To Be or Not to Be…..a Meat Eater?
by Shelley Goguen Hulbert
February 14, 2020
That is the question I ask myself each time my husband and I decide to “harvest” a cow on our own farm, not at Glen Brook. We have a micro-dairy, Callie’s Creamery, and provide raw milk and wholesome, grass-fed, organic yogurt for our local community. It is a wonderful thing to make our way together to the barn every morning at daybreak to milk and care for our small herd. To be able to witness the sunrise throughout the seasons intimately connects me with the natural world. I hope to be able to make this purposeful trek to care for our cows every day for the rest of my life. Yet, the harsh reality on a working diary is that the males don’t make milk.
At Callie’s Creamery, each time a cow has reached its time to go, it is a solemn occasion filled with gratitude and love. We are fortunate to have local support to do this deed humanely on our farm. It is an awesome responsibility to decide the fate of a living creature. Each time we do so, I question my decision to be a meat eater. And yet, I cannot imagine my life without cows.
When I was twelve, I first became a vegetarian because I was horrified by my best friend’s father hunting deer and serving it to their family. As a child, at my family’s dinner table, I could not sustain being a vegetarian. However, when I was 19 and on my own I made the shift, no more meat for me, on moral grounds. Struggling with anemia during my first pregnancy, a decade later, I once again began to eat meat. As our family grew, my husband and I began to grow our own food. We started with a robust vegetable garden. Then we decided that we only wanted to serve our children meat that we were certain was humanely raised and free from all chemicals. Therefore, first we added a flock of chickens and then a pair of pigs annually to our small farm.
In time, we bought a family cow with the intention of milking her to provide wholesome raw milk for our family and friends. We soon discovered that you cannot produce milk without producing more cows. To have milk you must have a lactating cow, and to have a lactating cow she must have a calf approximately once a year. About fifty percent of her calves would be male, and therefore couldn’t produce milk. The economic solution has been to turn young males into food; we simply cannot afford to keep them solely as pets.
Back to where I started, how can I be a dairy farmer, and have deep and satisfying relationships with cows and the natural world without facing death? How can I choose to kill an animal I love? I believe that choosing to eat an animal’s meat is a way of honoring its life. I have reconciled myself with this life cycle. Not because it is easy, or even really understandable, but because I cannot imagine my life or the New England landscape without cows. Their presence on the land enlivens it, their manure fertilizes our gardens, gazing upon them as we drive past pastures gives us a sense of tranquility, and being lucky enough to interact personally with these great creatures settles my soul.
On Camp Glen Brook’s farm, animals are raised to feed our summer camp, winter camp, school programs and many visitors throughout the year. We also grow many varieties of fruits, vegetables and leaves. It would be hard to sustain having a farm at all if it didn’t provide for us physical nourishment as well. We have many different people with different beliefs and ideas about nourishment for our bodies, minds and souls here. The conversation is ongoing, and Glen Brook is a place to have thoughtful open discussions about these important issues in morality, sustainability and our connection to the natural world.