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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Hard Part

My good friend, Marguerite Butler commented about my Mad Skillz post on Facebook, saying meat eaters should know how to butcher and cook a chicken. Fewer people would waste food if they knew how much effort goes into something so simple as a chicken.

That statement prompted today's post. 

I don't like killing anything. Anything. Even killing a scorpion fills me with remorse. I do it because those sons-of-a-gun hurt like crazy. I don't want them stinging my dogs, let alone the husband.

Part of homestead living requires killing at some point. It's something I don't discuss much on this blog because I imagine many people can't handle the truth. 

It's incredibly hard to separate emotions from what needs to be done to feed your family. In the US (and I'm sure in every other modern nation) we are so far removed from the actual killing and processing of meat, fish, and poultry that we're conditioned to believe that the hamburger we're eating started its life in a piece of plastic wrap.

What Marguerite said struck a nerve. If we knew firsthand what was involved, we'd be less likely to waste food.

It's a rare thing for food to go to waste at my house--especially if it's food we grew/raised.

When it's time to kill an animal I always say a prayer, thanking it for its sacrifice and wishing it a safe journey. It might sound stupid to you but it means a lot to me. The animal had no choice. It was an animal born to feed my family. The difference is we give it the best possible life while it's alive and kill it swiftly and cleanly.

If you've ever seen some of those secret videos of commercial slaughterhouses, you'll know why we go through so much trouble.

Now I know some people are incapable of ever killing an animal to feed himself. Many generations have passed since we last had to raise, kill, and cook food from the hoof.

This isn't a blaming post. It's no one's fault if the average person can't bring himself to kill his food. The logistics alone defies even trying. So many people live in apartments, homes with zero yards, or zoning that prevents any farm activity at all.

Still, I wish schools would offer the option of teaching kids how our ancestors lived, if only for a day. I'm sure it would offend far too many people, alleging animal cruelty, all the while forgetting how the lunch they just had really got on their plate.

My earliest memory of home butchering was watching my grandmother slice a young goat's throat. My mother was horrified that her child had witnessed such a thing and hurried me away, but even at that young age, I was fascinated. For the first time I made the connection between animals and the food I ate.

Thoughts? Do you feel we're too far removed from our food source? Would you ever send your kid (or yourself) to a farm to see how animals are raised and butchered? Are there other solutions to commercial slaughterhouses?

You can see Marguerite's reply to this post here


Anne Gallagher said...

The only real food I've ever had to catch and butcher is fish. I lived at the beach for nearly 30 years and was raised on fish, clams, lobster, crabs and whatever else we caught in the traps. I don't think I would have trouble with killing chickens or game birds, but cows, deer, 4-legged creatures, yeah, that would be tough for me.

And I agree with you 100%, people today have no idea what it takes to live a sustainable life. Gardens should be a part of every child's upbringing. Even if it's in a pot in the windowsill.

Mike Keyton said...

I am a respectful carnivore, but one thing troubles me, and I have to force myself to look, and not avert my eyes. I'm talking of the large containers you sometimes pass on motorways packed with passive, sometimes bewildered looking sheep on their way to slaughterhouse

Maria Zannini said...

Anne: I would've loved it if my school had provided gardening classes.

It took me a long time to get good at it. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Mike: The truck ride isn't half as bad as the destination. It's pretty bad.

I've never been opposed to eating meat, but as consumers, I wish we were a little kinder to what sustains us.

Lynn Viehl said...

I grew up fishing, shrimping and crabbing in south Florida, and the one rule my mom had was if we caught it and kept it, we had to eat it -- otherwise we had to release it.

One time I caught a catfish and brought it home to show my brother how big it was and the cool barbs. I didn't think Mom would really make me eat that fish because it was a bottom feeder (which she hated), but she did -- and she ate some too, which added some serious weight to the lesson. After that I never disrespected my catches.

Maria Zannini said...

Lynn: If only more moms were like that.

On the Texas Gulf coast, catfish is revered. I've never cared much for it, but prepared right it can be delicious.

Angela Brown said...

Re: I'm sure it would offend far too many people, alleging animal cruelty, all the while forgetting how the lunch they just had really got on their plate.

That is the rub right there, Maria. We have become so convenienced that having to face the "process" involved in getting our t-bone steak to our plate is an INconvenience.

I wonder if 4H should be more encouraged in schools? I don't know if it encompasses animal food processing knowledge with the program but it might be worth having.

Maria Zannini said...

Angela: 4H does an amazing job. I've often gone to fairs and watched these little kids handle 1200 pound steers.

I don't know whether they teach kids what happens after, but the few children I've seen speak seem to understand it very well.

Sarah Ahiers said...

I don't know that I'd be able to do it. I have a reaaaaal hard time killing anything. But i definitely believe it's a skill i wish i had. I'm completely okay with butchering anything, it's just the act of killing that i don't think i could do.
(like, i can't stand when people clean fish while they're still alive)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Having grown up on a farm I've participated in lots of butchering, cows, pigs, chickens, ducks and game like deer, rabbits and squirrels. Haven't done any of it for years now and my children have never been involved in it.

Author R. Mac Wheeler said...

I've turned into a serious wuss as I've aged. I don't want to think of the meat I eat as ever having been a critter. I couldn't get more removed. Sigh. I capture unwanted critters in the house and take them outside. Raised my children on the mantra, "All life is precious."

Rula Sinara said...

I hear you, Maria, and I've seen many of the videos you're talking about. The conditions animals are kept in at factory farms are horrible and heartbreaking...and most people have no clue about it. I think your prayer of thanks and wishes for a safe journey is a beautiful thing. For those who eat meat, I think it's more humane to give livestock a good, healthy and humane life and give thanks with a spiritual connection to them when they become food...than to support factory farm conditions.

I don't judge and I'm not perfect in any way, but I do like reading up and educating myself on this subject and taking whatever steps I can. Vegetarian or carnivore, you can't go wrong with awareness!

Barbara Ann Wright said...

If I had to start killing my food now, I would quickly become a vegetarian. Or a breadatarian, probably.

Marianne Arkins said...

I agree whole-heartedly. I spent much of my younger years growing/raising food. My husband hunts and fishes. He's one of the most ethical hunters I know and always waits until he has a clean, clear, GOOD shot. My kid and I help with the butchering every year. It's incredibly difficult, especially the deer but we do our very best to get all the meat (including the innards, like the liver and heart, which go into making the food for my dog). The bones and skin are dragged out back for the wild critters to eat. It really does help you respect where the food comes from. And, every time someone criticizes him for hunting, I ask if they eat meat. If they think that cow had a better life (and death) than our deer, they're sadly deluded. When we don't have our wild caught food, I buy local from farms I can visit and see how the cows and chickens are raised. I'm glad my kid has been exposed to this ... it's not easy or fun, but it may be necessary some day.

Maria Zannini said...

Sarah: It's very hard. I'm okay doing small animals like chickens, but I leave the larger animals for Greg. He dispatches them with one shot to the head. Death is instantaneous.

Maria Zannini said...

Susan: We've never done a cow. That's too much beef for two people though I've often wondered if I could interest friends in doing a coop with us. We'd raise it and they'd have to come over and help us process it.

Maria Zannini said...

Mac: I've become just the opposite as I've grown older. All the years of learning to 'do it myself' showed me the other side of the coin.

Maria Zannini said...

Re: awareness
Absolutely! I think that's what I want to instill in others most of all. It doesn't matter where you stand as long as you know the facts.

Maria Zannini said...

Barbara: Being a breadatarian is what put me in the shape I'm in. LOL!

I'm not a big meat eater, but I don't say no to a rack of ribs either. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Marianne: If only more people could be like this how much healthier our food would be.

Greg doesn't hunt, though with all the deer that come through our back yard, I'm beginning to wonder why not. They're everywhere.

Anna Soliveres said...

I've "taken care" of spiders, ladybugs, cockroaches and the like. But nothing that I would have to eat. Certainly not a chicken or anything larger. :(

It's a good reminder since I'm one of those who don't usually finish the food on their plate but will then reach for snacks and such. Thanks for the food for thought! :)

Maria Zannini said...

Anna: I tend to be a nibbler too. Lots of times I'll only eat half my dinner and save the rest for the next day's lunch.

Joanna St. James said...

A few of my friends and I are going in to buy a cow from a farm, it's the healthy way to go.

Sandra Almazan said...

My dad's family raised rabbits when he was growing up, and he had to pick which one would become dinner. I'm doing well if I keep up with the weeds in my garden. We do grow vegetables, but we need a better setup.

I gave up meat last year because of the environmental impact. (As a mother, I want to leave my son a decent world to live in.) It seems to me a setup like yours is more Eco-friendly. I also like how you thank your animals for their sacrifice. We really do take food and many other things for granted in this society.

LD Masterson said...

I'm one of those people who has to pretend my hamburger started out in the plastic wrap. I can't eat anything that arrives on the table looking the way it did alive. Intellectually I know the truth but I fear if I had to butcher my own food, I'd starve.

Shelley Munro said...

Interesting post. We're so removed from the production of our food these days. Hubby and I both grew up on farms, so butchering was a normal thing. While we don't still kill our food, hubby often butterflies a chicken or cuts up meat. Any child we had would know about this sort of stuff and be able to cook it.

The butchering etc actually turned me off meat and I've haven't eaten meat for over thirty years.

Maria Zannini said...

Joanna: Welcome to the blog!

Re: buying a cow
Cow shares are starting to grow in popularity. It's an expensive investment even when you're sharing the cow, but you can't beat the quality if it's homegrown and processed.

Thanks for stopping by.

Maria Zannini said...

Sandra: Good for you! I wish more people would think about the world they're leaving their children.

We're stewards of this planet, not landlords.

Maria Zannini said...

Linda: I know. That's why if you ever had to face starvation, you're welcomed to stay with me. I'll do the animals and you do the weeding. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Shelley: I didn't know you both grew up on farms. Cool.

Re: 30 years

Wow! Good for you. I was vegetarian for a couple-three years, but eventually I got tired of preparing two separate meals.

Jackie Burris said...

Growing up for me meant being exposed to the chickens we raised ending up on the "chopping block", it was a disgusting messy process to defeather once dead as well as stinky but sure tasted better than the store bought stuff we eat now.

Also helped my Dad to "clean" deer he shot during hunting season trips, that was a lesson in butchery truly have no desire to repeat but was happy to eat the meat when ground into sausage or made into steaks.

Having "seen" such as a child can truly agree with you that the generations not exposed to the work involved to put food on the table have no clue how much they waste.

Have gone out to eat and seen many plates of food left half finished on the table, not only does it shock me but makes me wonder how they can justify a $10-$20 meal that does not get eaten Maria!

Maria Zannini said...

Jackie: Oh, I hate defeathering. Many times I just skin them. I would love Greg to build me a chicken plucking machine, but even home built, it's expensive.

Re: waste
This drives me crazy when people leave half their meals. If I know I'm not that hungry, I just have an appetizer. Portions are much too large especially in the US.

Raelyn Barclay said...

One thing my dieting/food tracking app have shown me...portion sizes are out of control.

I'm trying to retrain the kids and doing what I can to stretch foods (especially meats). I would definitely send my kids to a farm to see/participate in butchering. (Maybe a field trip to Auntie Maria's.) The closest they've seen is me cleaning fish.

Slaughterhouses on the other hand...most are cruel though some have made strides in the right direction with more humane methods. I think if the wee beasties and That Man were to watch some of the videos I've seen they'd join me on the vegetarian diet.

Maria Zannini said...

Raelyn: Ha! Be aware that anyone who visits my house usually gets put to work.

I've instructed many a child to rake leaves or pull weeds. LOL!

With all your kids, we could put them to work and you and I could sit and chat. :)

Raelyn Barclay said...

Heck yeah!!