything of yours which was quite so emphatic.

    We have an expression on this side of the pond which is used when someone has done, or said, something laudable and which they can be proud of.

    “More power to your elbow.”

    • Yes, this was my bee-in-the-bonnet post, I guess. I got an e-mail after my last hunting article that put me over the top.

  15. Cindy Moynan says:

    So easy to pick up a nicely prepared package of whatever flesh one desires. Packages bare no resemblance to an animal. I think grocery stores should stop selling meat and people should buy direct from a slaughter house.
    I am vegan. And you are right, people are happy in clean little worlds. ?? all the nasty stuff already done for them

  16. Definitely needed to be said. Too many people don’t want to know the origin of the things they consume whether that be meat, crops harvested by poorly treated labor or clothes made by children in firetrap factories. They want it cheap and don’t want to think WHY it is so cheap. Thank you.

  17. Well written, we are local and happy meat people, not killing our own but aware of exactly how it us produced. I have no issues with this photo HOWEVER trophy hunting pictures I have a huge problem with. Killing for food is one thing, killing to show dominance is totally unacceptable in my book.

  18. Well written, we are local and happy meat people, not killing our own but aware of exactly how it us produced. I have no issues with this photo HOWEVER trophy hunting pictures I have a huge problem with. Killing for food is one thing, killing to show dominance is totally unacceptable in my book.

  19. I agree i agree i agree. I’m a veginatrian now not because i don’t think we should eat meat (i love meat) but because i think that humans have becomes spoiled. Want their meat to be tender, beld out, how young, blabla. The way we kill anyways have become so INHUMAIN that it makes me sick. People need to start realizing what your “demands” means for the animals themselves. Watch them live, watch them die. Only then maybe people will change and start thinking about how animals should be raised/killed. I’ll start eating meat again when we start setting standards as to how we kill our animals.

  20. Thank you for a very eye-opening message. I’ve been a vegetarian since I lived on a back-to-the-lander family farm at the age of 4 where we butchered all our own animals — I am a super-sensitive person, and it was way too much for me. I find meat disgusting, also eggs. I’ve drunk milk off & on though I don’t any more, but I eat butter and cheese, and of course I eat baked goods made with eggs; I’ve never thought about the butchering of males that come with obtaining products from females. I so wish it wasn’t necessary. But I agree that we should look straight at it, and make educated decisions about what we purchase.

    • Thanks, Joy. While I’m glad to hear from the hunters and meat-eaters on this issue, I’m even happier to hear from the vegetarians. We’re all in this together.

  21. Jin-Huon Jou says:

    What about people who are vegetarian for environmental reasons, that do not object to the killing of animals?

    • I’m assuming hunting an overpopulated ruminant gets their stamp of approval! One of the reasons I do it is because I think it’s the single most responsible way of eating meat, from both an environmental and a humane point of view.

  22. I should add that I’m not philosophically against the killing of animals. They kill each other, so I find that argument a bit unrealistic (okay, a lot unrealistic). I just personally can’t handle seeing violence of any kind or watching anything (or anyone) suffer — and animal meat is just about as gross to me as human meat would be to someone else.

  23. We also displace and kill them to produce oil, from which fuel and plastic is derived. These products are necessary for the transportation of foods and goods.

  24. It is not like you to get a bee in your bonnet, which makes the few times you do have that much more impact on your readers.

    Caring for livestock, then eating that livestock, comes with a responsibility to ensure that it meets a humane end. Meat eaters should care and push for transparency from abattoirs, and I like your idea of a field trip. Hunting and fishing have, oddly, always created more upset with vegetarians. Thank you for bringing this back into the discussion.

    And thank you for bringing human impact on the environment back to the discussion. Farming practices that produce vegetables and grains absolutely kill animals in every step from planting to storing the harvest. Not to mention oil use and climate change.

    Even if you don’t wish to eat animals, the vegetarians et al, if they care about an animal’s or a species’ quality of life while alive, must be informed and involved in the discussions like best practices for abattoirs and agriculture policy.

    Bees in bonnets or no, thank you for always keeping a civil dialogue open between warring factions. Your sensible arguments have even made me reevaluate my hardened stance on GMOs.

  25. Your insisting that dead animal pictures be posted for the world to see shows your insensitivity for others that are either sickened by the sight or offended by your need to brag about your ‘kill’. It is not about being a meat eater or a vegan..it is about lack of respect for others. (My grandpa was a farmer so I’ve seen plenty of butchered animals in my lifetime.) Get over yourself…you aren’t special.

  26. This has always been my belief. Thank you for articulating it so well. It is nothing but the purest hypocrisy to enjoy eating burgers, boneless skinless chicken breasts and the like without wanting to be confronted with the reality of killing animals.

  27. Bravo ….. I would like to suggest to you a membership in both versions of P.E.T.A. The first one that is known to all, I hope, would say that hunting, if done correctly as you have shown here is a far more humane and ethical treatment of our livestock as opposed to a feedlot life. The second is by far my favorite (People Eating Tasty Animals) …. well, what can I say other than good shot and how about a nice maple brine for that venison.

  28. My father was a butcher. From a small child, I and my siblings saw animals being slaughtered, deboned, ground up. sliced, de-feathered, skinned, etc. We participated in the family business in every way except the slaughtering. There is something about taking a life, even when it is necessary, that is momentous. I will not slaughter an animal unless it is absolutely necessary. I don’t know that it increased my gratitude to the animals, but it did make me aware that these were living things at one time. I understand where they came from. I understand the necessity. I don’t like to “get to know” an animal that I know will be slaughtered, but I will not look away.

    However, two things really make me mad. First, waste. Too many times we kill more that we really need. Second, I cannot condone trophy hunting. If you have to kill for meat, so be it. But to kill just for a rack of antlers is wrong in my estimation.

    Ok I said my piece.

  29. Kelly Cowhig says:

    Love this! We have a small farm, and raise beef, pigs, and chickens. The chickens not so much, but putting those beeves and pigs that you have cared for, scratched their ears, and worked hard, so they only had one bad day in their life, on a trailer to “freezer camp” pulls at my heart. Today, we took our last 5 pigs in for processing. They loaded up nice with some pumpkin I had saved for the occasion. They all jump right in. They trusted us to take care of them. What makes me feel not so bad about this process, is that I do know that our pigs had lots of fresh air, clean water, fresh bedding, and quality food. That, and they taste fantastic! We use all that we can from them, which I believe is the best way to honor them and the sacrifice they made for us.

    • Kelly, that’s nearly exactly how I felt about our pigs. Slaughtering them (we did it ourselves) was one of the hardest days I’ve ever had, but we knew we’d given them excellent lives. I wasn’t sure I could love both the pig and the pork, but it turned out that eating bacon from an animal we had cared for ourselves, and whose well-being we had ensured, was immensely satisfying. Thanks for commenting.

  30. The only thing I’d disagree with is the term “sourcing protein.” That’s just as much a euphemism and a cowardly way out as refusing to look at kill photos. Call it what it is: hunting, slaughtering, butchering.

  31. I just stumbled upon your Blog Site while looking for “How to Freeze Leeks” info. Within one paragraph; I thought: “I like this lady’s style of writing”, so I subscribed to your blog after reading that, and now this article.
    It’s probably the NY/NE Combo Culture Syndrome; as I was raised in Fairfield County, CT and spent much time in NYC & Brooklyn.
    After exploring over 25 countries & 45 states; I found my “Nirvana” in the place I call “The Magical Land of Nada”; here in Luna County, NM. Shocked the Heck Out of Me; from being a former Country Clubber to living where there is Not Even a Traffic Light for 30 miles.
    It is in the northern part of the Chihuahua desert; where there are more jackrabbits & coyotes than people; as it should be.
    Neighbors are few; and at least 660-1320 feet apart. Even if we don’t “like” each other; we know and care about & look out for each other.
    I bought 20 acres here back in 2000; and have unobstructed views of several mountain ranges.
    I haven’t started to actually grow anything yet; still in the learning and planning phases of living on the land [since Feb 2016; in a Travel Trailer for the 1st Year] and it’s watersheds [Never had to consider those in Cities or Suburbs!] before putting in a Septic System & Building a Small Home.
    It is all a bit daunting at this age [64] compared to when I bought it [age 48];
    as this “Old Grey Mare Ain’t What She Used to Be”; so progress and goals are slow and measured in footsteps; not milestones.
    Thanks For “Listening”; keep up the Opinions, Ideas and Information based upon your
    Life Experiences; it’s what makes you; Uniquely You.

  32. I love this. I grew up with a dad who spends about a month hunting in New Hampshire every year, and I’ve eaten a lot of deer meat. I always feel better when I’m closer the the process, like when I catch fish or my dad or one of his friends gets a deer. I remember watching him paint and draw deer when I was a kid, and wondering whether it was a contradiction to seem to love and respect something so much and also hunt and kill the same creatures, and then I realized that it really makes a lot of sense. I can’t stand it when I’m with meat-eaters who don’t even want to be reminded that their food was once an animal, let alone look at pictures of dead ones. I think if you’re going to eat it, you should be required to at least acknowledge where it came from. You put this into words so beautifully, I shared it on facebook. Thanks!

  33. Tamar,

    Should all of us omnivores be able to slaughter our own meat or simply acknowledge that we’re taking a life? Philosophically, I absolutely agree with you, but just as each of us have different gifts and strengths, I think my strength is the husbandry of animals instead of slaughter. Should I be able to end the life of the animal I’m eating?

    • Sammie, I think that’s a very important question, and it’s one I’ve thought about a lot.

      As a rule, I don’t think people need to actually do something to have a pretty good understanding of the issues involved. I don’t farm corn and soy, but it’s my job to write about those issues. In part because I don’t have that experience, I’m terrified of getting things wrong. But there’s another side to that. If I did farm corn and soy, my view on farming in general would probably be tinted by my own personal experience. I’ve made the case (only half in jest) that the person best able to opine on, say, how to feed children, is the person who’s never had to do it and therefore has no choice but to parse the evidence and reach a conclusion.

      I’m generally in favor of making decisions in as dispassionate a way as possible. The more emotional skin you have in the game, the worse a referee you are. But I think killing animals is a special case. It’s so easy for us to rationalize meat, to distance ourselves from the fact that a sentient creature had to die for us to have that sirloin steak. The killing that I do informs my opinions on husbandry, slaughter, and waste — and it’s possible to argue (and people have) that my emotional skin in this particular game has biased me. What I think it has done is underscored the issue that the rational me thinks is paramount: animal welfare. The rational me believes that, if we’re going to raise animals for food, we owe those animals a good life. But the rational me, at the grocery store, has ways to sweep that concern under the cognitive rug.

      The experience of killing prevents that. At least it does for me. And I think it does for others, as well. I believe that every omnivore has to take animal welfare very seriously, and that is one way to do it. But there are others. I think it’s absolutely possible to come to grips with the moral and agricultural issues of meat-eating without picking up a gun or a knife, and I don’t think killing an animal is a test you have to pass to get your Carnivore Card. You can pay attention. You can not look away.

      I think this is a terrific question, and I’m going to post it on Facebook, where I have a lot of food-oriented friends who think about these issues. I’d be curious to hear what they think — and what you do. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

  34. Patrick Heffernan says:

    From death comes life. It’s a basic univeral law.

  35. I had someone ask me once “How can you stand to eat an animal that has been treated so well !” and my response is “How can you stand to eat one that wasn’t ?”

  36. I’m late to the party but hear, hear!!

  37. Thank you so much for your perspective.
    Breast cancer has plagued my young (39 yrs) body twice, and so I choose to eat mostly a plant based diet. It isnt so much the cancer, as it is our over processed, genetically modified and mishandled ways that lead to this choice. I am convinced through reasearch the mutant cells (cancer) are the result of a lifetime of consuming these products. My partner and I dream of the day we too can live off the land.
    I look forward to reading more of your blog.

  38. I’m so glad to hear you say this. It makes me angry when people gasp and wrinkle their noses when I tell them we slaughter our chickens and rabbits for food. We also hunt. When they go to the store, something died to put meat in that tidy styrofoam container. You called it what it is: cowardice. In my case I would add: self-righteousness.

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