Yes, we kill and eat animals. No, we are not evil.
Raven and his wife and I live on a small hobby farm, with goats, sheep, chickens, and often other assorted livestock. Part of our reason for keeping livestock is ecological and financial. Since we’ve got the land for it, it is (sometimes) cheaper to keep livestock than it is to buy meat from someone who keeps livestock in a way that we are really comfortable with. A larger part is spiritual. We want to personally participate in the life cycle of at least a small portion of our food. It is something that connects us to the natural world. It connects us to the spirits of the plants and animals we eat. It connects us to the gods of the agricultural cycle. That is also why we keep adult females and at least one male of all our animals, rather than the easier route of having the females bred elsewhere or buying babies each spring. The animals breed on their own cycle. They nurse their own babies whenever they are willing and able.
They aren’t pets to us, but they also aren’t inventory. We form an emotional attachment to most of our breeding adults, and we keep them after they are no longer reproductively viable. We’re fond of the young animals, and even though we know they are destined for the freezer, we care about them having good lives. We don’t do everything perfectly, but we try, and we continually try to do better. Our livestock aren’t just “walking meat” to us. They are conscious beings who we have a spiritual obligation for the right treatment of.
The ASPCA, the local animal inspector, and the local police, have all visited us due to people trying to report us for abusing or neglecting the livestock in some way. None of the officials have had any complaints about what we do. The methods we use to kill our livestock are considered humane by nearly anyone who actually knows anything about killing livestock. Our facilities aren’t up to commercial standards, but for a hobby farm we aren’t doing anything exceptional.
What I want to emphasize is that the primary difference between what would be considered “ritual animal sacrifice” in my tradition and what would be considered “church barbecue” in someone else’s, is basically about us ritually blessing the animal and offering its soul to the gods before we eat it, rather than paying to have it killed on some distant “disassembly” line. Having a ritual around it (and personally ensuring the killing is done humanely) does not transform it into an evil, unethical act.
When we do animal sacrifice, no one is required to watch it. We try to be welcoming of a wide range of beliefs and respect people’s personal comfort levels with regard to emotionally intense experiences. We either set up a separate ritual for them as far away as practical, where they make representational offerings, or we do the sacrifice a little before the main part of the ritual, so they can arrive after it is over.
The overwhelming majority of people who get incredibly distressed about our livestock are not vegetarians. They have no problem chowing down on a big fat chunk of dead animal flesh, but they say it is horrible, unethical, abusive, or disgusting for someone to personally raise and kill those animals for food. This is ridiculous. Paying someone else to kill an animal is no different, ethically, than killing it yourself.
Humans – like other animals – can only survive by eating things that were alive. Sand and rocks will not sustain us. We do not photosynthesize. I understand some people have ethical objections to eating meat, and I respect that even though I don’t agree. However, from my perspective, plants are not a radically different type of beings than animals. Plants have a consciousness, even though few of us can communicate with them. Animals are no more alive than plants, and no more conscious. They are just more like us. I don’t expect anyone else to agree with me on that, but it is what I genuinely believe.