Meeting my meat

Today was the first day on a new farm in Southern Maine. It’s an organic farm with Celtic roots, and they raise highland cattle, have one very pregnant pig who will be giving birth within the week, free-range chickens for eggs and meat, two greenhouses for veggies and flowers, and forage wild mushrooms. Today I had one of the most intense experiences in recent memory, which was helping to kill, pluck, and process two chickens.

Some background: I’ve been eating vegetarian/pescatarian for about a month. I had been considering it for a while and finally came to the conclusion that, for me, being a vegetarian was the most ethical, sustainable, and healthful decision and the only reason I wasn’t one was because of taste and convenience. I also came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to eat any animals if I wasn’t okay with the idea of killing them myself.

Flash-forward to today, where I helped kill my first animal for food, fishing aside. (Apologies if you’re squeamish, but I promise it’s not too bad.) They use a kill cone, nailed to a tree, which is a common method on a lot of small farms. Farmer Holly first held the chicken upside down, which disorients it and makes it calm. Then she held it close and thanked it for everything–eating the grass, keeping other chickens company–and promised not to let its life go to waste. Then she placed it in the cone, with its neck sticking out the bottom. I held its feet from the top as she sliced its artery and vein (with a very sharp knife she had just sharpened) and let it bleed out. Its autonomic nervous system actually fired up, and although it can’t feel anything,  its body and legs convulsed.

Then we scalded it, to make plucking easier, plucked all its feathers, and brought it inside for processing–removing the feet, the head, and the innards and cleaning it up. They use most of the bird for meat, and the rest they compost. It’s amazing how quickly it can turn from an animal to food you’d see in a supermarket.

It was a rather incredible process to witness, all gruesomeness aside.  It’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything die, or taken an active role in an animal’s death, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to see how we get our meat. That being said, I’m still going to stick with pescatarianism for now.

I know the whole farm-to-table/“Is the chicken local?” thing is kind of a cliche at this point, but I do think it’s essential for anyone making the conscious decision to eat meat to at least consider where it came from. Not saying everyone should go out and kill a chicken, but at least understand how that plate of wings got there. As Holly said, some people say they could never eat an animal whose name they knew; she says she could never eat an animal whose name she didn’t know. But, I realize that it’s not always cheap to do that and not everyone has that privilege. Something tells me Maureen Ogle’s new book In Meat We Trust will inform me better about all this.

In happier news, I should be able to report back soon on what a pig giving birth looks like, and tomorrow we’re bottling Sue’s batch of homebrew stout. Go Sox!

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  1. If we’re not concerned with the source of what we’re putting inside of our bodies, what are we concerned about? I wonder why more people don’t care.

    This is a complex issue, Heather. Thanks for tackling it. From the companies’ misleading what goes into the product or mistreating the animals to the morality & ethics of killing and consumption to the environmental implications, the agriculture issue is a topic that I have predicted will take a spot in the next presidential election.

    Did your involvement in the process of killing the chicken make you feel better or worse about the process of killing/eating animals? Does it make you feel better or worse (because you know this isn’t the norm) that Farmer Holly was so tender and loving?

    1. Thanks for the comment, Matt. It’s definitely a complex issue, and I didn’t really know where to start outside my personal experience.

      And my answers are just as divided. The process made me feel better knowing that there are ways to more humanely kill (oxymoron?) animals for meat. But it did have me comparing this to a factory farm experience the whole time. I can only imagine what being in one of those is like. We had to kill two more today, and will likely have to do a few more during my stay here, and I found myself really dreading it. It was harder today, as I had already experienced the curiosity/amazement at the process. Now it’s a routine, and I feel uncomfortable doing it. Such is life, and death, I suppose.

  2. Interesting – and probably telling – take (“I had already experienced the curiosity/amazement” and your dread). Maybe seeing it first hand, and in such a humane way, makes it a tad easier, but knowing that this process is not the norm is something I feel uneasy about.

    I don’t know how to do the moral or ethical gymnastics in these situations. I tend to think too much about them, wonder why people don’t think about them at all, then proceed like a hypocrite with a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. It’s more than complex. It’s hard.

  3. @newaitress · · Reply

    Here’s my take on this as a lifelong vegetarian. I stopped eating meat after seeing a documentary on factory farming when I was 12. I’ve read all sorts of articles about “ethical omnivores” and eating meat from local, sustainable, grass-fed, humanely raised sources. My conclusion has always come back to the fact that I simply don’t want to eat animals.

    1. I hear ya. It really can be be as simple as that, as much as some people want to put up a fight about the many reasons why we need to eat animals. I always feel what you choose to eat is a very personal decision anyway.

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