*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.

Gene entices Taco Bill (left) and Black Cherry (right) with oats, hoping they’ll get just a little closer to centre stage.

Last-minute guidance from father to (eldest) son in preparation for a simultaneous firing.

A traditional drink to honour the animals. (at just past 8am)

Lining up to capture the moment for posterity.

No anthropormorphizing here, though they could look as if they were sleeping.

Everyone present relinquishes the lead to Gene, and they learn from him as they go.

Class on a Sunday: these homeschooled kids are taking in a science lesson – they’ll try their hands at dissecting (cow brain) later in the day.

Respectful concentration in all aspects of the slaughter.

Gene’s-eye-view. “This is when it gets surgical.” It’s not easy navigating a rapidly bloating stomach to salvage edible organs. “The enzymes don’t know the cow’s dead.”

Father and (youngest) son, readying the slaughtered bulls for transport to finish the process.

What should be a typical farm view is now a rare sight. This is how food happens – unlike what we’re accustomed to, it doesn’t begin in the store.

Taco Bill and Black Cherry will age up to 28 days. For now, Derek prepares a sample of skirt steak. Age: 4 hours.

Hours-fresh beef. The chewiness I experienced will diminish after cellular breakdown (the ageing), but the flavour was lovely.

Hang time. We’ll revisit Taco Bill and Black Cherry in a few weeks for butchering.


Okanagan Writing · November 14, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Thank you, Brad.

I agree with you that our consumer habits will drive the demand for more mindful everything in a percentage of our population.

On the other side, we have quick foods heavily embedded in the fabric of daily life. There remains a place for larger food systems at present, and I’m not sure where that will go.

I’m fascinated by the squirmy responses I get from some (okay, many) when I tell them I’m attending a slaughter. Often it’s the same people who are fans of shows like The Walking Dead. I’ve seen both, and there was less gore on the farm.

None of us are innocent in the making of any of this, and that’s what I find riveting. It’s what we do with our smallest of choices that I think will make a difference. For my part, I’m a writer – so I write about it.

Thanks for engaging.

blackcloudwine · November 14, 2013 at 1:32 pm

As the movement to more mindful consumption appears to gain more momentum, it’s my belief that situations like this will become more prevalent. The last thing the mass producers want to see is more conscious and conscientious consumers. They’ll demand a higher quality that they can profitably produce and they’ll probably consume less overall.
J: Your piece is thoughtful and engaging; it allows the reader to meditate on the situation without declaring an allegiance to one perspective or another. Well done.

Okanagan Writing · November 13, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Thanks, Robyn.

Robyn · November 13, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Fucking amazing! (I) *may be offensive* .

f*ck the list: why we love (and loathe) best-ofs | The Third Glass · December 27, 2013 at 2:20 pm

[…] EAT Magazine’s trust in me to write something palatable about it. This led me to a few more interesting moments on the farm, and is evolving into a larger writing commitment that has yet to fully form. Mostly, […]

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