It was fortuitous, I thought, that Annie mentioned that they were going to be “processing” (the appropriate euphemism) their 52 meat birds the following weekend. So I asked what, for me, was the next logical question: “Can I come?”
Annie left the decision up to Randy. Randy is Annie’s husband, and the one who does the majority of the processing on the appointed day. We’ve been lucky enough to become great friends with both Randy and Annie ever since we met them last summer at the pre-K picnic and discovered that our then-four-now-five year-old daughters shared the same birthday.
A few days later I caught up with Randy, but at first he seemed a little tentative.
“If you don’t mind my asking,” he said, “Why do you want to do this?” Funny- my husband asked me much the same question, and with a very odd look on his face too, come to think of it. Was it that bizarre a request? I wondered. It wasn’t as if I had proposed we take a school field trip to the local funeral parlor or anything (my husband actually did that as a child. Fun! Is this where they keep the embalming fluid, Mister?) I mean, honestly, how bad could it really be? Was there something I was missing, here?
Would slimy chicken parts be flying everywhere? Blood spurting cartoon-fashion in every direction? Would I beat a hasty retreat back to vegetarianism, ruined forever-after for any appreciation of fine poultry? Would I sob uncontrollably/ be scarred for life/ suffer terrible, flailing-chicken nightmares? Would I (and this was important) lose my lunch?
It is definitely interesting to see the spectrum of reactions one gets in this day and age- even in Vermont- to the idea of voluntarily killing a defenseless animal. Hunting, of course, is a similar such topic and the few hunters we know are noticeably shy on the topic, feeling out whether the person they are speaking to will respond to a hunting story with sincere enthusiasm or wide-eyed horror.
Perhaps then, raising birds for meat and dispatching them methodically holds even more potential revulsion. I mean, at least the deer had a fighting chance, right? After generations of being bred to be docile, sedentary and fat, the meat bird is… how shall I say this politely? None too bright. There ain’t no “fight or flight” going on here, people. Mostly it’s just “sit and stare.”
As for myself, after a long journey that included two full decades of vegetarianism of virtually every conceivable shade and hue, I’ve now come around to the point where this ancient arrangement between animal and farmer no longer strikes me as anything but sensible. Beyond sensible, it is the kindest of all the available options, and kindness and respect for animals is what always motivated my meat-free days in the first place.
But back to the farm. After Randy agreed to call me when he was down to the last batch of chickens late Sunday afternoon, I cleaned the kitchen and waited for the phone to ring. It was a weird feeling, this aimless waiting, as if a baby was about to be born, when in fact, it was really quite the opposite situation. Then again, I thought, something is being born today: food. Healthy, organic, sustainable food. Real food- not that ersatz stuff they try to pass off as food at the gas station or even the supermarket, but the real McCoy, the way our ancestors knew it for generations. Food that is the result of your own work, by your own hands, that doesn’t attempt to deny or obscure the essence of what it is: a dead animal. Continue reading Me and Chicken # 52