In the spring of 2012, right around Easter time, we bought baby chicks. Although neither my husband or I grew up on a farm, we loved the idea of collecting our own eggs and teaching our children how to care for animals.
Of course, we only wanted female chicks, or hens, because we were not interested in breeding our own chickens (that interest came later) and roosters were not allowed within the city limits of our home. Although the baby chicks were sexed prior to being placed on display in the store we realized several weeks into raising them that we had a rooster in our brood.
His name was Ice Cream.
If you’ve ever owned a rooster you’ll know that they don’t just crow in the morning--they crow at random both day and night--and in increasing frequency when competition is present. Our neighbor’s rooster provided the perfect rival for Ice Cream, leading to many repeated nights of interrupted sleep.
It didn’t take long to decide that our rooster needed to go and not knowing what else to do with him we decided to eat Ice Cream for dinner.
I cried when we killed him. I went inside and couldn’t watch. My husband cried as well. As we came face to face with the cost of life associated with the meat on our plate we realized how disconnected we were from where our food came from.
Looking back on it now I wonder how and why this experience did not result in the immediate adaptation of a vegetarian diet. I think perhaps this demonstrates how deeply rooted the tradition of eating meat is. Rather than identifying our tears with compassion and an innate sense of respect and reverence for life, I saw it as a sign of weakness. I saw it as a sign of how city life had made us soft. I saw it as a sign of how far we had drifted from our strong pioneer heritage of men and women who raised and killed their own meat.
Our chicken dinner was far from tasty. To be honest, it was rather disgusting. It resembled nothing of the chicken from the store we had grown up eating . The taste and texture was all wrong, but we choked it down, not willing to waste the life we had just taken.
The fresh eggs, on the other hand, were delicious and so we decided to add a few more hens to our brood. However, this time we were smart enough to buy them at a slightly older age to ensure we did not have a repeated Ice Cream dinner...or so we thought. Unfortunately the seller from Craigslist outsmarted us and we found ourselves with four roosters, which resulted in three more chicken dinners.
We saved the fourth, a beautiful rooster named Nancy and hatched our very own batch of chicks. (Notice the female name thinking he was a she).
This was such fun for everyone in our family.
My handy husband built an incubator and we watched the growth of these chicks inside their egg shells (which you can do using a flashlight) and their birth with wonder and awe. It was beautiful to see the miracle of life present in another species besides our own.
But we had a problem.
Before embarking on this adventure it had never occurred to me that approximately half of these chicks would be male and that we would once again need to dispose of them, only this time we didn’t have the heart to eat them. The connection was different. We had watched them grow since their earliest days of gestation and it somehow seemed wrong to end the lives that we had deemed a miracle and special just a few weeks prior. We sold them to a farmer--with a full disclosure as to their sex--and embarked an another chicken adventure: meat birds.
An increased longing for connection to our food caused us to purchase a dozen Cornish Rock chickens, a cross between a Cornish chicken and White Rock chicken, known for broad breasts, big thighs, and rapid growth.
I don’t remember much of this process, but I do remember watching one of the chickens suffer because it was unable to walk--a common problem in meat birds as a result of their rapid growth. Although these birds were kept outside and given an ample amount of space, I felt so badly for them, and I felt sick to my stomach as I watched my husband make preparations to butcher them. My heart and my gut told me one thing, but my brain and my cultural upbringing told me another as I ultimately rationalized and accepted that this was the way of life and that killing and eating animals was a very normal, natural, and necessary thing to do.
I once again thought of my pioneer ancestors and of my need to be more like them in resilience and strength.
Within the next year we would move for my husband to attend graduate school and our chickens did not come with us. However, when graduate school was over we once again bought baby chicks for Easter and, thankfully, this time, they all grew up to be hens.
These experiences have been on my mind a lot over the past week as our family has prepared for Easter. My morning walks have been filled with blossoming trees and the kids have been running around on the backyard grass, which after the long winter, has finally taken root and become a beautiful shade of green.
The symbols of Easter are associated with spring and the miracle of life that surrounds us after the cold winter’s end. This rebirth of the Earth turns our minds towards the resurrection of Jesus Christ who is the “life and light of the world.” In every respect, both physical and spiritual, He represents life.
This promise of the resurrection is especially meaningful to me because of my daughters Dove and Joy. Their short lives here on earth gave me a deeper understanding and greater respect for the creation of life and how each life is unique, special, and a celebration of God’s love. It is with this perspective that I share my thoughts this Easter Sunday.
The Easter egg has long been a symbol in Christianity of fertility, rebirth, and Christ’s empty tomb. Even the tradition of coloring eggs red, which dates back to the 13th century, is to symbolize the blood of Christ and the joy of Resurrection (but now, of course, we use a variety of colors).
Yet this tradition, in our current system of food production, no longer represents life.
For just as our family had no use for the many roosters that were a byproduct of our desire for eggs, the egg industry has no use for them as well. Male baby chicks are killed by the millions every day, within hours after their birth. The two most common methods are suffocation and grinding them up alive.
This is the cost of being disconnected to our food.
It is something that spans far wider and much deeper than simply knowing where the food on our plate comes from. It is a spiritual disconnect between the giving and taking of life. It is a disconnect between the God who gave us life, who gave all living things life, and the disregard we show in carelessly and casually throwing it away.
The creation is central to Christian doctrine and is something that we, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are taught in greater depth when we attend the temple. In word we honor and reverence God and His son Jesus Christ, and the miracle of the Earth and all living things upon it. Yet in deed, in the way that we eat, we worship death. We eat death rather than life.
The Standard Western Diet, one that relies heavily on the consumption of animal products, kills land animals by the billions (70 billion) each year and is causing our oceans to be overfished. This way of eating kills the planet with deforestation, the pollution of freshwater, and the emission of greenhouse gasses. With each bite we are slowly killing ourselves with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. Furthermore, we kill our spiritual sensitivities when we are removed from the production, and only engage in the consumption, of food.
As Latter-day Saints we the “affirm the sanctity of life,” take a firm pro-life stance when it comes to the issue of abortion, and proclaim the powers of procreation to be of the most sacred nature. Yet we allow the manipulation and exploitation of these sacred powers to happen to the animals that God has entrusted in our care. We allow it because we are too disconnected from our food and too connected to our traditions.
When we first decided to try a plant-based diet last year I thought that we would still eat meat during the winter months and for special occasions. But my little epiphany is this: I don’t want to celebrate the life of Christ with the death of one of His creations.
I want the celebrations in my life to reflect the beauty and respect that I feel creation deserves. I want to eat in abundance the bounty of the earth, for when I do, my body and my spirit feel whole and satisfied.
So this is the new tradition we begin this Easter Sunday: eating life to celebrate life.
We enjoyed an Easter egg hunt instead of coloring eggs.
Everyone LOVED our festive dinner of carrot soup served with fresh sourdough bread and our favorite kale quinoa salad.
For dessert we enjoyed a lemon cake, a small scoop of our favorite plant based ice cream and strawberries.
And best of all we were able to connect with family via technology, read scriptures from the Bible that helped us remember what today is all about, and be together as a family enjoying each other and this beautiful life.