*disclaimer: some of these words and images might be offensive to some readers/viewers – if that’s the case, you seriously need to rethink what you consider offensive; otherwise, read on
We live with rules. We have regulations and laws for almost everything – from best before dates on food to the height of a secondary building on my property (less than 17′). A packet of silica gel buried in the toe of new shoes advises us not to consume it. Dude, it’s silica gel. As if.
Arguably, rules can help to keep us safe and allow for recourse. People who operate outside of the rules are penalized and held to task. We see this when persons perpetrate crimes: break the law, pay the price.
What happens when regulations that should protect us instead act as a barrier for us? Ideally, we lobby government to amend the rules. Sometimes the rules don’t fit, and we find ourselves unable to reconcile what we think is best for us with what those we’ve elected think should happen.
Of late I’ve noticed a quiet movement in my local farming (and farm-loving) community. This movement operates without leadership, and is woven into the culture of local, slow, and other food tags. Its grass-roots feel is slightly anarchistic in a wholesome way. I refer to it as the greying of farm culture.
I have (happily) become an unofficial recorder of events at Covert Farms – an organic, family-owned grower/producer in the Okanagan (I made the zombie apocalypse cut; long story, but a big deal). This spring I was invited to witness a lamb cull which I wrote about for EAT Magazine. Recently, I attended a bull slaughter.
That’s right – a bull slaughter. I won’t dress the words in anything other than what they are: people killed two animals for meat. It’s more acceptable to say cull than it is to throw down slaughter, and I’m not sure why. It might have something to do with how we define the word, and popular culture hasn’t done it any favours.
slaughter / n. & v. noun 1. the killing of an animal or animals. 2. the killing of many persons or animals at once or continuously; carnage, massacre. verb 1. kill (people) in a ruthless manner or on a great scale. 2. kills (animals) esp in large numbers.
This definition is from the 9th edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, published in 1995. The first part uses neutral language – the latter inflamatory. How can one word be so loaded? We made it that way.
I spent a day on the farm with Gene Covert, Derek Uhlemann, and three others as they slaughtered two Scottish highland bulls. According to British Columbia’s Ministry of Health, the slaughter of animals for personal use is unregulated – as long as the meat isn’t sold. Let me be clear: these folks purchased the animals and slaughtered them for personal consumption.
In meat inspection and processing, there are (as of 2007) only a few classes of license in this province: Class A allows slaughter and processing (cut & wrap) for retail purposes and Class B allows slaughter only (for retail in the province); secondary tier licenses D and E permit on-farm slaughter of a limited number of animals in each class, confined to regional application (extremely remote areas), and with limits on retail.
All of this means I can’t go to Covert Farms and purchase a steak that came from a locally raised and mindfully slaughtered cow. That really sucks. Others feel the same, and I’m slowly discovering who they are. Here’s where grey is becoming the new green.
This grey zone I see emerging is located in the awkward gaps left behind by an ill-fitting framework. People – intelligent, thoughtful people – are farming these grey areas with care. Locals are banding together to create a sustainable food system that doesn’t fit in the big player rules.
Each invitation to the farm feeds my yearning for a community food system. I’m not alone – I see it in the eyes of everyone present, every time. Knife in hand, one person said “If I can’t handle this today, I shouldn’t be eating the meat I eat.” A bold but fair statement.
I’m not sure where days like these will lead, but I glimpse a larger written work lingering in the shadows. This grey area has more than a few stories in it and I’m hopeful for an opportunity to share them with a larger audience.
Meanwhile, I respectfully and humbly present a few images from another day on the farm with Gene, Derek, and friends – taking the bull literally by the horns.