Saturday, December 6, 2008
The Killing Fields
Make no mistake, I've taken very few men home to meet the parents. Mostly, because my dad usually makes them shoot guns, help him castrate a pig, or climb 20 feet up a tree to chainsaw a precarious branch. It's his twisted way of running them through their paces. They always fail.
Every one of them found the Ranch quaint, rustic, even nostalgic in a Wild West kind of way. But all were quick to wipe the chicken shit from their Corinthian leather shoes and return to the city. Except the Ranger. He loves the Ranch. Frankly, more than I do. For me, it's a bit...well...embarrassing. The rusty bathtub used as watering trough, swimming pool pump used as flower pot (we've never had a pool), toilet seats hanging on the side of the barn, various pick-up trucks half-buried and in various states of disrepair, stacks of oil pipeline (?), old lunch boxes (Fat Albert, Wonder Woman, Blondie) filled with used nails, screws, and bolts. Let's not forget the discarded fragments of broken mirrors that outline the garage, storage shed, and garden hut (the peacocks like to look at themselves in the mirror), or the piles of scrap metal used to create a fence line (cheaper than barbed wire). With a peck on the cheek, I turned to the Ranger and declared, "Someday, honey, this will all be yours. After I croak." To which he said, "Cool."
But I digress. You see, people, I think you should know...because of this Ranch, I'm not the least bit sentimental about my food. I know there's killing involved and as long as it's done humanely and not in a factory, I'm down with that. Do I ENJOY tossing live crab in boiling water. Well, of course not. But that's the price of crab cakes. So I think it's my duty to man up. Slip on my big girl panties.
Growing up around livestock, we spent the early days of spring throat slitting, head snapping, bleeding, skinning, plucking, butchering and wrapping. I never named a cow Bessie, nuzzled a baby chick or imagined that sheep pondered the larger questions. The animals we raised were free range, well fed, antibiotic free and received first rate medical care long before these ideas were popular.
Even now, when I return to help out my dad, unlike the Ranger, I'm not charmed by sheep and their peaceful faces, chippy little tails or the way they all turn their heads in unison. Nope. What I see is more pedestrian: lamb shanks, chops, car seat covers. "Leg of lamb, take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us."
And to think I was once a vegetarian.
Americans are, for the most part, squeamish about their animal proteins. If it looks like what it once once, we're uncomfortable, even disturbed. Thus fish fillets, boneless chicken breasts and pork loin strips. We've gotten farther and farther from the killing, only honoring the eating, the fussy preparation. And somehow that feels wrong. As if erasing the face, legs, wings or tail absolves us of our duty to eat consciously, mindfully. To acknowledge, with a certain reverence, that someone (not something) died for my filet mignon. So The Chef and I are hatching a plan: to chronicle the life and death and damn good eating of Geraldine, the pig. Stay tuned.
I am, however, sentimental about sheep dogs. My dad's new pup is Chester, a Great Pyrenees. And already the Ranger and I are gathering our resources for some serious dognapping.
Now my dad has always been good to his sheep dogs, but make no mistake...they aren't pets or family members. They're employees. They have a job to do. So when he busted us giving Chester a rubbing, he scowled. "You're making him soft. You think when a stranger shows up or a coyote, he'll be able to defend himself or the flock if he rolls onto his back for a good scratch?"
Okay. He has a point. I'd hate to lose a freezer full of lamb chops to feral dogs. But what's a little lovin' between friends?