With rain and several days over 60 degrees, the green grass is beginning to push through the brown. Soon it will be ready for the cattle, sheep, and pigs to graze — turning one of the world’s most ubiquitous plant varieties into meat.
“All flesh is like grass” wrote the apostle Peter, and though he meant that to emphasize the ephemeral nature of life, grass for me is one of the most hopeful organisms on earth.
Go to an old parking lot and you’ll see it breaking through the cracks — grass taking hold and bringing nature back from the concrete world. It’s a plant full of vitamins and protein; it’s cool and soft to walk on; it calls us, from deep in our human history, to our days on the savannah when grass was life.
But as a source of food, grass for humans is largely shut out. It’s hard for our stomachs to handle grass in large quantities. To eat raw grass is a sign of desperation — an act for the starving in North Korea.
Our culinary relationship with grass is mediated through flesh — from the animals like cows, sheep, rabbits and chickens that can break down its nutrients and store them in muscle and fat.
That grass is everywhere, yet present to us only through the mediation of flesh represents something about our existential condition in the world — we are connected to the world through animals.
Paul Shepard once wrote a book titled The Others: How Animals Make us Human. I won’t go into all of his thinking here, but that phrase from the title says its essential point. Our humanness comes through and is dependent upon animals. They are our tethers to the world, reminding us where we came from and what we are dependent upon as we go forward.
When I watch my cows grazing on grass and then sitting under the newly budding trees chewing their cud, I am watching the first plants of spring turn into the first flesh of spring. When I later eat a steak from their sides I am eating the same nutrients that I watched the cows digesting on a perfect March day and am connected to that grass that the cows bent close to the earth to tear from the pasture.
In that steak I am reminded that my nutrients come from the earth, but also that I am dependent upon the animals that live closer to it than I do. All flesh is grass — the cow’s, the sheep’s, mine.
Ragan Sutterfield is a writer and farmer living in the mountains of central Arkansas. After earning a degree in philosophy Ragan spent some time working in Chicago, but decided that he'd rather be back in the rural Arkansas of his childhood. After two years apprenticing with an organic sheep farmer, Ragan set out to start his own farm, called Adama Farm (‘Adama’ is the Hebrew word for ‘soil.’) He raises sheep, cattle, chickens and a very rare breed of pig called the Gloucestershire Old Spot Pig. In all aspects of his farm he tries to use sustainable practices and he experiments constantly with finding better ways to farm at nature's pace.
Story by Ragan Sutterfield. This article originally appeared in Plenty in March 2007.