Note: This is a very difficult subject to write about and I’ve tried to do so in a way that conveys how thoughtful I am in making the choice to harvest my own meat. If you’re just joining the conversation, please readÂ this postÂ andÂ this postÂ for a more comprehensive understanding of my stance on the subject.Â
When you look up grace on Wikipedia, it will tell you it’s the name for an unvoiced intention or short prayer said prior to or after eating. It says that in many indigenous cultures, saying grace is a way of recognizing that a plant or animal has given its life and thatÂ some day the prayer giver, like every sentient being, will return to earth to give sustenance and life to others. If that is the case, I said grace on Friday before I took a giant step in my urban farm journey and culled Fernando.
All week, the upcoming task loomed over my head. When I felt that thought come into my head, I would think, nope, not today. You don’t have to do that today. And I’d try to put it out of my mind. Once Friday got here, I worked on that technique all day long, but the pit in my stomach was hard to ignore. When it came time to go out back and put him into a box to take him to the house where I would learn to slaughter a chicken for the first time, he was impossible to catch. He escaped from the box that I tried to put him in and I found myself frantically chasing him around the yard, while he frantically ran away from me. If you’ve ever had to chase a chicken, you know what I’m talking about. He’s always been skittish and has never liked to be held, but in my nervous state of mind, I couldn’t help but imagine that he knew. I projected my own anxiety onto him and was sure he knew his fate.
Like I predicted, it wasn’t easy and not being attached to him like I am to my other hens didn’t help as much as I thought it would. The moment I walked into the yard with Fernando in the box under my arm, I could feel my eyes well up with tears. I could feel the weight of what I was about to do. At the same time, even though I was nervous and flustered, never before have I felt so supported in my community. I knew I had come to the right place and was so grateful that a fellow co-op member had opened up her home and offered up her expertise in order to support me as I learned the way. I wasn’t the only one with a heavy heart in the group and there was an overwhelming feeling of understanding and respect for the experience.
I’m not going to go into the gritty details, except to say that the culling part was obviously the hardest. There is such a small margin of error when you’re sacrificing a living thing for your next meal – I had never killed anything before and I didn’t want him to suffer. I knew that I would have to hold the knife and that I was going to have to do it right. I wanted it to be quick, humane and as painless as possible. My teacher stood right by me, ready to step in if I needed her to. When he was gone and I worried if I had done it right or if I had made him suffer, she reminded me that I’d shown more care and concern for him than most chickens ever get at this point in their lives. I stepped away from his lifeless body, as more tears rolled down my face, and breathed a sigh of relief that it was over.
I pulled out some choice feathers and stashed them away to use in jewelry that would always remind me of this rite of passage. The way my new earrings lightly tickle my shoulders reminds me of how delicate and sweet life is. The way they have a tendency to stick out in one rogue way or another is a reminder of his spirit – he was full of piss and vinegar. A friend described my new jewelry as visceral and I couldn’t agree more.
The feathers aren’t the only parts of him I saved – it was my intention to use every part of him the best I could. His feet and neck I froze to use later in stock. His gizzard, liver and heart were frozen as a gift for my dad, who would surely fry them up with much appreciation. And his body, a three-pound bird which I plucked and cleaned myself, would first be a feast and then simmered for stock. I learned that I can pluck a bird like nobody’s business. I also learned that I could stand to learn my way around a chicken in general. I don’t cook much meat and my inexperience in handling a whole bird as I awkwardly tried to gut and clean him was apparent. Most importantly though, I learned that I could do it. As aÂ meat eater, I could take the somber, but responsible step in bringing food to my table, like I always had intentions to do.
No part of my consumption of this bird would go without respect and ceremony.Â I invited a few close friends over for dinner who have a personal understanding and appreciation for this food lifestyle and have inspired me along the way. They brought dessert and wine over for the occasion. Both when I had to take his life and when I served that chicken for dinner, I was supported by a loving community and I said grace and good-bye to Fernando.