I am a killer.
I didn’t grow up killing for my food. Meat always came from the store, wrapped in plastic, on a styrofoam tray and ready to be chopped, fried, baked or stewed. As I grew older, I became aware of the disconnection between myself and the animals who provided me with food. I began with keeping chickens for eggs in Colorado Springs. I butchered a rooster once but didn’t know enough about taking care of the carcass to really enjoy him. He had an excellent flavor but since I didn’t let him “rest” he made a pot of very stringy chicken and dumplings, indeed. To let meat rest, you chill it for 2-4 days and get it past the point of rigor mortis, at which time the meat becomes more tender due to enzyme action.
I didn’t try butchering again until I moved up to Alaska. My good friend Terri produces all the food her family eats, both animal and vegetable, and she doesn’t mind teaching methods of true self sustainability. Her husband James and she helped to teach me how to butcher bunnies. Although I couldn’t bring myself to bop the bunnies, I learned all about how to disassemble them into fry-able parts. And I went up in size from there. A hog, again whom I didn’t kill but cut up into usable pieces, and then a ram lamb. I didn’t shoot the lamb but I was present for his death. It was very sobering, seeing a live creature become so un-alive but in order for the death to actually mean something, you have to push feelings away and get to work skinning and cutting very quickly. You don’t want to waste that precious life that will soon become a part of yours and your family’s.
Although, I have wasted life. Once, when I was a kid, I found a robin’s nest and opened an egg to see what was inside, and what was inside was a tiny bird embryo. I was horrified and fascinated by the tiny body, it’s nakedness and large head. And then, there was a frog or two, that I caught and dissected. With a sharp stone. I was very good at catching frogs and would chase boys with them, no shit.
This winter, I purchased 10 meat chickens off the Farm and Food Group that I’m a part of, that were just about ready for butchering. These chickens are not like our laying hens, which are like pets to us and have personality and are a joy to watch. Cornish Cross meat chickens are what you find in plastic bags at the store. They are not pretty or clean; they sit in their own poop and eat and drink and shit. That’s all they want to do. They don’t roost, they don’t scratch, they don’t do a damn thing but make meat. So after a little while, I didn’t feel so bad about putting them out of their misery, because after about 12 weeks they start having leg and heart issues from being so heavy. They were made to be that way for the factory farm industry and though they aren’t appealing, it’s not their fault. They are still worthy of respect and care and dignity.
So, Robert and I procured a propane burner that could fit a large pot for scalding water, laid down a plastic sheet for plucked feathers to be thrown onto, cut a traffic cone to size to use as a killing cone and sharpened knives. When all was in readiness, I would get a chicken (I would say catch, but they didn’t really try to get away) and put it head first into the cone, bend it’s head back and slit it’s throat. Then, still holding it’s head, I would drop the knife and hold the feet so it wouldn’t flop around during the death throes. As the blood steamed into a bucket underneath, I would tell the bird thank you and that it was a good chicken until it was still. Then it would go to be scalded and plucked by Robert and after they were all done I would bring them into the kitchen to be cleaned and wrapped for chilling in the fridge.
It’s not an easy thing, to kill for your food. To take life, so that you may have yours. It’s dirty and feels like a betrayal, feeding and caring for an animal until you find it to be worthy of your food chain. Hunting a wild animal is much more impersonal, since you haven’t spent any time at all in it’s presence talking to it, doctoring as necessary, feeding it, etc.
Perhaps there is a contract that neolithic humans drew up between themselves and their newfound charges, that they would care for those domesticated critters and their young, protect them from predators and keep them in feed until it was time to slaughter who was needed for their sustenance. If such a contract is in existence then factory farms have violated it and I’m not interested in partaking of the flesh of such an unholy communion. I’ll kill first.