So why didn't I become a vegan? Well that would mean giving up cheese. Maybe when hell freezes over that would happen as I come from a long line of Swiss dairy farmers and Dutch cheese eaters. We are cheese people, having subsisted off the stuff for centuries. My body is genetically conditioned to thrive on dairy products.
But aside from my heritage, veganism never appealed to me. It seemed too extreme and more than a little unnatural (sorry vegan friends). Humans and our Australopithecus ancestors have been omnivores for at least a couple million years. Our place in the food chain, though it has evolved from prey to predator over millions of years, has secured who we are today in the order of things. Scientists all agree that Homo Sapiens evolved into the cranium gigantors that we are today because of meat eating.
As we have moved away from slaughtering our own food in the last century, we as a culture have removed ourselves from facing the inescapable fate of all living creatures. Everything dies. It's not evil or bad. It just is. Death, by its very nature, is final and can be very violent. We need to own this instead of chasing our tails trying to avoid the inevitable. In the bigger picture, we should all just be glad that we don't live in the world of microorganisms because that is some fucked up, war zone type shit that is going on there.
Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against veganism. In a society of endless choices, veganism is one of our many options as to how we can eat in this world. Yay for diversity, I say. My problem is with vegangelicals (I just heard this word today and had to use it); those who are intolerant of any other diet other than a vegan one. I'm sorry, but that's just nuts. Who made you, vegangelical, the decider? Why do you have to be like a power-inebriated George W. waving your "I know what's best for the world" guns in the air?
Seriously, what's wrong with conscious meat eating? I'm against factory farming as much as the next vegan. I'm just not against meat per se. Vegans like to claim that meat eating is environmentally unsound and I won't argue with part of that premiss. Americans eat waaaaaay too much factory farmed, plastic wrapped, monoculture-subsidized everything. But my pastured, locally raised beef where the entire animal is consumed is probably of less environmental consequence than your Creamy Sheese imported from Scotland. Just sayin'.
But I don't really want to enter into an argument about whose lifestyle is "better". I'd rather be an advocate for thoughtful meat consumption because I'm going to continue to choose to eat meat regardless of vegangelical proselytizing. My hope is that by raising our own animal products here at Itty Bitty that we can encourage other meat eaters to think more about where their meat comes from, how it was raised, what it was fed, how it was killed, etc. and come to make better choices based on this knowledge.
On that note, I'd like to share my experience from this past weekend of facing the realities of meat eating (WARNING: graphic photos to follow). The awesome folks over at Dog Island invited me to learn the ins and outs of chicken harvesting. Considering the botched job I did with my first kill, I felt the need to get a grip on how to do this with as little suffering as possible.
Folks have a lot of different ways to take out a chicken. Some take the hens by the head and whip them around like a lasso, breaking the neck. Others just twist and pull. Some sever the head, while others hang the bird upside down in a killing cone and cut the jugular. The French snip the vein under the tongue, which I hear makes the bird pass out immediately. We used two methods: the chopping block and the cone. I think I preferred the chopping block as it seemed more instantaneous. The cutting of the jugular left the animal a little too alert for a little too long for my taste. We used a noose around the neck with one person holding the string and the other person doing the deed. Here's a vague picture of the setup.
After the hen was dispatched, we dunked her into a pot of boiling water for 45 seconds. This helps with the removal of the feathers by loosening them. If you leave the bird in too long though, the skin will tear.
Next came the plucking. The bird was hung upside down over a trash bin to make the job clean and easy.
Even with the scalding, it's still hard to get all the feathers. Also chickens have hairs under their feathers. We took care of those with a blow torch.
Next we severed the feet from the rest of the leg at the joint.
Then it was time to deal with the insides. The tricky part is slicing the skin near the cloaca without cutting into the intestines. I highly recommend having a pro illustrate the proper way to do this as it is something difficult to convey in words and pictures.
After a large enough incision is made, you have to stick your hand up into the body cavity and pull everything out in one go. This can be difficult if you have a big hand. If you are one of the more well endowed in this area, you might want to consider finding a small handed friend. I have slender, but long hands for a lady and even I bruised my knuckles against the rib cage. That big thing in the upper right corner is the gizzard.
With the innards out, you still need to scrape out the lungs and get the heart. The lungs are a trippy fluorescent pink and difficult to pull out.
Once you get the back end cleared, you need to address the crop and trachea, which can only be taken out through the top of the bird. The crop is squishy and easy to puncture. Peeling it out rather than pulling gets the job done with less trouble. The trachea looks like a snorkel tube.
After the evisceration, we put the bodies in ice water where they would rest for a day before being stored in the freezer. This lets the body go through rigor mortis until it eventually relaxes within 24-48 hours.
This process certainly wasn't easy, but it has given me greater appreciation for the food I eat and has furthered me along my path of more conscientious meat consumption.
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