As humans we turn away from things that we perceive to be too difficult for us to accept. We no longer have a culture of looking after our elderly relatives in the Western world. We put them into care homes, pass the responsibility on to someone else and just take the good bits - dashing in for a cup of tea and a biscuit and hastily leaving again before it becomes too difficult to deal with. We find it hard to accept death in human terms, even though it is the most certain reality for all of us. The animal world and the world of animal death are even further out of sight, and therefore, out of mind. It’s hidden behind closed doors of impenetrable factories, warehouses and processing plants.
From the first moment of even considering buying some piglets, the plan has always been to eat them. We have an orchard in North Wales where until recently we’ve kept a donkey and miniature Shetland pony, but trying to stop them from eating all the fruit didn’t seem like a particularly effective use of the space. Pigs seemed like a logical thing to do. They eat the fruit, the fruit doesn’t get wasted, and we eat them. The death of these animals is something that I have accepted from the start, but with the intention of turning vegetarian if I can’t commit and accept each stage of the process. The question is, how good are we at accepting their death from the get-go?
This issue was addressed last week at the Harmony in Food & Farming conference run by the Sustainable Food Trust, in a session titled ‘Sacred Life, Sacred Death’. The most fascinating part of this for me was listening to Ruth Tudor from Trealy Farm who is both a psychotherapist and farmer. She set about training to be a slaughterwoman in order to engage fully with the final stages of animal life, that so often we don't get to see. She explained that the most crucial moment that we as humans must consider is from the initial disturbance of these animals on the farm, right through to their deaths.
‘By having such an emotional response without being able to include death in our vision of the life of the animal we are dissociating and denying the death from the animal that we love’
If we don’t accept the reality that death is what occurs then we cannot hope to engage with it on any level. By not engaging we, as consumers, cannot hope to support sustainable practices.
This element of dissociation is a large part of the response that I am getting from people as I give my pigs love and affection. Fears arise of getting ‘too attached’ or spending too much time with them, making it harder for me to take them to slaughter.
I get frustrated with this, as I believe they deserve the best life and all the happiness possible whilst they are alive. However, I have also done some distancing of my own - by not naming these pigs. Now I’m starting to think this is just my own way of creating a barrier and separation. As much as I’m aware of the personalities of each one of the pigs and can recognise each of them with their own quirks and character, I’ve been unwilling to put a name to their faces. Perhaps to fully engage with this process I should?