I have been lucky enough to see an animal being born. And I've been lucky enough to witness an animal die. Both have been extraordinary experiences.
I was visiting my uncle's farm during the school holidays and it was one of those beautiful crisp, clear South Island mornings the day I saw the lamb being born. The sky was cerulean blue and the ground was white with a hoar frost and the lamb slipped from its mother, still enclosed in an amniotic sac that I remember being all the colours of the rainbow.
Seeing that wee lamb stagger to its feet and start nursing from its tired mother, lustily and vigorously choosing life, was awesome – in the true sense of the word. I must have been only about 8 or 9 but I can see the image as clearly as if it was yesterday.
The death I witnessed wasn't beautiful but it was just as powerful. I was filming a documentary and one of the horse trainers from Riverton worked at the Lorneville freezing works to fund his horses.
We went to interview him at the works and it was like a scene from a splatter movie. Everyone on the floor was covered in blood and gore and headless carcasses swung bleeding from hooks.
I turned away only to see a steer poke his head through the door of the building. His eyes widened as he realised that all the terrifying rumours and cautionary tales he'd heard as a calf were true – and then bang! He was stunned and unconscious, flipped upside down, his throat was cut and he was gone.
Dead quicker than the time it took me to write this sentence.
It was quick, efficient and painless – would that I have the privilege of dying with the same expediency.
The smell and sights and the raw nature of it all did make me ask the question about whether I could still eat meat. And the answer was abso-bloody-lutely I could. In fact, I had a steak and Bluff oyster pie on the way home from the works and jolly delicious it was, too.
It was once a living creature and it dies because you want to eat bits of it. My feeling is, and it's only my philosophy – please don't take this as a prescription for life – you should honour the animal by looking after it throughout its lifetime in the best possible way.
I think if you choose to eat meat you have to know where it comes from.
You should kill it quickly and efficiently with the minimum of fuss and pain. You should use every part of the animal you possibly can – nose to tail. And you shouldn't feel guilty.
Which is why I wholeheartedly applaud the headmaster in Britain who is about to kill two Gloucester Old Spot pigs that have been raised in the school farm since they were piglets.
Children at Farsley Farfield Primary in Leeds have been helping raise the pigs at the mini-farm which also has vegetables and chickens. Now it's time for the pigs to be turned into bacon and sausages and the animal activists are outraged. Naturally.
The headmaster of the school is standing strong, bless him. Peter Harris said the pigs were "just one part of a comprehensive, award-winning farming, food and cooking curriculum that means our children are much better informed than most about where their food comes from".
Damn right. We used to have a butcher on our street corner. It's now a wine bar, but I'll never forget a silly woman clutching a febrile, weeping toddler demanding our butcher hang his animal carcasses out of sight because it upset her little boy. Spare me. If you want to eat meat, you have to know it once lived and frolicked and breathed. You have to be prepared to know how it dies – and if necessary, kill it yourself. I do and I am and I would.
Thank heavens for teachers like Harris who are willing to let children gain an understanding of the food chain. Children – and their parents – need to know what it takes to put food on the table. And if it means children – and their parents – become vegetarian, well, isn't that what the activists were hoping for? It's a win-win situation. Except for the pigs.