The Invisible Fourth Category

Most nonfarmers are intimate with animal life only in three categories: people; pets (i.e. junior people); and wildlife (as seen on nature shows, presumed beautiful and rare). Purposely beheading any of the above is unthinkable, for obvious reasons. No other categories present themselves at close range for consideration.
Barbara Kingsolver, From Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
The book from which this quote was taken is excellent and I highly recommend it.  In it Kingsolver, a novelist who writes beautifully, tells the story of her family’s one year experiment of eating only food they raised themselves or bought locally.  It is full of wisdom and wit.
The quote is from a somewhat controversial section of the book in which she defends the raising of animals for food.  She and her family had given up eating meat for years in order to avoid participation in the cruel and disgusting practices of the meat industry.  They only resumed eating meat when they were able to raise the animals themselves or get their meat from local farmers who raise them humanely and sustainably.
I can relate to their journey.  Cherie is a vegetarian and has been one most of her adult life.  For the past eight years or so I have only eaten meat from animals raised or hunted on this farm.
Over the years I have had many people say to me something like, “I could never eat an animal that I raised.  I don’t see how you can do that.”  Or words to that effect.  Not one person who has ever said that to me was a vegetarian.  Every single one of them, too sensitive to know the animals they eat, is complicit in the cruelty and horrors of industrial agriculture.  By their refusal to first look at the animals they eat, they give a blank check to the industry to treat those animals as cruelly as they like.  They protect their own sensitivity at the expense of the animals.  It is ironic that although by their words they suggest they are more compassionate than me, the animals they eat surely wouldn’t agree with that assessment.
I don’t mean that to sound harsh.  I don’t believe that any of those people are intending that to be a consequence of their actions.  But the fact remains that by staying willfully ignorant of the lives of the animals they eat, such folks insure their suffering and abuse.
We take our animal husbandry duties very seriously.  We do not slaughter animals on an assembly line and on those occasions when slaughter is necessary it is done humanely and with reverence and gratitude.
I deeply respect those who choose to refrain from eating meat.  I also respect those who eat meat, and are careful to make sure they are doing so ethically.  For everyone else (the vast majority of eaters in our culture) I can only continue to hope that they will come to reflect on the lives of the animals they eat, and consider whether they are profiting and perpetuating a system of which they would probably not approve, were they conscious of it.
As Wendell Berry has written:
A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes….
Though I am by no means a vegetarian, I dislike the thought that some animal has been made miserable in order to feed me. If I am going to eat meat, I want it to be from an animal that has lived a pleasant, uncrowded life outdoors, on bountiful pasture, with good water nearby and trees for shade.