Jilly D.

Estranged relations in the meat department

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on March 30, 2014 at 2:06 pm

966966-R1-19-20AFrankly, it is easier to be alienated. For example, most people choose not to raise, feed, water, breed, tend, then slaughter, butcher and eat the meat of their own animals. Most people prefer meat come wrapped in clear plastic on Styrofoam trays and soaked in a saline solution or pumped with gas.  Knowing where your meat comes from and how the farmer treated the animal is one of the most important pieces of consumer information you can have about the health risks and benefits of what you eat. But that means an unalienated relationship to the animal you consume. That’s not so easy. Wrapping the meat from an animal slaughtered, hung, dry-aged and butchered is one of the most unalienating experiences of my life.100_1224

“Go take pictures of that carcass hanging in the meat room, Jill,” Sam instructed me the day before we were to cut up our first European Red Deer. As resident photographer, I took pictures of all of our projects on the farm. Looking through the camera lens at the red flesh and white bones I no longer saw the animal I had known since his birth. I saw meat.

“Take each cut as I hand it to you and wrap it and mark it,” Sam said. The buzzing of the meat saw and the hum of the fluorescent lights matched my emotional state. I took each piece of flesh as it was cut, inserted it in a plastic bag, twisted the tie, cut a piece of white butcher paper and folded it around the package of meat. With a piece of freezer tape I sealed it shut and took my MarksALot black pen and wrote on the paper: hamburg, sirloin, t-bone, filet, ribs, roast, etc. Then the packages went into the deep freeze. By the time we took out a venison roast to thaw for Sunday dinner, the meat tasted better because we have a full and conscious appreciation of what was involved in bringing it to the table.100_1226

Like meat, it may be easier to be alienated from one’s own labor. Rather than do things for myself, it was easier to hire someone else to perform certain tasks. Instead of mowing the lawn myself, I hired a neighbor kid to do it for me. I was too busy with “work.” Rather than make my own meals, I found myself eating out of vending machines and paying high prices for restaurant meals. I had to have oil changes, new tires, brakes, and a radiator. Then pay drycleaners, beauticians,  housekeeper, florist and grocers. Not enough hours in the day to do much myself other than my job. Because I had no time except to “work,” I had to spend what I earned paying others what I could do for myself. Instead of spending 50 hours a week doing one thing, now I do 50 different things a week.

I had been working, but my life wasn’t. I could see no product, harvest or “yield” from my efforts. Was I producing knowledge? Was the product the number of students I graduated? As education became a business, I found myself treated more and more like a waitress. When the student is the customer and the customer is always right, I found myself alienated as the teacher. “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” one student challenged me. “If you’re so rich, why aren’t you smart?” I replied.

Not all students are above average; even in Lakewobegone. Not all marriages can be saved; nor should they. Ask any professional marriage counselor. Not all court cases can be won by a well paid attorney; justice is blind and weighs the evidence. Not all patients get well; despite the best paid doctors. But every student is expected to pass if their tuition bill is paid? Unlike counselors, lawyers, and doctors, my professional status had been undermined by the retail model of higher education. I had become a cog in the bureaucratic wheel of the business of degree certification. Failing students was not acceptable to my Dean; even when they earned the F.

Soon enough I began to figure out people my age were sacrificing their own retirement for their children’s tuition payments. When the annual tuition hit $40,000 a year it shocked me. What students’ parents paid in tuition each year was comparable to annual faculty salaries. Annual faculty salaries averaged less than the annual tuition rate.

I had spent $140,000 myself on college tuition and graduate studies. It was worth every penny, because nobody could ever take it away from me; unlike a house or a car. But I could never get a rate of return on my investment in education to make it an economically sound investment. Teaching, like farming, is a labor of love. When it stopped being about learning and starting being about satisfying customers, I felt alienated.

Since I left academia I realized I had lived in a parallel universe to the real world. I never see any of the people with whom I worked day in and day out for a decade. We live in the same community and yet their existence never intersects with mine. It is not that I avoid former colleagues. I simply have no contact or interaction. I live in the real world.


  1. Makes me grateful for grocery stores. You learned where our food comes from, right down to blood and bone. Thanks for your stories, E

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