The Ambivalent Carnivore

I just got home from Marin Sun Farms in Point Reyes, where I purchased 7 pounds of ground goat offal for my kittykat, Ali. (Here I’m playing Deep Throat of the pet food world: Marin Sun Farms, upon customer request, will sell you their meat-grinder trimmings for your domestic beast to enjoy. You have to buy 5 pounds minimum; so unless you’re feeding a drooling St. Bernard, have them package it in small portions.)

Looking at the bags of glistening ruby flesh on the store counter, I realize that I’ve shortened Ali’s food chain considerably. This is a different procurement system than his canned tuna flakes and kibble. I touch the bags; the meat is as warm as if the goat were still alive. Tentatively, I ask the counter guy: “Where did this goat come from?” “Uh, Bolinas.” “When was it slaughtered?”  He pauses, “It came to us yesterday, so it must have been . . . Monday.” I almost asked if he knew the goat’s name, then got it that he didn’t want to talk anymore about the slaughtering of this or any animal.

Driving home, I contemplate the sentient being whose ground-up remains are in my cooler. He was probably male, as females go to milk production. No doubt he had a romping pastoral life on the foggy Bolinas ridge–before Monday, that is. While I was contentedly making granola at Spirit Rock, this young ruminant was heading for the euphemistic “processing facility.” No matter how much Michael Pollan says that eating animals helps propagate their species, there’s no way around it: It hurts to kill another living creature. But death must occur for life to continue. I feel defeated. Sorry, sweetheart, I think to myself. It’s not human law; it’s divine.

In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell says,

Man lives by killing, and there is a sense of guilt connected with that. . . . The basic hunting myth is a covenant between the animal world and the human world. The animal gives its life willingly, with the understanding that its life transcends its physical entity and will be returned to the soil or to the mother through some ritual of restoration.

Years ago I cheffed a conference of CSA farmers in the Pennsylvania Poconos. A goat farmer who wanted to promote goat meat (versus the usual cheese) brought me and Chef A. two whole carcasses: beheaded, hooved, skinned, and eviscerated. Over six hours Chef and I broke the two beasts down into 1-inch stew chunks; I stopped only to pee, drink water, and wring the blood from my apron. This was childbirth in reverse. I was no longer a chef; I was midwifing the next day’s goat curry.

And the curry? The grassy, gamey, herbaceous meat was full of prana, as explosive as an orgasm. Nourishment of another magnitude. Collapsing after the last 14-hour workday of that conference, I sobbed with gratitude for the intimacy and suffering I shared with those two creatures, who proffered their bodies to me like holy communion.

So much of Buddhist teachings seek to blur the lines between subject and object. Who’s eating? Who’s being eaten? This time around, Ali eats the goat. Next time, the goats eat Ali. The time after that, the goats get to butcher the being formerly known as Marcella and serve her up in a sumptuous Marcella curry. When we Dharma people take the Bodhisattva Vow, we literally offer ourselves as food for all sentient beings. We recognize that we are, as Chief Joseph said, threads in the weave of life, woven primarily by the elaborate choreography of who eats whom. With each bite our debt to that weave grows deeper–and, if we’re lucky, more delicious.

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2 thoughts on “The Ambivalent Carnivore

  1. Marcella – this is absolutely beautiful; instructive, poignant and creating anguish in me all at the same time. I love your insight and musings and how they connect and reflect the humanity in all creatures.

    Bravo!

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