Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Emotional Nexus of Food

Last Friday, Jane and I bought a pig.  A whole pig.  A whole alive pig with a tail.

We did this at the Howard County Fair's 50th Annual 4-H Livestock Sale.  Hogs were last, so we sat through about three and a half hours of chickens, rabbits, lamb, goat, and cattle.  Each was led out into the fenced ring by their 4-H owner who had cared for this animal for the past year and was bringing it out for bids.  The money raised goes to 4-H and/or scholarships for the individual members.  The auction went either by "the head" or "per pound".  A prize winning cow at 1,300 lbs sold for $10 a pound.  The hogs, at about 230 lbs, ranged from $10 a pound to around $4 (that's about what we paid).  I have still yet to understand how the chickens were sold after seeing a crate of about three sell for over $1,000.  That chicken better not taste like chicken.

This was an emotionally exhausting experience.  Luke Lavoie with the Howard County Times really does a spectacular job capturing the event in his article about the auction.  The number one question ringing through every auction newbie's head is "Don't these kids get attached?  Isn't this, in a way, a pet?"  This bit from Luke's piece seemed to answer that:
And as Andrew, a first-year member of the Howard County 4-H club, shares an emotional goodbye with the steer he raised for eight months on the family's Mt. Airy farm, Hough, his own shoulder still wet with his son's tears, can't help but feel for his boy.

"This goes on for much longer, I'll be pulling him out," Hough said referring to "Big Head," who is just moments away from being put on auction.

The perfect quote to describe the hardening of youth.  It's powerful.

These children understand something about our food that most of us never consider - it has a cost greater than a price tag.  I don't want to recap too much of Luke's piece, but there is also mention of a girl who gave up beef until graduating from college due to the emotional impact one of her steers had on her in high school.

Watching these animals for 2-3 minutes at a time, you need to consciously avoid thinking about their personality.  "Oh, this one has spunk!"  "This one seems pretty laid back."  "This one looks friendly." "This one is pooping."  (A lot of them pooped.)  If you relax allow yourself to think of that personality, you can't help but be disappointed to see it led to the back of the stable for a picture with its future consumer.

And these animals receive the ultimate in humane treatment.  They are raised on open farmland, cared for on a individual basis, and are shown in all their health and magnificence before being sold.  This is what food activists like Andrew Zimmern, Michael Pollan, and Mark Bittman promote.  As I said on Facebook on Friday, this is as good as it gets on this side of the fork.

It is a bit disappointing for me that I went 32 years of a carnivorous lifestyle without experiencing something like this.  Seems unfair to the animals.  I plan to continue to eat meat, but I am a little less confident in that decision than I was while parking my car on the gravel lots at the Howard County Fairgrounds.  Food was the first source of politics, but it seems to be the last thing we want to talk about.

One last point: 4-H is more than merely a club.  It serves a simultaneously transcendent and primal purpose in the education of our youth.  I couldn't help but feel like some of the graduating seniors last Friday were much wiser than me when it came to matters of life and death.  I am happy we have a 4-H club in Howard County, as I am sure these clubs are fading away along with our understanding of what it is to eat.

That's all for today.  Speaking of food, did you know that the Centers for Disease Control estimate that 25% of all Americans do not have the ability to buy healthy food, either due to proximity or cost? Want to do something about it?  Sign up to help us tend to the Community Action Council's Garden this Sunday at 8:30 am.  If you do, I'll serve you Brunch!

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!