One thing that being here has taught me is that food comes from somewhere. It doesn't come wrapped in cellophane from supermarket shelves or mysteriously appear in a box or can. People who have grown up on farms understand this, but most people these days are city dwellers or suburban residents and so it is easy to forget.
Our neighbor downstairs told me that the turkey I naively named Henry because he gobbles away every morning is to be Easter dinner for his children when they come home from boarding school. So now when I hear the crow of the rooster outside our window at 4 AM (dueling roosters actually, one in front and one in back), I resign myself, as I know that he is soon to be some one's Sunday dinner.
The fish we eat at lunch were caught by the some of the hundreds of fishermen and women that I see lining the beach at Elmina. In the morning, you can see the fishermen floating in log canoes about 500 yards off shore - casting their huge blue nets. Later in the afternoon, families begin to arrive with pails and basins perched on their heads to help with the catch. They sit in the palm groves until it's time to haul in the net, long lines of people tugging on a single rope in unison. Afterward, everyone helps with cleaning the fish. Some of the fish get salted and dried in the sun on large bamboo racks and some may be sold fresh. I know this because I saw them. So no matter how attached I get to the little goats in the pen by our clothesline, I know they have a practical and life-giving purpose. We are immersed in and surrounded by that which sustains us.
The problem is... I love those goats. They are tiny...and cute. They have an overbite. They are curious. They hold my gaze when I look at them as if to say, “Where's my dinner?” or “Would you pass me some of that elephant grass over there?” The white goat had tiny white twins but one died. The black goat had had her kid in the week before we came. A tiny soft gray new creature with a black stripe down its back, you can hear the baby goat's “me-e-e-e-e-” when it's time to eat.
As we walked through the market yesterday there was a man half leading, half carrying a shaggy brown goat up the road. He had fashioned a rope out of twisted rushes and made a halter lead from it. He was walking along quickly and purposefully. When the goat veered off course, the man never broke his stride, but just picked him up by his “handle” and set him back down along his path. Goats roam free here, even in the city, so seeing the goat restrained in this way was unusual. Craig said, “That's the last you'll see of that goat.” I realized he was right. The man was taking him into the market to be sold or killed and dressed so his family could eat.
I am not a vegetarian, so I have to accept that this is where my food comes from. But it changes my perspective. Animals, albeit not willingly, give up their lives so we can eat. Craig said something that comes to my mind as I fret about this. When you say grace over a meal, you are thanking the Creator, but you are also thanking the creature that gave its life so we could have food. There is the price I paid for the food at the grocery store. But there is another price more important to remember – a much higher price paid by the animal. So there is great sadness and at the same time so much gratitude - one with the other, inseparable if we are to be honest. And why should we be otherwise? So when I say grace over a meal – not only do I thank the Creator of all things, but I remember His creature and acknowledge its life, understanding that it is by God and the world He created I am sustained.