This week when we got back from our trip to the West Coast, weary from a day of travel, we pulled into the driveway, ready to unpack. A group of guys in a car were traveling down our road, stopped at the end of the driveway, and started screaming.
They were yelling at the family of deer who were eating grass in our yard.
I’d admired how beautiful the deer were as we pulled in. There are many things I don’t like about living in a small town, but having deer come and feast in my yard is one of the exceptions. Having my life intertwine with theirs is a blessing.
It took a second to register what the guys were saying. When I did, my heart sunk.
“Bang! Bang!” they yelled. “I’m gonna shoot you! Bang! Bang!”
We live in a big hunting community. And it’s not unusual during hunting season to hear gunfire pretty regularly.
I knew these guys weren’t making idle threats. They were making promises for the winter months.
That experience was still in my thoughts when I noticed that on my blog searches the next day, someone found my blog by searching for prayers to say at dinner-time for the animals who “sacrificed” their lives to be meat. This post is for them…
What I’m about to tell you is a story. It’s not true and it never happened. In this story there’s a guy named Bill.
Bill’s neighbor has a house. It’s not flashy. It’s not a mansion. It’s just your everyday, normal house. But to the person who owns it, it’s the only one she has.
One night Bill gets cold. Winter is bearing down, and he’s chilly. He could put on a sweater or turn on his heater. He could cover up in blankets or take a hot shower.
But instead Bill goes to his neighbor’s house, strikes a match, lights the house on fire, watches it burn, and basks in the warmth. In the coziness of the heat emanating from the house, he feels fulfilled.
His neighbor stands aghast as she watches her house burn from the safety of her yard.
Bill turns to her and says, “Hey, thank you for providing me with warmth. Much appreciated.”
I tell you this totally made up story, because this is not so far off from when I hear questions like this one…
“I know some people who pray over their meat before they eat it. Don’t you think it makes it better when people really appreciate the animal and give thanks to her for sacrificing her life?”
A thank you to some degree requires a gift or a free will offer. A thank you is for a present and a sacrifice is a selfless deed. I guarantee you, where meat is concerned, no such offer was made.
The deer didn’t die pushing a small child out of the way from an oncoming bus… She didn’t sacrifice her body in the way that a person may choose to sacrifice a kidney for someone else, or a parent sacrifices to put a child through school.
For the deer, there was zero choice in the matter. The so-called sacrifice was chosen for her.
There are some basics in all animal lives, both human and non-human. One of those basics is the will to live. Especially when we are young and healthy, as most animals are when they are killed for food, staying alive would be the highest desire on the course of needs.
And really, who is it that feels better after saying a prayer of thanks?
It’s not the deer or the lamb. It’s not the chicken or the rabbit. It’s not the calf. It’s not the pig.
They are long since gone.
The one who feels better, the one who feels absolved, the one who maybe even feels generous that they thought of the animal at all is the person uttering the prayer.
So to me it feels a bit self-congratulatory or at least disingenuous to take someone’s life (or pay someone to) and then pat one’s self on the back by saying “thanks.”
If I was the chicken, or the calf, or the pig, and I spent my life stacked in a cage, hidden in a shed, or stuffed in a space where I couldn’t turn around, I wouldn’t feel relieved that someone said, “thank you” before tucking into a dinner of my leg.
Even if I’d lived a more idyllic life as, say, the deer roaming wild in my yard, trotting around with my pack, stopping for a nibble on the green hills, I wouldn’t think I was being done any favors if after my head was part trophy/part decoration on a wall and my body had been ground into sausage that this person who shot me said thanks after stealing my own life from me.
I feel sad for the guys screaming from their car, taking such joy in the thought of hurting someone. But obviously I feel more sad for the deer who will die for it.
Before we give thanks for the sacrifice or ritualize the gift that an animal made by giving her life, we need to be honest that we’re romanticizing it for our own gain. If the animals really had a say when it came to that sacrifice, the prayer they would have said would have been one for their own lives.