WARNING: This may offend some people. And if it does, I encourage you to continue reading with an open mind.
Sometimes, when I’m in a rush or otherwise not paying attention to the buttons I’m pressing or where my mouse is, the image of a severed goat’s head in a cage pops up on my laptop screen.
Although sometimes it catches me off-guard, this image doesn’t really terrify me the way that it should, or, at least, the way it would have only a year ago. You see, this photo sometimes pops up because I have it saved to my Desktop, and every so often it gets accidentally clicked on, or I accidentally press just the right keys on my keyboard to summon its full-screen presence. I’ll be doing ordinary, everyday things like watching baby pandas on youtube or looking up yet another recipe for paleo pancakes, (they never taste good- will I ever learn?) and then BAM! goat head! in your face!
Before you write me off for a total loony, let me explain why I have a picture of a severed goat’s head saved to my computer desktop. You see, I took the picture myself, after carefully placing the goat’s head inside of the cage in hopes that the flesh would be eaten away by maggots and beetles, leaving me with a beautiful goat skull. How metal is that?!
(The answer is SO METAL!)
Remember Gregory, the pet black goat of my dreams that became a reality when I moved to Cloudview Ecofarm last year? Well, guess what? Now I get to remember him fondly every time that photo accidentally pops up on my computer screen.
If you’re wondering what happened… I ate him.
Not only me, though. Gregory was slaughtered, slow-roasted and served up to a large party of farmers, friends and customers at a feast last August. He was delicious.
I never, ever thought that one day I would be telling such a tale, especially in such a casual tone. When I first got to Cloudview and was being introduced to the goats, I was told that Gregory and his brother were probably going to be eaten, or otherwise sold to people who would most likely eat him. I was crushed. Worse than that, I was heart-broken, disturbed and a little bit disgusted by the news. I started to think about how I could save Gregory (and the other, brown goat who continued to remain nameless) from this cruel fate. But as time went on, things changed, and I began to understand livestock.
My attitude toward killing and eating animals has evolved tremendously over the past year. Before I started working on a farm with animals, I was primarily vegetarian. Seafood was included in my regular diet and I’d eat other types of meat on occasion. I never prepared my own meat dishes (with the exception of seafood).
Last week marked a major milestone in my life: I made my first burgers! In proper Lauren-style I skipped right over the basic, single-layer meat patty and decided that my very first attempt at making burgers should be a challenging, yet tasty, stuffed burger recipe found on PaleOMG
I don’t know why, but for some reason I thought that wadding up some ground beef and throwing it in a frying pan was more remarkable than the fact that I plucked the feathers out of our Thanksgiving turkey this year. Last year, we had Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant and I’m pretty certain I ordered seafood.
On the day that Gregory and his brother were slaughtered, the farm interns were invited to watch. This may sound morbid, but it was actually a lesson in how to safely and humanely kill an animal and prepare its meat for human consumption, which is a very useful skill.
Gregory was lured into an open grassy spot with some grain. I laid my hand on top of his adorable little head, said “Thank you and Goodbye,” and then watched as he was shot in the back of the head and died instantly. One moment he was happy as a clam, eating some grain (a rare treat for the boy goats) and the next, he was dead. What a freaking sweet way to die! If I could be promised a swift and painless death, unexpected, while I was engaged in my favorite activity, I would sign right up!
After he was slaughtered, I scooped up Gregory’s severed head into a plastic bag and walked over to my supervisors to ask for a good place to leave it for the bugs to eat. I remember standing there, cradling the head of the goat that I was so attached to in my arms like a baby (it weighed about as much), and thinking to myself, “man, I never saw this coming.” Now, either I’m a total sociopath who can kill without emotion, or I’ve actually learned something valuable here. You decide.
I always feel better when I know where my food comes from, but farming took that a step further for me. One special treat that I discovered about working on a farm is that the closer your connection is with the food that you’re consuming, the more you appreciate every part of it. I would say that it also makes the food taste better, but I’m pretty certain that’s mostly due to the freshness (you really can’t beat veggies straight from the field or eggs that were laid that morning). The same is true for meat.
I don’t recall what my reasons were when I first went veggie at age 12. I don’t really recall much from back then.. But recently, food documentaries and vegetarian web-propaganda has revealed to me the horrors of the meat industry. Specifically the poultry section of Food, Inc. has me sworn off chicken unless I KNOW where the birds came from. My life was a Portlandia episode even before Portlandia existed.
When you’re raising animals for food, it’s difficult to avoid some kind of emotional attachment, or at least it is for me. I love animals, and goats are some of my favorites. But they aren’t pets, and they require time, money and attention to care for. After a while, it’s easy to view them in the same way as you would a plant that you’re harvesting for food.
Additionally, I’m also learning how eating animals fits naturally into the whole “living off the land and eating what’s available this season” type of diet. I love that I can refer to the only way people ever used to eat before the inception of commercial agriculture as a “type of diet” now. HA!
For example, at Cloudview, we generated a lot of compost from washing and processing the vegetables after harvesting them. At the end of the morning, we’d collect this compost and feed it to the animals. They also got to eat any food that was starting to rot beyond the point of keeping as home food or donating to the food bank. The animals disposed of these food scraps for us and turned them into food for us to eat over the winter while there wasn’t much else available to eat other than winter squash and storage crops, and maybe some kale, brussels sprouts and broccoli. That’s about all I ate every day this past winter. That, plus meat. Much more meat than I ever thought I could eat. Mostly bacon and sausage, but some beef or goat every now and then.
I mentioned that I helped to pluck the feathers from the butt of my own Thanksgiving turkey this year. I also assisted my friend in the plucking and evisceration of all four of his roosters (let it be known that he has killed every other male animal that lives on his property).
I still love animals, and always treat them with absolute respect (I swerve to dodge squirrels!), but I must say that I’m very proud of myself for being open to the opportunity to participate in humanely raising, slaughtering, processing and (finally) eating them. For me, this experience shed a new light on what it means to be omnivorous.
This experience reflects a much larger shift in my attitude and attention toward food, and where it comes from. Perhaps it’s only because I spend most of my time with farmers and homesteaders, or because I scour the internet for sustainable food and farming blogs, but it seems to me that I’m not the only one. The American culture is slowly and steadily becoming more aware.
Just last week, I listened to an episode of This American Life called “Animal Sacrifice” which featured a woman who teaches classes on how to butcher animals in Portland (of course), and I’d like to end this with a poignant quote:
And just before that moment that so few of us want to admit we’re capable of– that moment in which one animal chooses to kill another for food– we’re not only forced to realize what it means to be human, we’re forced to realize what it means to be animal, too.
PS- I decided not to include the photo of the goat’s head because I actually do have some sense of decency. If you’re interested, though.. just hit me up (sicko).
I never got the skull because I scampered off to California before it was clear of flesh. Before I left, I started to boil the skull in hopes to clean it, but when I brought a 75% rotted goat head into my kitchen and placed it in a pot of water on the stove (not a pot we cooked in!) a whole swarm of creepy crawlies came out, and the smell was worse than you could imagine. Since I didn’t want to make my roommate hate me even more, I left Gregory’s skull at Cloudview.