I was in the waiting room at the local massage school here in Santa Fe about to have a bodywork session with one of the students. A woman in the seat next to me started talking to me about her work. She and her husband raise beef cattle. She was very proud of what she was doing and excitedly went into it without knowing who she was talking to, “We are saving a very old heritage breed of cattle. Without us, they would probably die off. AND, it is LOCAL! It isn’t easy to keep going with local products. You know, they are much more expensive to produce and most people don’t want to pay the price. I just feel so good about saving this breed.”
“Oh, you are saving them? So you don’t kill them?” I asked.
“Of course we kill them”, she replied, “We have to make a living.”
Me: “Do you kill and butcher them right there on your ranch?”
Her: “No, we send them to Colorado to a slaughter facility.”
Me: “How far away is the facility?”
Her: “About 9 hours away”
Me: “Is it still considered local?”
Her: “Yes, it IS local.”
Me: “Is it heartbreaking to send them off to slaughter when you have raised them from babies?”
She got very quiet, then said softly, “Well, I try not to get attached to any of them. Except Herman. We would never slaughter Herman. Everyone loves him. People even come out just to visit Herman. He was a 4H project years ago. We love him and could never kill him.”
Me: “What makes Herman different from the others?”
Her: “Nothing, really, except that we have known him for so long and now he is part of the family. He is so special.”
Me: “So they are all equally special, but you named him and you developed a relationship with him, so you feel differently about him, right?”
Her: “I guess so, I guess they are all special in their own way.”
Me: “Just like all of us, I suppose.”
She got very quiet. Then I was called into my session and said bye to her and she said, “I hope we can talk after our sessions.”
This all got me thinking about people who think they are doing a good thing by “saving a breed” while killing them off. I put myself in the position of the cattle. Lets say someone wants to save my breed. They want to save short, fuzzy-haired, Russians because our breed is becoming very rare. To do this, they propose to me that they keep me pregnant by artificial insemination and I produce lots of babies. My daughters and granddaughters and I will keep producing more babies. Then they will kill off my family and me while we are still in our prime. But, they will make sure there are always enough of us that the short fuzzy-haired Russians don’t go extinct.
I am opened-minded, so I listen to their whole proposal before I respond, “No thanks guys. I really don’t give a hoot about whether my breed lives. I never even think about us being a breed, we are individuals who want to live long full lives surrounded by our family and friends with plenty of fresh-air, sunshine and food to eat.”
I imagine that if we spoke bovine, the cattle she thinks she is saving would respond in much the same way. They want freedom, food, family and friends. They want to live out their lives with as little suffering as possible. I don’t speak bovine, but I can pretty much guarantee that they cattle do not wake in the morning thinking about their breed. They are thinking about their own comfort and desires. I watched 6 cows at a sanctuary stand up in unison and walk to the only sunny spot on a hill. The sun was pouring down in a beam from an opening in the cloud-covered sky. The six cows made their way up the hill and settled into the sunny patch with their eyes closed and their faces soaking up the warm sun. They were not thinking, “Here we are, a bunch of cows.” They were probably not thinking about anything except the delicious warmth on their faces.
It is time to look at the reality of our food systems for the individuals who are impacted by our choices. When we combine the compassion of caring for all live with buying as much local organic as possible, we are moving in a direction that truly supports life on earth.