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Rich Bard

Rich Bard photo courtesy of Rich BardRich Bard is a wildlife biologist who began his career as a zookeeper. Having spent most of his adult life moving around the country working with various wild animals, he settled near the coast of Maine in 2004. Amid the striking beauty of this remote region, he passes the time with his family, hiking, snowshoeing, gardening and watching the tide ebb and flow.

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Taking Responsibility for Our Food: Toward a More Mindful Diet
Sunday, 10 April 2011 00:00  |  Written by Rich Bard | Blog Entry

Rooster photo by Rich BardDown came the ax and transformed a beloved chicken, which until moments before was waddling around the yard, into last night's dinner. It was my family's first harvest of our budding backyard farm's bounty. Although many people advise against naming animals you plan to eat, our kids insisted on names for the four birds destined for the dining room: Breakfast, Lunch, Supper and Dinner.

We make a point to explain to the kids (ad nauseam from their perspective), why we choose to eat food that has been raised humanely and with respect for the Earth, but no lecture can compare to participating—hands on—in producing your own food. From the very first day the chicks arrived, our kids have nurtured and loved them—gathering worms and bugs for them, making sure their water is clean, holding them close and whispering in their little ears—while fully comprehending that one day we would eat some of them.

I understand that processing (a bland euphemism to protect the more sensitive reader) one's own chickens may be too much for some people. Heck, my own mother was slightly horrified when I told her about our fulfilling day securing a healthy food supply and bonding as a family (even though when I was a kid we harvested our own chickens and a few pigs, but that was a long time ago).

For my family, the experience of raising our own chickens, harvesting some for meat and keeping others to provide eggs (sometime within the next few months), as well as compost and companionship, has been a total success. It is only the latest in a series of steps we've taken to increase our connection to the food we eat.

Along with the chickens, our freezer is stocked with grass-fed Scottish Highland beef, an heirloom breed of shaggy cows raised by the father of a co-worker of mine; and a lamb that lived its entire life peacefully grazing at its mother's side, practically a stone's throw from my house on a lush, ocean-view pasture, tended by border collies trained to listen to their master's whistled commands. It is like a scene from a medieval English countryside.

I refused to eat lamb for my entire life until I understood that these lambs are allowed to live happy and normal, albeit short lives. Culling the young rams is a necessary part of managing a successful sheep farm. If it must be done, let it be done humanely and with respect, and I will gladly support it.

There is no comparison to placing your hard-earned money into the hands of a hard-working rancher instead of a bored cashier. The only thing better is gathering the food yourself. Wedged between the meats in our freezer are frozen bags of wild cranberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, all gathered by my wife and kids.

I have to admit that I didn't always eat this way. Not so long ago my diet was more like Hot Pockets and Coke. But in a series of steps, each leading almost inevitably to the next, I found myself contemplating ways to decrease my dependence on our overburdened food system and increase my self-reliance, health and satisfaction.

With every bite, my family celebrates the lives of the four chickens that we provided for, and who are now providing for us. Someone asked me, “Didn't it bother you to kill your own chickens?” When it comes down to it, the only thing that bothers me is all of the animals I've eaten with lives I never honored—animals that I've eaten while driving, watching TV or simply without noticing.

Looks like I'm going to have to invest in some more fencing. Fresh goat milk, anyone?

Updated 4/10/11; originally posted 8/10/09.

Comments (7)add
Written by carl , July 03, 2011
Robert, the Algonquian and other Native American tribes believed that the Great Spirit "showed itself in the animals and through nature. Because of this when they killed an animal they first asked for forgiveness. They treated the animal with respect and care. After the animal was killed they said prayers over it and they never wasted any part of the animal."
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Written by Robert Fireovid , July 02, 2011
Thank you for this thoughtful post. A Native American friend of mine speaks about how her people practiced respectful harvesting of animals for their food. I think I need to help her write an article on this topic. Has anyone read anything like that?
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Written by Neoglitch , May 28, 2011
Man... that is exactly how the meat industry should be working! Taking care of all animals naturally and humanely, feeding them not with crappy grains and artificial food but the real food they were supposed to be eating... but nooooooo, insane amounts of "easy" profit if is better than the health of their clients, right?

Pfftt... they could make as much money if they actually did something to correct their crappy meat practices...

Anyways, thanks for sharing! :D

HI 98129 FTW
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Written by Rich Bard , April 20, 2011
Thanks for your comment. I agree with you.
I recently read an article in "The Atlantic" (I don't have it with me at the moment to cite the specific issue or title), in which the author blasts the idea that it is somehow more moral to be involved with and connected to the animals that you eat. He basically laughs at the notion that it is respectful and honors the animal to try to make use of every part. In fact, he compares it to the ethos of a factory slaughterhouse that also lets nothing go to waste to eke out every last dime from a carcass. Same result, very different way of going about it.
I honestly tried to see it his way, but simply couldn't. For my family and me, we will continue to move toward a more sustainable lifestyle that pays respect to the animals and land that give us life. Sounds like you are on the same page.
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Written by corrine , April 18, 2011
I really apreciate this article. As a "homesteader" I raised nearly all of the food my family ate, including poultry. It wasn't a huge leap for me (I grew up on cattle ranches), but it was whole heartedly fulfilling. Those of us who choose to eat meat, are not cruel and heartless. Raising our own animals in a respectful manner is evident of that.
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Written by michele6933 , April 15, 2011
Cold enough to make one throw up.
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Written by MP , August 10, 2009
Great piece. Our local natural chicken matador says he always says a blessing before the guillotine falls. For those of us who haven't completely sworn off meat, this is much more honorable way to eat than Hot Pockets and Coke.
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Eco Tip

Lower your thermostat temperature in winter and raise it in summer. In winter, set your thermostat to 68 degrees or less during the day (and wear a sweater) and 55 degrees or less at night (and add an extra blanket). Wear less or use a fan instead of air-conditioning on all but the hottest summer days. When you must use air-conditioning, set your thermostat to 78 degrees or more.  More tips...

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Away, away, from men and towns, / To the wild wood and the downs, — / To the silent wilderness, / Where the soul need not repress / Its music. - Percy Bysshe Shelley, (1792-1822), "To Jane, The Invitation," c.1820  More quotes...