Glad for a Memorial Day respite in our way-too-busy schedules, I had a nice dinner with a friend. When I arrived at her house I greeted her in the name of the holiday, and for the rest of the evening our conversation wound in and out of remembering the dead—including the duck on the dinner table.
Memorial Day began to honor the dead of the Civil War, the fallen soldiers on both sides. It evolved in some parts of the country into Remembrance Day when people put flowers on the graves of all of their loved ones. Once when I visited my father's second wife in Idaho over the Memorial Day weekend, she helped me put flowers on my father's and paternal grandparents' graves. Sales of potted mums were booming that weekend in that part of the country. Every cemetery was adorned with flowers.
In my friend's kitchen this weekend, as she prepared the meal, we thought about our country's servicemen and service women, especially the casualties of the wars in our own lifetimes, Vietnam and Iraq. It struck us a lot of dying to remember. During the leisurely, lovely meal—she is an excellent cook and gracious hostess—my friend's deceased husband was also on our minds. He died several years ago after a valiant struggle with disease. His body became the battleground. Not all of our heroic dead are felled by armed combat in distant lands.
And then there was the duck. It was a pastured duck: locally raised with real time in the out of doors. My friend won't eat factory-raised poultry, not after the time when she and her husband happened to drive by a chicken-transport truck crammed with birds on a hot West Texas highway. She saw one white leghorn in such a pose of abject suffering that it made her cry. She's not an excessively sentimental woman, but that was one of those coincidental moments that can brand a person's conscience for life. No more factory-raised fast-food chicken meals for her.
Our dinner duck had had a good life. According to the rancher who raised it, during the recent heavy rains in our area, the ducks rejoiced. They couldn't be brought into the duck house the night of the rain because they were all swimming in the middle of the rain-swollen pond. Roasted and served with a simple sauce of current jelly spiked with Meyer lemon juice and thyme, it was a delicious duck. It gave us sustenance to for the work we have to do. Innumerable chickens, and cows, and pigs would never have existed if it wasn't for human need and want. But they should not live lives of abject suffering as grist for the mill of Food, Inc. For one thing, Big Food is all about big profits, not good nutrition for people, much less the well-being of the Earth. And for another thing, even a hopeless white leghorn is a fellow sentient creature.
Does a chicken matter as much as a military veteran? No, of course not. And yet, yes. It's an abominable continuum, I think, from a bird being grist in the mill of Big Food to a human becoming fodder for the cannons of War, Inc. Deaths such as that are something that we should remember with great honor, and remember over and over, until it never happens any more, and then remember forever so it never happens again.