The costs of eating well

home cookingEating out and buying prepared foods are both expensive. It’s also easy to eat too much junk (processed, refined) food that way. Yesterday morning I was chopping up some stuff, moving things from the deep freezer to the freezer, and from the freezer to the ‘fridge. My 3.5 year old was listening to an audio book and playing with blocks (right where I needed to walk, between the stove and counter, but her contentment was very worth the inconvenience). I was reminded of the days when my first daughter was a baby. I devoted hours and hours preparing wonderful meals full of whole grains, organic fresh (locally grown, or from our gardens) vegetables, and even meat from animals raised and slaughtered right here in Maine. I froze foods, I fried seaweed, I embraced quinoa (10 years ago when it was relatively new on the American scene)… I was creative and quite frugal. Bulk purchasing and home preparation saved us a lot of money. But, it also cost a lot of time.

Buying ingredients and making our own foods costs a lot less in dollars than buying prepared foods (if the prepared foods are relatively nutritious). But the time it takes to prepare food at home—that’s what I do 90% of the time—shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s not even preparing the food, but managing it. What do we have on hand, what’s still frozen, what needs preparation, what makes a meal, what leftovers need to be used… all of these things take brain space. All of these things are also things I love to think about and do, when I have the time.

The choices aren’t easy. Take out, restaurants, and prepared foods from the grocery store are all too expensive. They are also much less likely to fit our values or our desire to eat foods that make our bodies strong. Spending the morning making stock from the freezer bag of chicken bones and vegetables, quinoa bean chili, fruit smoothies from the frozen fruit scraps, whole grain cookies, baked tofu with Bragg’s… there’s what I want to do (the cooking and planning) and there’s what I need to do (make money). There’s the bottom line (cash/bills to pay) and the bottom line (quality of life) to be considered, too.

Right now, I’m choosing to breathe in the present moment. Balance is my goal, though I certainly lean toward the quality of life side of the scales.

As many of you know, I have been writing a monthly column at The Bangor Daily News about being “newly poor.” Food choices are complicated when living with so little money. I fully understand the appeal of the McDonald’s drive-through. In fact, over the last few years I have used that option much more than feels comfortable to me. But, we’re all human and can only do the best we can. I just don’t judge harshly people who make “bad” food choices when it feels so much easier and even feels less expensive to get the quick fix food. In an ideal world, I could take it easy and buy, prepare, and share foods that feed our bodies and our values. In this world of necessary compromise, I can only do the best I can.

shock (pig kill, part 1)

Shock.

Today, I witnessed the killing of a pig. I participated in the processing of the dead animal, preparing it for tomorrow’s butchering. Of my many swarms of thoughts and feelings about today, I keep returning to how I didn’t feel sad for the pig that got killed. My response wasn’t troubling to me as I believe we all use different coping skills to survive difficult experiences. But, this didn’t feel like denial of something tragic or painful. I simply felt void of sorrow for the animal. Am I some kind of monster? How did I not care about this pig?

During the killing—which was not at all what could be described as a “clean kill”—I was moved nearly to tears. A few times, I heard myself quietly moaning like a mother comforting her injured child. But it wasn’t the pig who was being shot and cut that was causing this deep sorrow.

The man who did the killing and the second fully living pig were the focus of my grieving. They were alive and experiencing the horror.

“You came at a bad time, Heather,” said one of the farmers, apologetically, referencing the required brutality of the messy kill. I said, “I think I came at the right time.”

Why did I feel so disconnected from the pig’s experience of a slow death?

In many circumstances, people use feelings and intuition to make choices. They then tap into logic and rationality to explain the emotional decisions. Most people tend to think this isn’t the case, preferring to believe their informed decisions are made based on reason and critical thinking. I’m comfortable with the fact that most of my life is guided by intuition but that I may want to (or need to) explain my choices in ways that seem rooted in reason or rationality. This evening I’ve been reflecting on today’s experiences, trying to piece together the whats and whys of all that I felt. Moments ago I remembered shock.

In 2001, I was in a car wreck. I ran a red light and was “double t-boned.” That means as I was crossing the intersection, one car on either side of me (those that had the right of way) crashed into my car. A t-shaped crash.

Since that time I’ve had some “flashbacks” or memories of the experience that mostly I can’t put into words. The only part of the experience that made a big impact on me was the silence. Not really silence, but, the absence of sound. There has never been a more quiet time in the history of time than those moments when the cars made impact, my car spun around (I was told), and it slid to a crashing stop against (a stop sign? a parked car? I don’t know) something. Even when I was awake enough to interact with the police, everything was still so quiet.

Today I believe I was intuitively aware that the pig who died an unfortunately slow death was likely hardly aware of what was going on. Not because I think pigs don’t feel. In fact, the emotional impact of the second very living pig’s presence continues to bring out very strong sorrowful and maternal feelings in me. But because I believe after that first shot, the one that didn’t kill it, the chemicals in that pig’s body probably kicked in like the ones that made my car wreck emotionally survivable for me. I’m not suggesting there wasn’t pain, terror, confusion, desperation, or a whole range of possible feelings this pig was having. But because of my own experience with what should have been a life/death terror, I think the dying pig probably didn’t suffer. I can’t know this, of course. And I hear the voices of PETA people or others who object to killing animals, such as the author of Eating Animals, saying I’m making justifications for what was actually cruelty. All I know is my own experience. It is my experience, and my gut tells me, that this animal didn’t suffer from what might seem like a horrible death. Based on my experience and my intuition, this pig had the chemicals of “shock” raging through its body and if it had survived much of the experience would go unremembered or, at least, not be easily recalled.

The intention was to kill the pig quickly. The intention was to avoid all unnecessary suffering for the pig. When the pig’s body was giving the last heaves of life or audible and visible physiological functions, the group gathered with arms around each other and most members sang a song of gratitude. There were tears and hugs and quiet gestures of comfort shared among the group.

With the dead and still bleeding pig at my feet, my focus continued to be on the living beings around me. I found scraps of vegetables from around the yard to give to the obviously distressed living pig. I watched to be sure the man who did the killing was finding support among his peers. I didn’t take pictures of the killing or immediately following. There was a feeling of privacy and respect in those moments I would not tarnish by clicking pics with my iPhone.

The ethics of eating meat is complicated. So many people need for things to be right or wrong. Simple is preferred, even if it’s not honest. Much of today I was struck by my emotionally removed intellectual curiosity. Tonight, I’ve settled into the awareness that I was and am feeling a deep and true sense of awe.