I’ve received a lot of comments and emails in response to my posting about the rabbits that were stolen on Saturday night from one of my instructor’s homes. A few stories have also come out in the newspaper and on television and on the Internet, all with slightly varying information. I’d like to clear up a few things and also give you all a sense for where I’m coming from.
First, at its most basic level, this incident is about someone having their private property stolen and their personal space invaded. On another level it’s potentially about one of the most complex and divisive topics we struggle with in the modern world.
Second, I may not answer all your questions in this post, but I am more than happy to answer questions that people might have about the nature of the theft or the nature of what the Portland Meat Collective does and what it stands for. I’m also very willing to engage in respectful discussions about the very controversial topic of eating and not eating meat, killing animals for food, etc. It’s a complicated topic for sure, one that I spend a lot of time wrestling with. Since I started the PMC I’ve reassessed and changed my own relationship to the topic based on what I’ve been able to see and learn.
Next, the police have been alerted. We are chasing a couple of promising leads. We do have reason to believe the theft was politically motivated. I’m unfortunately not at liberty at this time to share the details of those leads.
First of all, my math was off when I posted the last post and when I spoke with the Oregonian on Sunday. Some of you may have read stories today with different numbers, so I want to clarify. 18 rabbits (5 adults, including 2 nursing does, and 13 juveniles) were stolen and10 babies were left behind. These rabbits were cooperatively cared for by two people, Levi Cole and a close friend of his. They raise these rabbits to feed two households and to supply rabbits to a small PMC class of students wishing to learn how to raise and harvest rabbits for meat themselves. Levi does not call himself a farmer. He does not raise animals for a living. He provides food for his family and his friends, using his own small backyard. He does not make money off of the animals he raises. PMC students pay him at cost. The animals are not a commodity. They are not treated in anyway like factory-farmed animals. They are raised well, provided a good life, and are meant to ultimately be harvested for personal consumption.
The PMC had two classes scheduled for Sunday, a chicken class and a rabbit class. Both classes still took place, for the rabbits that Levi had planned to use for the class had already been transported to the class location before the theft took place.
The rabbits were likely taken sometime between 1:30 and 8am, when they were found to be missing. The box with the 10 babies had been removed from the rabbit hutch and left on the lawn. These ten babies had just been born on Friday night, the night before the theft took place, so they were a little over 1 day old. The babies were immediately moved inside and kept warm.
In order to figure out how to save the babies, we called farmers and rabbit advocates, and consulted online chat forums, books and other sources. In general, the common opinion seemed to be that there is so much protein and essential nutrients in a rabbit mother’s milk that no great substitute exists, especially if the babies are that young. The rabbits had also been left without a source for warmth for an unknown amount of time, which could have effected their nervous and immune systems as well. The best option seemed to be to find a nursing mother for the babies, which is what we attempted to do.
The babies, however, began dying at around 11am, just two hours after they were found in the yard. We did go buy ingredients that are said to be potential, temporary substitutes for their mother’s milk: a combination of kitten replacement milk or goat milk and a raw egg. The last baby rabbit died before we could feed them this. A nursing mother was, unfortunately, not found in time. We are all very sad that the babies suffered and then died, not because a potential food source was lost, but because we cared about the animals and did not want them to suffer like this.
Which brings me to my next thought. The farmers and food producers I work with care for their animals, feed them well, give them lots of love, make sure that they have plenty of space to roam, and that they are protected from the elements. As hard to believe as it may seem to some, I think it really is possible to care for and love and respect the animals that one raises for meat. There are also, quite obviously, people who raise animals for meat who really don’t care about the welfare of the animals—just read the incredibly exhaustive, well-researched book “CAFO—The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories,” and you’ll be convinced pretty quickly of this if you aren’t already. I like to think that the PMC and its mission stands pretty far outside of the realm that that book covers.
The PMC largely, though not solely, consists of people who do eat meat—and we understand and accept that this is a practice that many people do not choose to take part in. Students and instructors, in my experience, tend to be very thoughtful about their status as omnivores, and the majority seem to want to really rethink their relationship to meat—in terms of how much of it they eat if any, where it comes from, and how it’s produced. Our entire goal as a collective is to uncover the very veiled, mysterious, and yes, often very unpleasant, system that gets most meat to our tables in America. Our other goal is to create a more humane, alternative system by which people can procure meat—or, alternately, by which people can decide NOT to procure meat. It is our hope that by changing our understanding of and relationship to meat and the animals the meat comes from, we will change our meat consumption habits, and also arrive at more fully-formed philosophical understandings of what it means for us, individually and as a community, to eat animals. We feel, if nothing else, that this is a step in the right direction. In fact, at times, it seems to me that our end goal might even overlap with the end goals of many of the people voicing their disapproval of the PMC on this site, but we’ll save that for another rainy day.
By providing people with the opportunity to confront and become a part of the process of getting well-raised, local, sustainable meat to the table, we give them the chance to decide for themselves how they’d like to eat in the world, what they’d like to eat, and where they want their food to come from. In our classes, farmers, students, instructors, butchers, omnivores, vegans, and vegetarians all gather around a table to discuss their opinions and feelings regarding eating animals. It’s a complex topic, and one that deserves our attention and our thoughtfulness. We have many vegans and vegetarians and ambivalent omnivores taking our classes (both slaughter and butchery classes). When I ask them what brought them to the PMC they tell me they want to learn about alternatives to industrial meat production. Some say they attend our classes to really test their own belief systems about meat—to find out if they’ll feel more or less comfortable eating meat if they raise, harvest, process, and cook the animal themselves. Some people decide they are comfortable eating meat that way, some decide against it. The point here, is that we are all people trying to gain a better understanding of where our food comes from, and trying to rethink the system that currently exists. We’re all people trying to make conscious, well-informed choices for ourselves, our communities, and our families, in the face of what has remained a very divisive topic.
Mostly I hope that some sort of productive dialogue will come out of this incident and its fallout. In the end I think that most of us on this site right now—even with all our varying views— might have a little more in common than we think.