The thought that initiated my actions today and this post was that we, as consumers, are too far removed from our food.
For as long as I can remember, my father has always been a hunter. I’ve had deer, elk, bear, and fish killed by someone I know for as long as I can remember. One of my favorite things is when the family gets together to package and process an elk that my father has caught because I like knowing where it comes from…however up until today, I have never killed anything on my own other than fish for food and a dove I once put out of it’s misery that had broke it’s neck on a fence back when I worked at the airport.
Change is hard. It’s cheap and easy to get your meat from the grocery store…but I don’t want to do what’s easy, and I don’t like going after my cheapest option. Dan and I would both like to get to the point where unless we know where our food comes from, we don’t really want it in our house. It’s going to take time and dedication…one day at a time, one step at a time.
Today, I took that first step, and I would encourage anyone who eats meat to do this at least once in their life. So they can respect the creature that provides them with sustenance.
My dad’s girlfriend shot me a text last weekend that my Tia Elizabeth was going to be slaughtering the turkeys for the family this weekend, and that I might want to get in touch with her. Last year, I got one of her birds, but what I received was a larger, healthier looking version of what I usually pick up in the frozen section of Safeway. So I sent her a text and told her I’d like to help.
Today, her and her girlfriend picked me up around 9am and went back to her farm in gig harbor. She has a lot of beautiful birds that roam around the property doing whatever it is that birds do.
Meaning, they are free range animals. She feeds them a pretty healthy, natural diet, which creates some pretty healthy, natural birds. Some of the better looking birds out of the other farms around her.
We did not slaughter the bird in the picture above. We did pick 7 of a different variety; 2 she had for sale to some neighbors and the other 5 for family.
I honestly wanted to know how much work it took from beginning to end and if I had the stomach to kill my own turkey. I had it set in my mind that if I couldn’t kill the bird and go through the whole process on my own, then I would swear off meat for the rest of my life.
It’s a lot of hard work, and the following are pictures of the whole process. I do not feel ashamed for what I did today, but I will warn you that the rest of this blog will contain pictures of dead turkey. My cousin snapped some pictures of us while we went to work, and I am sharing this with the class, as I think it is important to know where your food comes from. I am cooking a turkey for next weeks Misfit Turkey day, and this is exactly how I got him.
The process begins with preparing all the tools…sharpening knives, filling the water boiler, making sure everything we use (table, rope, storage bin, etc.) is clean, and selecting the birds that will be butchered for the day.
Gathering the birds is a little tricky, you have to hug them to you, and the first one I grabbed straight up punched me in the face with his wing. It hurt, and I felt it was only fair. Turkey – 1, Becka – 0. While we gathered up the 7 for today’s slaughter, we set the water to get up to 160 degrees so it would make plucking easier.
Now I have to say, gathering the birds up was a little hard. You don’t want to hurt them…but at the same time, you’re going to hurt them…it’s a weird feeling. I love animals. I think they are a vital part of life on this planet, and it’s a strange feeling to have one that’s afraid of you. There’s a part of you that wants to pet it, keep it calm, and tell it that everything will be okay, but it won’t…because at the end of the day, it’s going to be food on your table. Still, I was as careful as I could be so as not to damage the bird on it’s way to the saw horse contraption my uncle had built.
We try to make the process go as quickly as possible, so as to not stress out the bird more then it has to be. One person grabs it by the feet, while the other holds the wings and guides it into the metal funnel.Uncle Michael and I putting the turkey into the funnel.
After the bird sits inside the funnel, you make two incisions just under the jaw bone on each side of the neck, slicing two major arteries. This is so the bird will bleed out quickly. My Tias prefer to do it this way because it’s easier to pluck the bird with the head still attached. After having done it this way, I would prefer to cut the birds head off entirely from the get-go to give it a quicker death, even if it makes more work in the long run…but that’s me. I can’t say that the way my aunts do it is wrong, I would just prefer a quicker death.Slicing the bird.
However, doing it this way did allow me to see something I have never seen before, and did give me a new respect for the turkey that I did not have before. Cutting the main arteries like that does kill the bird in about a minute or so…but it’s still hard to watch. At first the bird does not seem aware that it is near death after the cut…it’s just calmly laying upside-down, waiting for whatever will happen to it next. It’s expression is no different from when it’s walking around the property. But then it hits…there’s a moment the eyes grow wide, the head freezes, and you know he is aware that death is on the brink as he chokes on the last bit if life he has. The beak opens, the tongue extends, and you see it go from calm to shock, the light of life leaving it’s eyes. The body spasms, and one last breath escapes as his eyes close.Taken just after the bird has died.
I have seen many dead things in my life from pets to kills from my dad’s hunt, to people…but other than fish and lobster (which has not much in the way of expression), I have never watched anything die before. I wanted to look away and not see it…but I wanted to know the price for my food and see if it was something I could honestly live with. It took me back a little bit. I don’t know what I had expected really. It reminded me somewhat of the skexy king on his deathbed from Dark Crystal, and no smile crept upon my face. I looked at the animal as it slowly closed it’s eyes, and I said, “thank you. Thank you for this sacrifice, thank you for being our food.”
I honestly believe this is the hardest part of the whole process, because you are taking this innocent creature and sacrificing it for your dinner. It was also at that precise moment that I knew in my heart…yes, I am a carnivore. Yes, I will kill to eat. I accept the animal of my nature, and I accept what I am. Honestly, I think everyone who eats meat should do this at least once in their life to truly understand the price one must pay for another’s supper. I also think it will help you to understand yourself better. To understand what your are willing to do and what you are not willing to do. In doing this, I have earned a new respect for my food.
After the bird is dead, you have to dip it in a pot of hot water that is around 160 degrees, so it’s easier to remove the feathers…if it’s too hot, the bird will cook with all the guts still inside it, and you will waste what you’ve killed. If it’s too cold, the feathers are almost impossible to pull out of the bird.Dipping the bird in hot water for easy feather removal.
After this, you start plucking the bird, if you’ve done it right, the feathers should pull away freely like butter.My Tia Elizabeth and Uncle Michael giving a test pluck to see if I’ve done it right.
The birds seem a lot heavier postmortem.
For the most part, I focused on killing and plucking birds, as the stench of defecation was a bit much for me, but I really felt that if I was going to go home with a turkey, I needed to do the entire process to the bird that I was to take home. Up until the last bird, my Tias had been doing all the gutting.My Tias, Elizabeth and her girlfriend Mel gutting turkeys.
When I grabbed the last bird from the cage, I talked to him a bit more than I did the others. I petted him to calm him down, as I’m sure I wreaked of death after the last 6, and it must be frightening to watch all your brothers go before you and you’re all alone in the cage, waiting. I held him tight to my chest and I told him he was going to be sacrificed and become part of the meal that I would prepare next weekend. I thanked him for the sacrifice. He stopped fighting me, and seemed to accept his fate. When I got to the slaughter area, Tia Mel told me to smile as my cousin snapped a picture, at first, I didn’t really feel right smiling, but then I looked around at my extended family…all of us working together to feed other members of our family, and I felt like I had passed an odd kind of right of passage in life. This is the way of the carnivore…this is what you do when you’re a carnivore. This is much of the way of the animal kingdom and I am an animal.
I’m sure it will be of some disappointment for others to find that my profile picture is in fact, the bird a lot of folks will be eating next Saturday. However, I’ve never felt closer to my food than in this exact moment.He was a beautiful creature.
Gutting the bird was smelly, and my cousin hates that part, so he didn’t take any pictures, but Tia Elizabeth said I did an excellent job for my first time. Everything came out in tact, I didn’t tear the skin, and the end result is still a beautiful, 16 pound bird.From beginning to end, I followed through.
After you remove the guts, you have to let it soak for a while in water to help soften it up so you can remove the rest of the stubborn feathers you missed on initial plucking. It’s important that the container you use is clean, to prevent disease.Turkey Pre-Soak
After the bird soaked for a few hours, I took it inside and proceeded to wash it pull the remaining feathers out with my fingers and a pair of needle nose pliers…a tedious task, but one I’m sure everyone will appreciate come next Saturday.
I will not say that I did not kill an innocent and defenseless creature…but I will say that this animal did not die in vain and that it was not wasted. The feathers go to a friend of my Tias to become arrows, and the only thing we threw away were the intestines, the head, and the feet. While I don’t agree with not cutting the heads off completely from the get go, my Tias do feel that’s the most humane way of killing the bird, and there’s a lot of care that goes into not stressing them out and ensuring they are well fed and live a happy life until it’s their time to go under the knife. Bottom line, it is their farm.
I do believe that I am too far removed from my food and I don’t like the taste of chemicals and hormones that is in my meat. I know there’s a lot of local farmers like my Tias around the state of Washington who produce enough for their families and enough to keep the farm going without becoming some assembly line chopping block where animals are forced to live and wallow in their own feces. I think most of us know, in our hearts, that’s no way to live.
I don’t know if it’s right or wrong to be a carnivore, but I do know I have pointy teeth and I don’t feel wrong eating meat. I would prefer not to eat food that is engineered with chemicals, regardless if it is plant or animal, and when you get down to the bottom line, everything in this universe is comprised of atoms. Masses of energy consuming one another in many forms.
I do believe that we need animals in more ways than food to keep this planet going as the natural machine that it is, and I do believe that we all have our place in it. All things live and all things die.
I would like to start hunting my own food and look forward to a day when I will be home long enough to tend my own garden. Until I get to that point, it’s nice to know my Tia has a farm, and though it may be a small start…it’s still a start for a healthier way to eat. It’s also nice to be able to get together with members of my family and work together for the benefit of each other. I had a 12 hour day filled with laughing, learning, good food, and good conversation. You can’t really get that at the grocery store.