Her account strangely chilled me and warmed me at the same time. The reminder of the reality of death in meat eating was chilling, but her honest approach to the topic was heartening. The ethics of animal eating is open to a heated debate, not just in our country, but worldwide. As an animal-loving person who came to the conclusion that a non-vegan diet was the right one for my family’s health, this is not a topic I take lightly.
Nancy Singleton Hachisu’s story about “The Boy Goat” found in her book, "Japanese Farm Food
," is full of compassion and insight – obviously from the perspective of a meateater, yes, but also as one who treads lightly and thinks hard before killing an animal.
She discusses the debate the family undertook in regard to a boy goat born on the farm, and I saw glimmers of a more ancient thought process shining through this story as she tells it. It made me think of the reality of a farmer’s life. A farmer has to decide how many animals the land will support (or how many the family can take care of), and then what type of animals to keep. Boy animals are kept for breeding, and not many are needed. You certainly wouldn’t keep a boy goat to breed with its mother, and so these farmers were faced with what to do with it.
Nancy says, “We couldn’t mate the boy goat with his mother, so Tadaaki, Christopher, and I discussed what we would do with him. Even if we took him back to the goat farm, he would most likely end up killed for his meat. Here was the moral issue: Should we kill him ourselves and eat him, or should we turn away and have someone else do it out of our line of sight? We debated this at length.”
She goes on to describe how after you have either witnessed the killing of an animal for meat, or if you’ve participated in the cleaning process, you are really reverential when you handle the meat later. She found that powerful.
She shares her husband’s respectful words to the goat, and the friends that shared the meat in a feast with them. She talks about how she handled the preschoolers (who come to the farm on a regularly basis) asking about where the goat was, and how she was truthfully and calm about what really happened, and how they accepted it, despite her inner sadness.
Finally she mentioned the intensity of enjoyment you get out of food when you have had some sort of history with it (whether you’ve caught it, grown it, or killed it). She says, “Food that has that history for you, those ‘legs’, so to speak is unforgettable. And it becomes hard to eat food with no history because that food is often lifeless and plain.”
She ends her short story there. She has given me a lot to chew on figuratively, as I reconsider the importance, as a meateater, of honoring and not wasting that sacrifice.