Killing to eat is a bloody business

Writer John Nation Photo courtesy of John Nation


I grew up on a small family ranch on the prairies of southern Oklahoma. We kept about 25 range cows, and every fall we sold the excess on the cattle market. The animals were what today would be called “grass-fed beef” — a term we never heard of. The cattle received supplemental feedings of alfalfa hay in the winter. Not one ever got a shot of antibiotics or growth hormones.

Each year, we’d keep one of the market steers for ourselves. It would come back to us as about 200 pounds of beef wrapped in white paper, labeled either “HB” (for hamburger) or “Stake” in black grease pencil — the local butcher couldn’t spell.

Together with potatoes and other vegetables from the garden and an occasional chicken dinner from my grandmother’s flock of 20 or so birds, this was mainly what my family had to eat. We couldn’t eat the prairie grass, but our cattle could. It was a classic case of life feeding on life.

I left the prairies in my early 30s, exchanging my range pony for a sailboat that I lived on for the next 20 years, cruising the Atlantic Seaboard and the Bahamas. The “stake” in my diet changed to fish. I didn’t have much money, but I soon discovered that a 20-pound bag of rice costs about $4 the world over. Fish and rice made as fine a meal as one could want. But the discovery of rice — cowboys don’t eat it, except in rice pudding — began an adventure into new ways of cooking and eating.

Came a day that, just as I’d left the prairie more than two decades before, I now moved to the mountains of Western North Carolina. There I fell in with a family of vegetarians. It was tough at first, and I kept a can of Hormel chili under my bed for emergencies. But as time went on, I found that my desire for meat was fading, and today I don’t willingly eat, or feel the desire to eat, meat of any kind.

Part of this came from meeting my new sweetie, who was on the same path away from meat that I was. We never made an issue of it; we never called ourselves “vegetarians.” People staying with us were free to bring meat into the house and cook it. We also understood that when we accepted friends’ dinner invitations, it would likely involve eating meat.

But both my friend and I like to cook, and we soon began experimenting with foods, primarily nonmeat dishes from around the world. It was, well, a “new world” of flavors, textures, colors.

Seven months into 2015, I’ve eaten four servings of meat — and none at home.

I’ve read that “life’s a journey,” and I’m still pondering the fact that my own journey began as a cowboy on the prairies raising market cattle, yet, within five decades, I’ve traveled far enough that now, I never even peer into the local market’s meat department. Knowing what I know about how pieces of dead animals end up in those refrigerated cases, I’d rather just walk on by.

So when I read an article on “craft butchery” and “artisan meat cutting,” I think, “Well, this is Asheville, and Asheville is trendy.” Next, I suppose, we’ll get “craft concentration camps” and “artisanal prisons.”

This is how the human mind works; it can move quickly and easily from killing animals to killing people. Killing to eat is a bloody business: Anyone who enjoys it is not mentally well.

Meat eating isn’t natural to primates. Anthropologists tell us, though, that there was a time in prehistory when our fruit-loving ancestors had to become carnivores or perish. That time has now passed, however: Today, in most instances, eating meat is simply laziness or habit.

So all you cows out there, all you piggy-wigs and chickens, listen up:

You don’t have to fear me anymore. Do whatever you want to do. Lead your lives according to your nature, and I’ll do the same.

Self-described “half-assed vegetarian and former Oklahoma cowboy” John Nation is based in Asheville.


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7 thoughts on “Killing to eat is a bloody business

  1. Big Al

    Obviously, vegetarians like John are not seriously interested in converting anyone to their views or he/they would not resort to insults like comparing meat-eaters (which are the majority, BTW) to murderous Nazis with statements like “Next, I suppose, we’ll get “craft concentration camps” and “artisanal prisons.””

    Which leads me to wonder how far Mountain Xpress has fallen in the eight years that I have read it. We may add to the common complaint that Mtn X has eliminated most of its’ meaningful journalism for empty advertising and shameless commercial promotion to a new complaint that it offers a soapbox for hate speech. Would Mtn X tolerate such language about women, minorities or gays? I guess it is OK to associate people (again, the majority of whom eat meat) with murderous facists, even if they are doing what most people have done since the dawn of time.

    How many restaurants are going to continue to advertise in a paper that demeans its’ meat-eating customers as facist murderers? I doubt Mtn X will survive just on the ad revenue from Plant and Rosetta’s.

    If I were a subscriber or advertiser to Mtn X, my subscription (and a demand for a refund of the difference) would be in the mail today.

    • mynameis

      Is it our senseless, ceaseless murder of each other that perpetuates the suffering in industrial slaughterhouses, or does the mass slaughter serve as a launching point for our murderous behavior?

      To pretend there is no connection between the two is sheer folly.

      • NFB

        Not nearly as much folly as pretending that a chicken is the moral equivalent of a human being.

        • mynameis

          You don’t get it. That’s what we ALREADY DO.

          We treat both people and animals as commodities/other, and that was his point. There seems to be a hard limit for many… shade difference in skin color, or distance on a map, of differing beliefs, beyond which the lives of people become utterly forfeit.

          Wholly independent of your moral equivalencies argument, his point is about opening up to the nature of those other than us (human and not). Nothing to do with rights, nothing to do with “equivalencies”, and everything to do with opening up to compassion, to recognizing another’s suffering as our own. Many who do that stop eating meat. Many who stop eating meat also start opening that compassion towards other humans as well.

  2. The Real World

    Very nice article, John Nation. You have a flair for writing readable, relatable stuff.
    Also, good comments. I think relevant points have been made by all.
    Wow…a genuine discussion, I may get giddy!

    The thing about becoming vegetarian or vegan is it’s (for most people I think) a process. It can take a good long while to slowly switch. I haven’t but I think about it alot. The two realities about vegetarianism for me are:
    1 – It would take quite a bit of time to learn to cook that way in order to be satisfied. Time, I’m short on.
    2 – I like to travel and, trust me, when overseas you are going to have a hard time cobbling together satisfying meals. The whole world has meat-centric diets. However, in Asia, it’s in small amounts with lots of veggies, rice and fruits. Ever wonder why Asians tend to be so slender? That’s the answer.

    If someone else would cook for me, I could make the switch. Maybe when I retire and have the time I will become a veg. Meantime, I’m a halfway veg.

    • UninformedSwingVoter

      That’s logical baloney. Ever wonder why Africans are so thin? It’s because they don’t eat at all. Derp, logical fallacy, and has nothing to do with meat OR vegetables.

      • The Real World

        LOL….you’re right. I forgot to mention Asians also don’t eat packaged shit-food or much refined sugar, like almost zero of either. I feel sure the Africans don’t as well.

        So, almost no fast/packaged food or sugar, eat small meat portions, lots of fruits/veggies and natural carbs = slenderness. See how that works?

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