I gave up chicken legs and roast veal in 2010 during a stay in Mexican Chiapas. There, in the mountains, malnourished rural communities are stubbornly cultivating stumps for coffee. And within ten kilometers, in fertile plains, thousands of cows graze, waiting to be reduced to frozen steaks for the US market. A striking vision of an absurd farming system. Disgusted, I decided to remove the meat from my diet. Becoming a vegetarian was an act within my reach, my small contribution to animal welfare, the preservation of the planet and the fight against social inequalities. At least, that was my opinion until shortly.
Last April, I went on a bike to meet the peasants. From farm to farm, I discovered a world that I thought I knew. I stumbled, my foot caught in a priori . This is what happens when you trade your boots for boots. Because the surprise is in the meadow. Above all, I did not imagine, while riding my bicycle, that I would stock meat.
First step: at Polo, my guts flicker
At Les Molles, the Ariège wind tirelessly sweeps the green hills. Polo, Martine and their son Ilan have been living here for twenty-five years, in little houses of odds and ends. They raise a small flock of goats, sell cheese and kids. Every morning, they milk their horned friends by hand, then lead them pastures through the peeled mountains. In the summer, they go up to alpine pasture in the Pyrenees. They live sparingly and happy, undeniably.
“When we arrived, there were only brambles here, nothing else grew,” Polo tells me. Gradually, thanks to the inextinguishable appetite of the goats, the thorny shrubs recede, leaving room for the meadows. The landscape opens, soils gain fertility. “Today, the place has changed, it has become livable. We can walk there, plant fruit trees, and even grow a kitchen garden! “
The goats that Polo and Martine raise in their farm of Molles, in Ariège.
At dinner time, his words echo in my head. And sow doubt in my stomach. No, breeding is not just about 1,000 cows and North American feedlots . Yes, breeding and ecology can be compatible. A sentence of Jocelyne Porcher comes back to me. In her book Vivre avec les animaux , she asks: “If livestock farming is such a calamity for the environment, how is it that it has existed for ten millennia and is consubstantial for the majority of people? human societies? “ Good question, hair sheep. All to my daydream, I forget to serve myself. “Do you want kid guts, Lorene? “ Wonder Polo. Confused, I articulate a “nnoui” that immediately earns me a generous ladle of goat intestines. Delectable
The night will not be so delicious. I must believe that my digestive system fructivore now poorly supports animal protein. Unless a green genie came to punish my lack of discipline. Anyway, I decide to leave the giblets aside, and swallow my food questioning.
Second step: in the Alps, I crack and I crunch
They are “dinosaurs”, among “the last fools who persist in doing something that does not work” . Aldo and Maria Magdalena live in Italian Piedmont. Their common point: they raise brigasque ewes – a local breed threatened with extinction – according to the traditional pastoral system. 15 hours day and less than minimum wage. What makes them stand
? The passion of the trade and the love of the animals.
“Livestock farming, as a working relationship with animals, has a relational rationality first,” says Porcher. The majority of breeders, those who have chosen this trade, work with animals to live with them. “
Aldo drives his ewes every summer in the alpine pastures of Italian Piedmont.
For the researcher, animal suffering has nothing to do with livestock, quite the contrary. It is linked to industry, zootechnics, this “science of the exploitation of animal machines” . In the valley of Santa Ana de Valdieri, I play with the rhythm of the cowbell and the bleating. And if I was mistaken fighting being a vegetarian
? Wanting to fight the industrialization of agriculture, am I not involved in the disappearance of small farmers
In the evening, to digest my remorse, I enjoy a little sheep pie (and yes, my stomach did not really recover from the episode “
Listening to Aldo. At more than 1000 meters above sea level, at the foot of Mercantour, on the Italian side, this shepherd grazes his flock on land unsuitable for plowing. Cheese, meat, wool. Farming has always allowed farmers on non-fertile soils to feed and clothe themselves.
Third step: in Romania, I roar
There are 1000 cows, 2000 sows, 200,000 chickens. There are also families living with five hens, three pigs, a cow, a vegetable garden, an orchard. Unlike factory farms, there are still many farmhouses. This is the case in Romanian Transylvania, where most villagers still own farmland.
Ecosystems in their own right, where everything is connected: the whey from the cheese-making feeds the pigs, the remains of the meal are given to the hens, the garden receives the manure and the fruit trees give shade to the ruminants. Far from above-ground farming, these farming systems are resilient and very