Since our post about slaughtering the chicken, and in conversation with friends, I’ve been asked a few times if we will go vegetarian in order to avoid future gory encounters.
The short answer is no.
The long answer is much more complicated.
I want to preface this post by stating that I have spent a fair portion of my adult life eating mostly or completely vegetarian. I have a number of friends and family who are vegetarian, and that’s a choice people make for their own reasons, which are, by and large, no business of mine. I completely respect that.
Having said all that, we’ve decided, after the last eight months of keeping livestock, gardening, and observing our local environment, that, for us, vegetarianism would be completely hypocritical.
You see, to be vegan in northern Saskatchewan, with any hope at all of being healthy, we would have to import a lot of food. A big lot. From a very, very long ways away. There are not too many vegetables that are in season in Saskatchewan in January – pretty much whatever stores in the root cellar this long, which, in our current experience, amounts to potatoes, carrots, onions, beets, squash, and maybe cabbage. We might be able to keep apples that long, if we found the right variety, which we haven’t, so there would be no fresh fruit at all. The rest of a local vegan diet would consist of wheat and beans, basically. You would, at the bare minimum, need a supplement to address deficiencies in vitamin D and probably at least some of the B vitamins, and likely also calcium, as the most calcium-rich veggies, such as spinach and broccoli, are not locally available in the winter. So, your options are either processed/chemical supplements of unknown origin (the ingredients might have traveled a million miles; there is no way to know), and/or 2,400 mile meals. That’s pretty hard to justify.
Okay, so, why not eat eggs and dairy? We’ve already got the goats and chickens, and that would do a long ways to solving the vitamin deficiencies.
That’s where the hypocrisy, for us, comes in.
I really only realized this after we started keeping chickens. You see, in order to get 25 hens to lay our eggs, we ordered 50 straight run chickens. Roughly half of our chicks were hens, and the other half were, of course, roosters. Now, we could have ordered only girl chicks, but the same number of roosters would still have been hatched, overall. What do you do with those roosters? Keep them as pets? Let them fight amongst themselves until they maimed or killed each other (and they will, we’ve discovered)? If we were vegetarian, those roosters become, in essence, useless.
Further, hens only really reliably lay well for a few years, then need to be replaced. Again, though, 50% of the new hatchlings will still be roosters, plus you’ve still got your old roosters, and, now, your old hens. The population would just grow and grow, and it wouldn’t take long before you were feeding a couple hundred chickens to get a few eggs. Environmentally, that has a lot of potential for disaster, too – it would not take long to exceed the carrying capacity of our land, especially when you factor in the goats.
You see, in order for a goat (or cow, for that matter) to give milk, she has to be bred. Meaning, she has babies. Goats typically have twins, and, statistically, half will be boys. So, suddenly, you are more than doubling your goat population every year, just to keep getting milk. And half of that population can’t give milk. Sure, you can sell some off, but people want girl goats a lot more than boy goats…they want milk, too. So again, you have a problem with excess useless boys.
So, even if you are eating free-range, pastured, grass fed, humanely raised eggs and dairy, you’re still an accessory to the killing of all those extra boys that were necessary in order to produce your food. For us, we’d rather tackle the issue head on, and ensure our meat is humanely raised and humanely killed, and deal with our own emotional ramifications, than being involved in exactly the same thing, but without really thinking about it or addressing the issue.
Now, I must have known this on some level – I mean, it’s basic biology, right? However, it really did not hit home until we were deciding whether or not to order more hens this spring, a conversation which necessarily included a discussion on how many roosters we could really eat in a year. Then I suddenly realized that we really can’t have eggs without also eating chicken. So, although we had kept the vegetarian option in reserve, just in case we really couldn’t stomach killing our own livestock, it is clear to us now that it’s not really a viable option for us. So, omnivores we shall remain, if occasionally guilty ones.
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