Quoted and Misquoted

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Thursday, July 21, 2011 1:40 AM

I eat meat.

I’m not going to apologize for it. It’s a fact. Deal with it.

This poll reported by The Vegetarian Resource Group in the Vegetarian Journal on May 15th, 2009 contains the following summary:

In the survey, 3% of U.S. adults indicated they never eat meat, poultry, and fish/seafood. They were classified as vegetarian. About 1/3 to 1/4 of the vegetarians (one percent of the U.S. adult population) also never eat dairy, eggs, and honey, and were classified as vegan.

To be fair, further down the report is says this 3% figure was rounded from 3.4%.

Ok then, let’s back up and start over.

I, like 96.6% of the US adult population eat meat. I don’t see a need to justify that fact to the 1% of the US adult population who are vegan, or the other 2.4% who are vegetarian. Just like religion and politics, I respect your right to your own beliefs and to come to your own conclusions. I only ask that you respect my right to do the same. We may not agree. But let’s respect each other’s right to their own opinion.

On June 12th, 2011, I and four other urban homesteaders in Oakland were profiled in this article in the San Francisco Chronicle because our homesteads were being featured in the Urban Farm Tour hosted by The Institute of Urban Homesteading.

Here are two paragraphs as they appeared in that article:

Kitty Sharkey raises goats, rabbits, chickens and ducks on her backyard farm, Havenscourt Homestead. Although some people take issue with the fact that Sharkey eats animals she raises, it is a choice that Sharkey, 47, is comfortable with.

"It really bothers me when people bury their head in the sand about it and then go to the grocery store and buy a chicken," she said. "They don't want to know how that chicken was raised."

To clear up any misconception, the actual quote in the second paragraph above was part of a conversation I had with the reporter on the phone. I was talking about people who ask me how I can raise my own meat. Not why, mind you, but how.

These people have asked how I can eat something that I raised myself, named, watched play in the yard, and sat in my lap; An animal that I loved and cared for. I explained that those are the very reasons that I CAN and DO raise my own meat. Because I know how that animal was raised. I know what it ate (organic). I know it had a wonderful life doing what it was meant to do (i.e. chickens scratching for worms and bugs). I respected it by giving it a name and providing it with a wonderful life. And yes, I loved it and held it in my arms. As Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms said when I went to see him at a lecture in Berkeley, the animals on my farm “have a wonderful life and just one bad day”

The actual quote in the SF Chronicle was about the fact that these very same people then turn around and go to the grocery store and pick up a plastic wrapped styrofoam tray of chicken without giving it a second thought. The vast majority of those 96.6% of American adults who eat meat are totally and completely disconnected from their food. They have no idea how it is raised, what it ate, how many hormones and antibiotics were pumped into their system, or how it was slaughtered. And the fact is THEY DON’T WANT TO KNOW. If they did, I am sure that the percentage would drop a figure or two dozen. And personally, I think that would be a good thing. Perhaps we could end some of that animal cruelty if people took a good hard look at what they ate.

Am I comfortable eating meat that I raise? Yes. Not because it’s easy or routine, and not because I’m a heartless murderous bitch either. I’m comfortable with it because I have made a conscientious decision that if I’m going to continue eating meat then I want to know exactly what I’m eating. And honestly, if I’m not prepared to take the responsibility for the life AND death of that animal, then I shouldn’t be eating it. This is a personal choice I have made. It’s not for everyone. I don’t tell people they shouldn’t eat meat if they are not willing to participate in its life and death. What I do tell people is to be conscientious of the meat that they do eat, where it came from and how it was raised. I encourage people that if they do choose to eat meat, to support their local farmer and butcher and help take those dollars out of the industrialized food system.

In this article on SF Gate, a woman named Emily Wood of North Oakland was quoted as saying:

"I would like to stop animal suffering in factory farms and in my neighbor's backyard. But I have a lot more power over my neighbor's backyard."

My interpretation of this statement is that she feels powerless about what happens at factory farms, but feels she has the power to control what happens locally. I could be misinterpreting her statement.  I don't know the context of the conversation in which it was said.  This is just the way I read it.

And for me, this statement is just wrong in so many ways. Whether or not she chooses to eat meat (I have no idea, nor is it my business) I feel that she is wrong on so many levels. She DOES have the power to affect what happens in factory farms. She can do so by supporting her local farmers, be they urban, suburban, or rural. Every dollar that is spent locally on sustainably farmed, organically fed, and humanely slaughtered meat is a dollar less that is going to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Likewise, every dollar that is spent on locally grown organic produce is a dollar that doesn’t go to Big Agriculture and the chemical companies.

Wasn’t it Ralph Nader that told us years ago that we had the power in our pocketbooks to make changes? It’s true! If you don’t believe it, just go to your local chain grocery store. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that they have an organic produce section. Why? Because more and more Americans are deciding that they don’t want to put a bunch of petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides into their bodies. The all mighty dollar is speaking loud and clear when it comes to organic produce. And it’s speaking louder and louder every day when it comes to humanely raised meat. If you want to end what I believe omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans alike all feel is the inhumane treatment of factory farmed animals, please support your local farmers and spend your dollars with them. Encourage (not demand) your friends to do the same.  If I choose to eat meat and you don't, then please have the decency to admit that at least I’m choosing what you might consider the lesser of two evils.

But back to that article in the San Francisco Chronicle and the two paragraphs that I highlighted above. Why am I referencing it and why did I decide to title this blog post “Quoted and Misquoted”?

On June 17th, 2011, this article written by a gentleman named Ian Elwood was published on OaklandNorth.net. And here is a paragraph concerning the SF Chronicle article as it appeared in the OaklandNorth article:

One of the animal farmers interviewed explains that it is important for people to have a “connection to their food source.” Another says that breeding, slaughtering and eating animals is a choice she is comfortable with, and that she is bothered when people “go to the grocery store and buy a chicken.” At first blush, this sounds like a good thing: knowing where your food comes from. But what is it really saying?

Is this an exact quote? Not exactly. I would call it a misquote. The actual words inside the quotation marks are the exact words as they appeared in the SF Chronicle article. But they are taken out of context. The full quote would read:

"It really bothers me when people bury their head in the sand about it and then go to the grocery store and buy a chicken," she said. "They don't want to know how that chicken was raised."

Read his paragraph again, and then read my quote again. The context is completely different. It’s not that they buy chicken at the grocery store that bothers me. It’s that they bury their head in the sand and don’t want to know how it is raised or slaughtered.

It's a night and day difference, if you ask me. But now I’m asking you. What do you think? Was I misquoted? Was my comment taken out of context?

He goes on in his next paragraph to say:

By choosing to only kill and eat animals they are personally connected to, the urban animal farmers interviewed demonstrate awareness that killing these animals is unnecessary for their survival. It is a personal preference.

True. It is a personal preference. As explained above, if I am not willing to be responsible for the life and death of an animal, I feel that I have no business eating it. This is a choice I have made. I could just as easily (actually much MORE easily) have chosen to ignore where my food comes from and buy meat in bulk at Costco like I used to do.  Not that I'm bashing Costco.  I'm just using my past buying habits as an example.

They know they won’t go hungry tonight, next week, or next year if they don’t slaughter the goat munching on grass in their backyard. And inadequate nutrition isn’t something they will ever face in their lives.

No. I won’t go hungry. And for the record, my goats are registered purebred dairy goats. They are for milk, not meat. I do however raise chickens, rabbits, and ducks for meat as well as bees for polination of my crops and for honey.

Also for the record, I HAVE faced inadequate nutrition AND gone hungry at times in my life. My father was unemployed for a large portion of my childhood.  He and my mother tried to make ends meet and feed nine kids on her meager nursing salary, food stamps, and government cheese. If I never see a block of American cheese again in my life it will be too soon. No, I will make my own cheese from the raw milk I get from my own goats thank you very much.

No one should look down their nose at regular people who buy food at the grocery store.

Huh? I’m not looking down my nose at anyone. I don’t think I’m better than the next guy. I’ve just made different choices.

And here is the absolute best statement in his entire article and one I wholeheartedly agree with 100%!!!

The real problem is the food system itself, which makes unhealthy, inhumane and environmentally destructive food choices seem like the only viable option to many people in the food deserts of Oakland.

Yes!!! Yes, yes, yes! And not only here in Oakland, but everywhere in our entire country.  Bingo!  He hit the hammer right on the nail head with that statement.

Buying food at a corner store isn’t “convenience capitalism,” as one animal farmer insinuates, it’s just what people have to do to survive.

Huh? Convenience capitalism?

They are educated, published and politically connected, and they choose to slaughter and eat their backyard animals because of a personal preference to consume a culinary delicacy: locally raised organic meat.

Culinary delicacy?

Oakland doesn’t need policies that encourage people to breed, kill and eat animals for nothing more than gastronomic gratification.

Gastronomic gratification? Huh? Wait…

So now I’m not only looking down my nose at my neighbor, but I’m going thru all the time, effort, and expense of raising my own food because it’s a delicacy and provides me with gastronomic gratification? I’m having trouble making the connection from point A to point B to point C.

In the comment section of this article on SF Gate, Emily Wood (I’m assuming it’s the same person that I quoted above about not having power over factory farms) comments:

“So the answer to cruelty within the food system is to localize it?

In a reply to her comment, a person named Ricky Silver wrote:

You mention that it is “quite clear from reading the blogs and books of the proponents of this lifestyle that they are uninformed, fairly uncaring, and are just learning as they go along”. My question is this: have you even bothered to meet these people and get to know them or the practices they employ?

I’d like to ask the same thing.

Mr. Ian Elwood –

You wrote your article on June 17th. Did you happen to attend the Urban Farm Tour on June 19th? Did you visit my homestead? Did you interact with my animals to see their temperment, inspect their housing, examine the automatic watering systems, judge for yourself the care that I provide for them? Did you even attempt to meet me? Did you ask questions and listen to my answers?

Do you know that I researched chickens and their care for over six months before bringing home my first set of chicks? Do you know that I spent over a year researching goats, visiting other homesteaders with goats, and spending an enormous amount of time communicating with various breeders before making the choice to bring goats onto my homestead?

Did you listen as I explained to those that visited my homestead exactly how I cull a chicken, the care in which I do so, or the respect I pay to the animal both before and after its death? Do you know that before I ever slaughtered a single chicken “in my backyard” that I volunteered for several months at two small sustainable organic farms in Sebastopol that raise chickens in order to learn how to humanely slaughter and process a chicken myself?

It’s obvious from your writing that you care about animals and their treatment. It’s clear that you think our current industrialized food system is the real problem. What is also obvious is that you don’t understand and/or refuse to acknowledge that homesteaders like me have the same opinions and concerns. We’ve just arrived at different conclusions as to how we are going to take action to fix these issues.

I made a conscientious decision to live this lifestyle. Not because I’m some stuck up rich person that wants to eat culinary delicacies and experience gastronomic gratification. I chose this lifestyle because I care about myself, I care about animals, and I care about the environment. You may find that hard to swallow, but yes, I DO care.  And for your information, living this lifestyle is one hell of a lot of hard work and takes real committment.

I don’t want to support the industrialized food system by purchasing and consuming inhumanely raised meat or ingesting the hormones and antibiotics within their flesh. I don’t want to support big agriculture by eating produce laced with petrochemical poisons. I don’t want to eat genetically modified foods (including meat) because I don’t believe man, as a species, has any business messing around with the genetics of other species in ways Mother Nature never intended. I have far too much respect for her.

I have chosen to vote with my pocketbook as a way to try to stop these abuses to nature. I have made these choices because I want to be in control of what I put into my own body rather than allowing big business to do so.  I have made these choices because, after much thought, research, and reflection, I have come to the conclusion that this is the way I want to live my life.

I am healthier and happier since going down this path. And that joy tends to rub off on others, be they friends, co-workers, or neighbors. By opening my homestead to those around me, I have created a sense of community and sharing that did not exist in my neighborhood before. I am proud of the way I live my life. And I’m proud that it has allowed me to make contributions to my community that I never thought possible.

This is what’s right for ME. It’s not right for everybody. And I don’t want to push my lifestyle onto others by insisting they live the same way or trying to force them to do so thru regulation.

But, even after writing all of this, I doubt you will consider even the slightest possibility that maybe, just maybe, urban homesteading is good for our community. In the end, from reading your own writing, I'm afraid it all comes down to one issue for you.

I eat meat.

8 Response to "Quoted and Misquoted"

Louise Fletcher Says:

Kitty, don't let a few people get to you. No one has a right to tell other people what to eat. As a vegetarian myself, I can tell you that I don't judge you. I think your animals are way healthier and happier than those who are factory farmed and I wish you nothing but luck in the future.

stellans Says:

I am new to reading your blog (came via the Urban Homesteading FB page), and I am enjoying catching up on your earlier postings very much.

Today's post illustrates how very tunnel-visioned some people can be over any issue. I eat meat too, and right now I'm buying my meat from a local farmer via a CSA. Someday I hope to raise my own, though maybe not quite on the scale you are.

Thank you for speaking up, for writing about your experiences, and for 'walking the walk.'

amygrennell Says:

I haven't eaten much meat ever but did buy chicken from the grocery store while raising laying hens in my backyard. I went on a tour of a local farm that raises meat animals in a humane and amazing way and bought a chicken from them. I think that's the only way that I should do it too or raise my own. The price of the cheap chicken reflects the quality of life and the food it had before slaughter. I am focusing my efforts on eating vegetarian and fish and trying to get a better hold on my own gardening efforts while supporting a csa too. I agree with your point of view and think what you are doing is great!

Gene Says:

Amen! I'm a vegetarian, but if I knew the meat was raised like Polyface Farms does it, I might still eat it. The main reason I stopped eating meat (10+ years ago) is because of the impact raising animals at CAFO scale has on the environment (what CAFOs do to animals in the process was a not-too-distant second). A smaller scale farm or backyard homestead can close the circle and not damage the environment, and treat animals humanely in the process.

jisun Says:

I'm with you! We only just bought our first house, and only have chickens (for eggs... wow, blown away by the difference, even from store bought organic pastured!) so far, and buy our meat from a CSA. I don't know what the way out is, but I hope we can all make it out of this bitter debate going on in Oakland. With the budget insanity and its effect on our police and city services, we've got some more pressing issues. I hope Oakland will come out of this as a beacon of urban homesteading, it will help the city and hopefully influence food production on a larger scale.

StaceyG Says:

Hi there,

I hop on over to your blog every now and then, and I'm glad I saw this post. As a vegan, I'm ok with urban farmers who eat meat from animals they raise. Obviously not something I could ever do, but you're keeping a lot of money away from factory farms.

My question for you and other urban farmers: how far does avoiding non-ethically raised animals stretch? I see a lot of people saying they use bone meal in their gardens or use leather this-or-that. I know it's impossible to avoid everything with animal by-products in it, all of which I would assume comes from factory farms. The goal is to do the best you can. Long question short: is just non-factory farm meat what you're after, or does it stretch into other aspects of the homestead? Thanks!

jannamo.com Says:

Just wanted to say thank you for what you are doing, you are an inspiration!

The thing that drives me even more batty in these conversations, is that unless these animal rights folks are eating only veggies from their own organic backyard gardens, there are all kinds of animals dying for their vegetarian diet.

Even organic soybeans were grown on fields now empty of diversity that displaced habitat for countless creatures, not to mention the individual critters that must meet their deaths under the tractor wheel on a regular basis.

I find your approach a more mature way to face the world than the head-in-the-sand notion that a person could live without causing the death of other creatures.

Much of this line of thinking was formed when I read The Vegetarian Myth, have you read it?