I often make references to grass-fed livestock. This would seem to be an obvious concept, a pasture full of cows is still something that my generation might remember from childhood, before livestock was banned from suburbia for being stinky and attracting flies. Mom and I used to buy our milk (and ice cream!) at the local dairy. You could watch the cows come in from the field and go into their spot in the barn. They would get their udders washed and the milker attached, and would stand munching hay while they were relieved of their burden. Then off they would go, back out to the pasture. These cows were clean and healthy. It was obvious when you looked at them. The farm was a transparent operation, and their handling practices were there for all the world to see.
And while this is assuredly a big step up from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), this is not quite what I mean by grass-fed.
Last month, the New York Times had an essay contest in which they asked for people to write about why it is ethical to eat meat. You can view the results here, and read my essay here. I was not surprised to not be chosen, but did find this an interesting challenge, because one of the requirements was that we could not talk about grass-fed livestock for meat.
Relationship is one of the aspects that defines Pagan attitudes about food. For Pagans, deity is immanent in the world. Every rock, every tree, everything that moves and breathes is sacred. Including what we eat. It is very common for Pagans to feel a deep kinship with both animals and plants. This creates an ethical dilemma that is not easy to solve. How does one eat one’s brother? Industrial farming is repugnant to anyone who takes the time to look. But even more so to a Pagan who claims kinship to all living things.
Perhaps you have heard the term “food culture.” It is the idea that a particular group of people eats a particular group of foods. Cajun, for example is from Louisiana. It is spicy, and includes a lot of fish, or German cooking, that uses cabbage and sausage. Both use the foods that are locally available to create a particular flavor palate. Food culture is trendy. Which is funny because it is just what people eat because they had to. Germans ate- and still eat – sauerkraut because cabbage grows well in Germany’s northern climate. People on the gulf coast eat fish because it is available, and spicy foods because it is cooling to do so. Food culture is about place. Barbara Kingsolver says food culture is “an affinity between the people and the land that feeds them.”
For Europeans, this is a straightforward proposition. There are long traditions there that are supported by not only differences in food availability, but in differences in language. For North Americans it’s a different story. We do have some things that support local food cultures to be sure, in our early years here, it was a matter of pride for a woman to source her family’s needs close to home rather than importing from England. This was one of the ways that women contributed to the Revolution.
If I seem food obsessed, please understand that in the normal stretch of human history, I am quite normal. My blog postings often come back to the kitchen, the hearth. And when that is the case, it is because this is where my explorations of what it means to be nourished have lead me. In our modern culture, what you eat only matters if it will make you fat. Appearance is an obsession of the wider culture, one which Pagans have, for the most part, been successful at resisting. What matters to us is connection, integrity, and celebration.