A Story About Tom the Sheep

Once there was a sheep named Tom.

Tom was raised like a dog — like a pet.

He came when called and enjoyed scratches and belly rubs. He had great spunk, personality and was much loved all around.

What a sweet, happy sheep was Tom. Tom followed his people wherever they went and was a great help on the farm.

Tom didn’t have his manly bits, if you know what I mean, so he was used as a teaser sheep.

Put Tom in with the ewes and in a few months — wham-o! Everyone’s ovulating in sync. Tom heads home and a “real” ram replaces him. Ram does his job, if you know what I mean, and lo and behold — spring lambs.

Lovely story right? I would love to have a Tom sheep trotting in my kitchen. (Forget the fact that I don’t have a kitchen because I’ve been nomading for two years.)

Two years ago in Argentina, I met Oscar the lamb. He was just 6 months old and a fan of dog food. Dog food is very, very bad for sheep by the way. It causes all sorts of itchy, raw, terrible skin reactions.

Oscar the Sheep, halfway sheared

Oscar was the lone sheep on a horse ranch I was volunteering on. I really loved Oscar. He was a funny lamb, very enthusiastic, very chatty, very attached to people. Not in the least bit concerned with the 10+ dogs on the property yapping at him through honeycombed fences.

Oscar was just so content to munch his clover.

Sheep are simple creatures, but I guess when given enough attention and human interaction, as opposed to a constant flock mentality, they can turn out right smart like.

Like Tom.

But one day, Tom wasn’t so smart.

Tom was keeping a flock company on the day the big truck came to escort the sheep to the slaughterhouse.

Tom was just happy to be part of the group. Go where they go. Do what they do. Tom jumped onto the truck.

Nobody noticed he was missing until it was too late.

I hate this story.

I never met Tom but I feel immeasurably sad all the same. Our Kiwi host family (we were volunteering on a Scottish Highland cattle hobby farm) knew the couple who raised Tom, and they were all very distraught for weeks after this tragic accident.

It’s rather like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, isn’t it?

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

It makes me wonder though — why it is so tragic for Tom but not the other sheep?

We think and rightly so, “Well, Tom’s different. Tom’s loved. Tom’s smart. Like a dog, and we wouldn’t eat a dog.”

Maybe all sheep could be loved.

Maybe all sheep could be smart.

Tom was only different because he was pulled apart for a different way of life and so he learned a different way of being.

I know sheep are raised for food and milk and wool and it’s all a cycle of life and healthy and normal. Seemingly healthy if raised and slaughtered humanely that is.

Few people do the humane part and the sheep farms I’ve seen out east in Colorado near where I grew up, are very depressing and completely disgusting.

Anyway, I have these nagging thoughts about the cycle of life.

Just because something has been a cycle, does that mean it must stay a cycle?

We are, after all, evolving.

I am not a vegetarian, but I think about vegetarianism often.

I don’t have full answers and won’t be putting away my steak knife just yet.

Here’s what I’m wrestling with:

If I — or we as a collective whole of evolving people with new options available for nutrition that weren’t a good option ever before in history — if we have the option to be meat free…shouldn’t we be?

If we can healthily and readily be come vegetarians and choose not to kill, is that not a higher road?

I am playing the devil’s advocate in a way. I have arguments for and against that question.

I am trying to confront both the discomfort I feel at watching life and breath taken from an innocent, defenseless animal and the desire to consume a fragrantly roasted leg of lamb that was marinated in wine and rosemary, olive oil and sea salt.

We eat living things to live. I know.

It’s been happening for millions of years and I get that some animals cannot survive as herbivores. They will continue to be predators it seems, at least until prey is scarce, and then they will die off, or they will evolve to be able to survive on plants, nuts, or other forms of food.

But humans actually can survive and thrive on a vegetarian and even vegan diet.

Not necessarily in all areas of the world of course. Veganism seems to be another form of white privilege. However, I am a proponent for eating close to the earth and at times that means to eat — meat.

In Greenland, whale and seal and narwhal are common fare.

You just can’t grow much in the way of green things up there, and the fat in the sea animals is full of good nutrients and essential vitamins and trace minerals. Those people should continue to eat sea life especially because it is part of the native history, heritage, and culture.

It would be absurd to endanger narwhals anymore though and ship them around the world for consumption.

So it’s a dilemma. And I have not yet found peace with it in my soul.

I do think the U.S. consumes an inordinate and unnecessary amount of meat.

That people are obsessed with, say, bacon because it has become a sort of identity and source of pride.

“You’re a real woman if you like bacon! More men will want to date you!”

Seriously? Where did this message come from?

Bacon band-aids. Bacon Christmas ornaments. Bacon wrapped bacon.

Photo Credit: Funny Wall Photos

Advertising makes us obsessive.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. I like bacon. But I don’t eat it every day. I don’t even eat it every week.

And this is where I think we as a nation, as a people, as humans, can and must show more restraint and moderation.

Too many of us are way out of sync with the way the world works.

Chicken comes in a package at a grocery store. We never see the feathers. We never even see the dirt or the poop on the eggs that were most definitely there at one point.

We live separated from nature, animals, and this cycle of birth and death.

We all too readily avoid death at any cost.

We don’t confront the uncomfortable.

This is not a strength, but a deficit. It is unfortunate.

We have made meat-eating an identity and I think that’s dangerous.

We should not take so much pride in this. We should respect the life we consume.

If we had more awareness of what it takes to raise and kill an animal, we would not eat so much of it.

But it is very easy to forget this in a supermarket.

The older I get, the more sensitive I feel about life. All life.

I don’t kill spiders. I don’t take pleasure in crushing ants. I’m sad for the pigeons swept up in car wheels.

I didn’t use to be this way. I didn’t use to think about these creatures. I lived from a gut reaction. I suppose I lived with little awareness and in response to patterns I learned from my family, community, and world at large.

In the end, I still struggle with eating meat and yet I still eat meat because I’m not sure foregoing meat is actually the answer or the answer I am looking for.

Maybe I am simply looking for more respect of life, more awareness of how connected we are to each other, and more self-control/awareness when it comes to how we treat our bodies and the bodies of creatures around us.

The meat industry is not a pretty business. It is not sustainable and it is not kind.

Eat local. Buy from farmers you trust, from farms you’ve visited. That’s a pretty good practice when possible.

I challenge you to think about how many times you eat animal products in a week. I bet you think it’s not a meal unless there is a meat protein. That’s propaganda. That’s false advertising. You don’t need to eat meat to get enough protein in your diet.

So why not cut back a bit? Get creative in vegetarian meal planning. For some reason, people think eating vegetarian means it’s boring and there’s no flavor. My god…use some spices people!

At home, I mainly eat vegetarian meals and never think twice about it. I haven’t reached a place where I want to impose my diet on other people though. I will eat anything anyone puts in front of me when I am a guest in their home, and I will eat it in gratitude.

I remember the night our New Zealand hosts cooked up corned beef from one of their highland cattle. It was incredible. Absolutely delicious. I was so thankful for that meal. It was hard though because I’d bonded with those cattle, but I also knew they had a good, good life and their lives were not taken in vain. The family ate from their organic garden 90% of the time.

The next weekend the family cooked up some sausages from their pigs who use to walk the orchards but had been in the freezer for a few months by the time I arrived.

Pigs are pretty smart too you know. People keep them for pets. What makes it OK to eat some animals and not others?

Now that is another can of worms for another blog.

In the meantime, let’s be uncomfortable together.

It’s OK to consider and discuss these things. But let’s take identity out of the issue for once. And by that I mean the stereotypes and judgments we place on what “kind of person” a vegetarian is, or a vegan is, or a meat-eater is.

And instead, let’s just talk about what being a good caretaker of the earth is.


Aša Ricciardi