local, omni, sustainable, etc. etc.
literally meaning "to devour, to eat"
Hunter-gatherer types obviously were aware, in a first-hand way. And for most of the time since agriculture has existed, one’s food would never travel too far to land on a dinner plate. By necessity food was local and seasonal. Obviously, much has changed in recent years and the repercussions and impact of industrial farming is only beginning to be looked at and understood.
I started looking around for a local source for a sustainably raised turkey. Time and time again, after finding such a place, I would also come to find that the farmer had long ago sold out, which is great for the farmers and the local food movement, but not so great for me. I finally found a farm that reserved a few of their birds for their “Thanksgiving Turkey Butcher Class”.
I was more than hesitant about this and continued to look for alternatives. But I eventually came back and signed up for the class. I had been interested in doing something like this for quite some time. I reasoned that if I am willing to eat animal as I have been for most of my life, (I had a brief fling with vegetarianism, another eye-opening experience), I should be able and willing to do the killing and processing that accompanies it, the “dirty work” as it were.
It was a three-hour drive each way to the farm, so I had a lot of time to think. On the way there, my thoughts were, “Am I really going to have to kill the animal or will they do that part for me?”, “Will I be able to do this?” , “What does it say about me as a person that I would want to have this experience?” My thoughts and feelings on the drive back were quite different.
The farm I was going to is called Nature’s Harmony Farm, which operates using very sustainable methods, incorporating a goodly amount of permaculture into their farming techniques.
Our birds had been caught the day before and were waiting for us in the back of a horse trailer. So yes, I would be killing the animal, although Tim had offered to do this if anyone didn’t feel up to it. We could also catch the turkey and carry it over to the killing area if we felt we were up to it. For me catching and handling the live animal was not a problem at all.
In a video about Polyface Farms, I had seen a clip about how he kills his chickens and I have talked about these “kill” cones with other urban chicken farmers, but these for the turkeys were bigger. And for the large toms that we were dealing with, we would be using the large converted orange construction cones
I wasn’t worried about whether my cut would be fast and deep enough. I knew I was more than capable of this. I was not worried if I would lose my nerve and not be able to follow through. I had come this far, and not going through with this was not an option. I wasn’t worried about the turkey. I knew as far as an animal bred to be eaten, it had had the best of lives and its passing would be the most gentle possible.
No, I was truly being selfish, because my biggest concern was if this was easy for me, what did that day about me as a person. What kind of person would choose to kill, if there was an alternative? And if that killing were easy, which it was, what kind of person was I?
So I cut the carotid artery, held the turkeys feet, feeling the life kick out and him attempt to fly away, all the while kneeling down, looking into his eyes as if do make his death more important or something, trying to make me feel less monstrous for the deed I had just committed.
I would not make the connection, until hours later that what I had just done was far more natural than what I had taken as the norm for more than 40 years. That is, it is more natural, more normal to kill the food one eats than to pay someone to kill it for you. In the most immediate way that is a “modern and civilized” response, and in the broader sense, it can only be a human response.
But again these conclusions didn’t come to me for hours, I was much too focused on the task at hand.
When I shoved my hand in the body cavity and it was warm, very warm, I was reminded of what I had so recently done and that less than an hour before this carcass, that now looked like what we buy every year at Thanksgiving was a living breathing creature that I had had to catch. By now it was a job that I wanted to be finished.
And just like that it was done. I had killed something I was going to eat, a beautiful animal that I was going to cook and share with family and friends. I had learned some very, very basic butchery lessons. And now I was to head home. It was over and done before I knew it. All with very little fanfare, as it should be.