Wednesday, November 27, 2019
I love Thanksgiving, especially in the years, like this one, that I get to host. I enjoy the process of writing a menu, shopping for ingredients, and setting a beautiful table. There are few things that make me happier than seeing people I love really digging in to food I’ve prepared for them. I’m happy when my adult daughter comes over, and I’m happy to see my mom. But there is something about Thanksgiving that make me feel uneasy. There is a whiff of - if not hypocrisy, then maybe willful blindness - that hangs around the Thanksgiving table.
Thanksgiving is a day of delicious excess, a national fantasy of happy peaceful families and endless sweetness, but the truth is often unpalatable. Enjoying an abundance of good things and being thankful for what we have is, of course, wonderful, and in no way a bad thing. Indeed, we’d all be happier and the world would probably be a better place if we came together more often to share our abundance and to give thanks out loud and in the presence others.
But it’s also important to acknowledge the realities that underlie the feast. These are manifold. Firstly, I acknowledge that to make this feast, a beautiful turkey had to die.
I acknowledge the work that went into raising him - this bird was raised on pasture by a local farmer, so I thank my neighbor for her work and expense. But I also recognize the labor of the people - mostly immigrants - who toil in the vast and dangerous poultry processing industry; I acknowledge their worth and affirm their right to safe working conditions and just recompense.
I thank my husband for the work he is doing right this minute - butchering the turkey out in the cold November wind. I acknowledge this is a disagreeable task and I thank him for being willing to develop the skill to do it well.
The vegetables on the table - the potatoes, the Brussels sprouts, the salad greens - are produced by an unsustainable system that abuses workers and the earth in equal measure. I am a witness, and I pledge to do what I can to avoid participating in those injustices and to mitigate the tremendous waste generated.
And finally, I acknowledge that I live on unceded land of the Lummi and Nooksack tribes. All of us settlers live on land that either was never ceded by the tribes, or which was ceded under deeply unequal conditions, in which one side held all the power. I acknowledge that uncomfortable truth. If you want to know on whose land you reside, visit this link:
https://native-land.ca/. I pledge to work toward correcting the grave inequalities that resulted by upholding the efforts of local tribes to sustain their culture and supporting their businesses and candidates for office.
None of this is meant to be a huge bummer.
It is possible to be grateful for our wealth while recognizing the problem of poverty. We can celebrate being together with family while knowing that some are lonely. We can give thanks for warm homes, abundant food, and all the good things in our lives without trying to shut out the knowledge of the many who lack those things. It’s not a sin to be warm, to be fed, to be loved. These are wonderful gifts.
My hope and my prayer is that naming our gifts and sharing them with our loved ones will inspire us to share them more widely, as well. I remind myself, as I bask in warmth and light, of the existence of cold and darkness not out of guilt, but so that I may be moved by gratitude and grace to expand the circle of warmth and light to include others. I remind myself, as I nourish my body with roast turkey, of the death of the animal I am eating not as some sort of penance, but to honor the truth that this act embodies the cycles of life and death on this beautiful planet, cycles we are all of us bound by.
May you be abundantly blessed this Thanksgiving. May you have much to give thanks for, as much as I.
Sunday, November 17, 2019
Some years we raise a couple of pigs, and some years we don’t. The decision whether or not to get a pig in any given year is based on a number of factors - how much meat we have in the freezer, the price of local weaner piglets, whether or not our neighbors are raising pigs this year, etc.
In general, I have more or less decided that it is as cheap to buy pork from our neighbors as it is to raise a pig of our own, and much less work. However I can be swayed. This year we were swayed by our youngest daughter’s need for an FFA project coinciding with the availability of some handsome well-grown weaners raised by a close neighbor and offered at an excellent price.
Paloma, our youngest, swore up and down to us that she would be in charge of feeding the pigs. Of course, she doesn’t know what that actually entails. We get much of our pig food from the Gleaner’s Pantry, and she can’t participate in that. The truth is that I will be doing most of the sourcing of food for the piggies, and Paloma will only be in charge of doing her pig-related homework.
The question she posed and will be trying to answer is “is it financially advantageous to raise your own pigs?” For those who are interested enough to follow the links, I’ve already done the math and answered this question to my own satisfaction:
For those who aren’t that interested, the answer is - you can get nearly free meat if you don’t put any value on your own labor.
But of course labor counts. Here is Homero, after spending some twenty minutes chasing down a couple of well-grown piglets today. His face clearly shows that labor counts. My neighbor told me we could choose our own pigs from her litter of fourteen, and there were a couple of standouts. In the end, however, we took whichever pigs Homero was able to catch.
This handsome boy was the largest of the entire litter, and probably tipped the scales at sixty pounds. Homero was hard pressed to keep ahold of him all the way home.
The second piglet he managed to catch was the smallest one of the litter, a little pink girl with curled back ears. They seem to be happy with their new digs - we have them in the sacrifice area which is about 100 x 100 feet. Their house is a round calf hutch stuffed with hay.
Raising pigs over the winter has its challenges, and it obviously costs more than raising the same animals over the summer months, because mammals require many more calories to keep their body temperature up during the cold season. Also their natural rooting behavior causes more damage during the wet season. That’s why we have them confined to the sacrifice area, which is compacted and has a bad weed situation. Any rooting they do may actually be beneficial, and their manure will help fertilize the sandy poor soil.
As in past years, the idea is to sell one pig (post-slaughter, in cuts) and use that money to offset the costs of raising the other pig, which we will keep for ourselves. Paloma will be keeping the books this year, and I’ll keep you all updated on her conclusions.