I am not a vegetarian, but I did grow up a town girl, so the processes of producing the meat I eat were generally at a far remove from my awareness. Save for the time I saw my cousin Mike kill his first chicken (which made a lasting impression), I haven’t even been witness to how meat comes to my table.
Of course, I intellectually know about how such things happen. But I haven’t been mindful of much else, simply because I haven’t had to be.
Thursday, that changed, albeit at a remove.
Throughout the day in the village where I live, I could hear the sound of gunshots. It’s unusual this time of year, as there is no hunting season just now. And generally, even in the country where I live, I don’t much hear gunfire. The sound is a jarring one.
I wondered what it could be, but did nothing to investigate other than to speculate: maybe somebody’s target shooting, I thought. But they shouldn’t be doing that so close in to ‘town’ (referring to the area where I live with roughly 75 other souls). Or maybe they’re sighting their guns.
Later, at a church gathering, somebody suggested it was a local family slaughtering their cattle. They shoot them? I asked. The one who suggested this alternative looked at me a bit funny, as if to say, How long have you lived here? Translation: Of course they shoot them; how else did you think farmers slaughter their beef cows?
I never thought about it before. I know larger farms take their cattle to the slaughterhouse. I never thought about how smaller farms slaughter on site. Chickens, at least on my uncle’s farm, got the axe. I guess I thought, if I ever thought at all, that cows got similar treatment. But a cow is a very different animal than a chicken and killing a cow has to be much more challenging in all its practicalities. An animal is hardly likely to stand still while it’s throat is being cut.
All these musings swirled around in my head and the word ‘mindfulness’ emerged. I have not been mindful of how cows exit this world in order that I might eat beef. Mindfulness is the process, the effort, of staying aware; of being in touch with things in each present moment.
Of what shall I be mindful in the slaughter of cattle that I might eat beef? Perhaps there is no better place to begin than in thankfulness.
Native American spirituality has the hunter prepare for the hunt by offering up a prayer of thanks and apology for the life of the animal taken that the hunter and his family might live. It is said that the act of taking an animal’s life is a sacred act, in the understanding that all life is interconnected and the sacrifice of one for another that the other might live must never be taken lightly.
In other words, we must be mindful, not only of our own needs and their fulfillment, but also of the cost of the meeting of those needs.
Source for Native American practices: Mitakuye Oyasin: We are all related, by Fr. David Gallus, OSC, at http://www.crosier.org/default.cfm?PID=1.48&inq_key=20320&action=detail&LibID=859