It was an interesting week of conversations leading up to the CORE course on March 10.
When I told my friends I was taking my Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Education (CORE), there were very mixed reactions. Some were extremely supportive that I was finally getting around to doing it, others not so much.
“People will think you’re a redneck,” said one person I know.
“So what,” I said, “It’s always good to know how to handle and disarm a gun, even if you aren’t planning on shooting one.”
“Why? Are you going to hunt animals?” asked another friend, a vegetarian.
For years I was vegetarian, and the reason was the same for both health and ethical reasons: I don’t believe factory-farmed animals are treated well, and the way they are treated and fed affects the quality of their meat.
A third friend, not a vegetarian, disclosed that even though she eats meat, she could never kill an animal. She admitted that she prefers her animal muscle and organs to come packaged, abstracted away from the living thing it once was: big eyes, personality, etc.
My vegetarianism came to an abrupt end when I travelled to a remote settlement in the Northwest Territories where vegetables were in short supply, but fresh caribou wasn’t.
The fact that life for one creature, plant or animal, almost inevitably relies upon the death of another has always been something that seemed self-evident to me. When I was asked to help skin the caribou, I didn’t hesitate. It was this animal that would allow me to continue to live my life here up in the frozen north, and the best thing I could do was be respectful and careful as I cut the skin away, making sure no piece was wasted.
I know it is very disturbing to some people to even read about “cleaning” an animal, but if you eat meat, I personally believe it should be something you consider as part of respecting the life that was given up to nourish you. Inevitably, one day your body will feed other organisms in need of sustenance.
Last spring, I was driving home one night from the Nakusp Hot Springs when I caught two good-sized cougars in my high-beams. For a moment, they were confused by the lights and noise of my truck, and all three of us just stood still, not quite sure what to do. I have never seen cougars so close up for so long. They were two of the most beautiful creatures I had ever seen: their muscles were long and lean, with their tails perfectly balancing their tawny bodies. Eventually, they collected themselves and crouched down the bank away from the road.
When I told my mom, she said there was no way I could bike up to the Hot Springs any more. Suddenly, I might be the meat.
It made me think about being their prey. It would be a messy death, for sure, but cougars are generally scaredy-cats and can be run off even if they worked up the nerve to go after a full-sized human. If they did get the upper hand in a struggle, at least they’re efficient, aiming to bite at the base of the skull and kill their prey as quickly as possible.
I thought about the cougars, and I thought about giving up riding my bike up the hill. Was it worth it?
In the end, I decided that giving up the freedom to bike out of fear of an attack wasn’t worth it, and I was on my bicycle the next week. I calmed my mom down by saying that I was riding in the day when there was more traffic, and that cougar attacks were rare, and that if I did happen to be killed, well, at least I would be nutriment for another awesome animal. I don’t think the last part reassured her, but I wasn’t about to give up biking.
I have a deep respect for the decision to become vegetarian. It is a very personal one, and there are scads of very interesting works that have been written about it, because it also has a lot to do with the attribution of “sentience” or consciousness to creatures. There isn’t much popular debate about the self-awareness of chives, at least in Western culture, but it’s an interesting question why some living things are OK to eat and others not.
Food is a vast, complex topic that involves ethics, politics, tradition and much more, and “meat” is just one aspect. For myself, if I am going to eat meat, I understand I am complicit in the death of the animal, and I would prefer that animal had as free a life as possible before it allowed me to continue to live by becoming my meal.
Does that mean I don’t buy meat at the grocery store? No, I still do, but I want to see if I can face what it means to take a life in order to sustain my own.