Chapel Hill: Opinion

George O’Neal: A conscious decision to raise and eat meat

It sure is awesome to have the change in calendar year to prompt us to be our best selves, or make changes in that direction.

I often am guilty of year after year being one of the people who make nice proclamations about how I am gonna do more of this, and a lot less of that.

We love changes in things like the calendar year because they provide an awesome moment of reflection, a second to breathe in what the last year meant, and a way to project our hopes on the coming one.

If you’re like me, the first day of the year is greeted with a meal of black-eyed peas, collard greens, and a bit of salty pork to ensure all that health wealth and prosperity for the new calendar. This year was no exception. Almost every year the collard greens are ones I have grown.

This year I also raised the pig that provided the jowl. After a good long stint as a vegetarian, I slowly, and consciously returned to meat eating a few years ago with the intention to only eat meats that were raised in a humane and ecologically sound way.

Considering the end result, it might be seem paradoxical that I both care about how an animal is raised while also being complicit in the end of its life. But to me it is important how that life was treated, what it was fed, and how it was able to live out its life.

If you believe your loving dog or cat is capable of a wide range of human-like emotions, then surely all the other domesticated creatures we have evolved with have a little of that as well. The two pigs we raised this year were no different, they were smart playful little piglets the day they arrived, and were well attended to for the duration of their lives.

They were fed a nonstop stream of all the blemished produce that the farm had to offer; melons, and tomatoes, lettuce, pumpkins and buckets of acorns in the fall. They dug side-by-side wallows and lounged around covered in mud occasionally rising to roam the forest using their dexterous snouts to root for buried treasures. It seemed that their hearts were quite content.

As the time to slaughter drew closer I went through the full range of emotions that you would expect. Even though this would not be the first time I’d had a direct hand in the death an animal. I used to raise egg chickens, and on any farm you’re bound to have hurt animals beyond recovery in which mercy killing is the most humane option.

This would be a little different though, as I cared for these two pigs, and they seemed to trust me fully, and here I was planning to repay that trust by eating them. You might think it simpler to just go back to my vegetarian ways, but it would take a whole other column to adequately explain why I choose to eat meat. Part of that decision includes trying to honor and respect the sacrifice from those animals. Because sacrifice is what meat eating is, and at the end of the day their lives sustain our own.

When the time came, it was as calm and loving as that scenario could ever be. My friend and I sat with them, petted and hugged them, said some words, and then in a second it was completely over.

It wasn’t easy. This experience has solidified my intention of not taking meat eating as lightly as our society often does. We should eat less of it, and honor its place on the table more. We certainly shouldn’t thank farm animals by putting them in horrendous living situations so cramped they can’t turn around. All too often our daily meals are made up of animals that are treated as commodities and decisions are made not based off of quality treatment but about maximizing profits. It has become too easy to remove ourselves from where our meat comes from and to then forget that eating meat means an animal was killed.

This year’s Christmas meal with my family was a far cry removed from the outrageously large eastern Carolina factory-farm-grown ham that we would have normally had, and instead was a much smaller and for me, more intentional pork roast. This ham I knew hadn’t been mistreated, and we spent a lot of the meal talking about the experience and taking a minute to thank the animal for the nourishment it provided.

My resolution still stands this year, no whack meats. No question. Luckily, I’m provisioned for quite a while.

George O’Neal owns and operates Lil’ Farm in Timberlake in Person County and is the president of the Durham Farmers Market. You can reach him at