Necessity

Necessity

If you’re Muslim and in a life threatening situation for lack of food, consumption of pork is allowed, but don’t enjoy it and only eat enough to solve the immediate crisis. That’s my understanding of the Islamic Law of Necessity as it pertains to prohibited food.   I, for one, don’t have the comfort that comes with such clear-cut guidance.  I must craft my own set of restrictions and exceptions to the rule.  I could, for example, prohibit the consumption of pork produced by factory farms.  I could, with an eye to eating as close to home as possible, vow to eat pork raised by farmers I know personally.  I could only eat pork I raise myself.  I could end the eating of pigs altogether.  I could do all of these things because I can.  I have the financial resources to shun cheap factory pork produced in horrific and cruel conditions.  I am lucky enough to live on a small peninsula on the coast of Maine which is home to a vibrant agricultural community; many of the farmers are friends of mine.  I’m fortunate to live in a house I built myself in the middle of eight acres well suited to raising animals and growing food.  And, in truth, there are always other things to eat.

So what does necessity have to do with any of this?  Could I eat factory-farmed pork in an instance of extreme need?  I suppose.  What if I’m invited to dinner and pork is on the table?  Should I be a gracious dinner guest or keep the promise not to participate in a system of farming that places efficiency and profit over the welfare of animals?  In this case, animal welfare comes first.  What if I vow to eat only pork that I raise myself?  American Guinea Hogs were favored by subsistence farmers in the 1800’s because of their ability to thrive without many external inputs.  Were these pigs a necessary part of survival as a subsistence farmer?  I could argue that my pigs are an integral part of my long-term quest to work toward a greater degree of sustainability and self sufficiency.  But integral is not necessary, and subsistence farmer I am most certainly not. I could argue that my pigs are a perfect match for the landscape in which I live.  Our home sits in the middle of eight acres.  To the south there is pasture on which the pigs are now free to roam.  To the north a grove of oak trees which, in a good year, (like last year) produce many thousands of pounds of premier pig food.  I have options unavailable to those whose only source of food is to buy it from someone else.  So in this well defined context are pigs necessary to live within the confines of my available natural resources?  Could they be an essential part of a small ecological footprint?  We already raise chickens for meat.  Do we need variety in our diet of animal protein?  Is variety necessary? Could we take animals out of the equation altogether and use our open space to grow beans as a source of protein?  We have laying hens; why not just eat eggs?

My vision is blurring; I need to focus on one thing:  Why don’t I want to kill my pigs?  All this talk of necessity is beating around the bush.  I must choose between the pigs’ interest and a desire to eat pork, a desire already weak and growing weaker by the day.  Perhaps I was just looking for a way out when I brought necessity into the conversation.  That road led to only one place.  Pigs over pork.  It appears as though I have willfully violated the farmer’s cardinal rule of keeping a certain amount of distance from animals destined for slaughter.  How, exactly, am I to ignore the intelligence and affection of animals I care for every day?  I’d have to look away.  Is it possible that my conflict is not entirely accidental?

Consider this:  There are those who would argue that domesticated pigs exist for one reason and one reason only, that human beings are solely responsible for the reproductive success of the species, that pigs are meant to be eaten because we, as lords and masters of the Earth, say so, period.  There’s a sense of human entitlement driving this line of thinking, the same entitlement lurking behind the destruction of rain forests, the abuse of fossil fuels as a source of energy, and the environmental degradation driving what is now known as the sixth extinction.  I think that one of my problems when thinking about pigs is that I have a very weak, conflicted sense of human entitlement without which the question of necessity is itself unnecessary. Lets’ try for a moment to step back from our anthropocentric point of view. Wild pigs, for example, are thought to be a serious environmental problem, and in many southern states they’re designated as an invasive species.  But aren’t we, human beings, the most successful, pernicious invasive species our planet has ever produced? If a wild pig destroys a golf course in Florida, that’s a problem, but the diversion of water from the Everglades to keep the same golf course green in the heat of summer is not?  The bottom line is that I don’t believe pigs exist for our pleasure in the same way that I don’t think everything in this world is ours for the taking.  We’re not entitled; we have to earn it.  If that’s even possible.  Our track record as a species would indicate that it’s not.

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One Reply to “Necessity”

  1. I read a Harry Kemelman novel years ago, on of the Rabbi series in which the argument is made that pigs were tref (not allowable to eat under Jewish law) for a very simple reason not ordinarily mentioned. All the other animals we keep (and then slaughter to eat) have other purposes than simply to end up on our plates. Chickens give eggs, cows milk, sheep wool, and all of these are available without slaughter. Therefore the argument goes, we keep pigs only to kill them and eat them, and this is seen as cruelty.

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