Monday, September 19, 2011

An Open Letter to James McWilliams: On Hatching a Plan to Get the Real Inexpert Killers - Cats

Dear James,

Boy was I surprised to see that little ol' me made it into one of your articles in the Atlantic. I wouldn't have even known about it if it weren't for someone leaving a comment on my blog. She was nice enough to post a link so I clicked over to see your article on backyard animal slaughter and I thought "Hot diggity damn, we must have taken down the hideous beast that is the industrial meat processing complex!" I mean why else would we be talking about a handful of "inexpert" urban farming enthusiasts, like myself, killing a few chickens and rabbits when professional chicken slaughtering facilities botch well over 1 billion kills per year. During the process of shipping poultry in cramped cages there are around 54 million per year that either die from being heated or frozen to death during transportation; then the poor cluckers are hung by chains where 900 million have their wings broken; the final phase includes dunking them in an electrocution bath, sending them assembly line to a rotary blade that slices their necks, and dipping them into scalding water to ease feather plucking during which time 180 million birds are either improperly electrocuted and/or sliced and then are essentially scalded alive. I'm the kind of gal that keeps up with what's going on in our food system so news as big as overthrowing this horrendous operation surely couldn't have escaped my notice. And after a Google search, I see that it hasn't happened. Well that's disappointing, thought not exactly surprising given Big Ag's strangle hold on government policy.

So why were you writing about me? I mean I'm flattered and all, but I've got exactly 990 well appreciated fans. Not much of a pulpit, I'd say.

Well I read on, but I didn't see my name anywhere. Damn dude, if you're going to give a girl press, you could at least give me my props. I got to a passage where the words sounded familiar and suddenly I was jolted back to that horrific day when I had to kill sweet Pearl, my incurably sick laying hen. Yeah, that was a bad day. Having never killed an animal before, a beginner so to speak, or "inexpert" as you like to put it, which I might say is a synonym for beginner, but then I'm no linguist - I didn't do such a graceful job. Thanks for the memories, buddy.

And then I thought, what the hell does fucking up ending a life that was already enduring "immense suffering" have to do with backyard slaughtering for food? 'Cause like Pearl was diseased and shit and looked really fucked up. No one was going to eat her. She was never intended for the proverbial chopping block either. She was just supposed to lay real nice eggs and have feathers on her feet which I thought was a really neat thing  - to have feathers on your feet, that is. I mean I'd want to have feathers on my feet if I could grow them. Wouldn't you? It's not like I'm proud of the fact that I suffocated a chicken. I really thought this was evident and that the brutally detailed writing of the incident was like a warning to others to not do what I had so ineptly done. But since she had been slowly suffocating for days and days, gasping for air at 3-5 second intervals, I'm not sure that hastening her demise in the same vein was anymore of a tragic end.

Anyways, I made my way through the entire article and still I couldn't figure out what Pearl had to do with your argument. Actually, if you don't mind me asking, what was your point exactly? From what I could make out, you're saying that beginning farmers shouldn't be allowed to kill their animals because as beginners we would make a "bloody mess" so we should just leave it to the Big Ag pros to do the deed, no matter how ugly since it would be done at a "graceful distance". For reals? That's your argument? Like, did you get that off a crackhead on the street? I say this only because I can't think of anyone else who could look at the industrial slaughterhouse numbers and rationalize this. Even if we had every single man, woman, and child in the U.S. bungle one slaughter each this year, we would still have more than three times as many inhumane poultry deaths leaving it up to the pros. But unlike machines, humans have the capacity to learn from their mistakes. So wouldn't it be better if people took killing their meat into their own hands since over time there would be a lot less suffering involved?

I was even more boggled about your purpose with the incomplete Emerson quote about "graceful distance", which in full says "You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity." At this point, I had no idea what the fuck you were talking about anymore. Should we remain complicit? Or did you purposely leave off the rest of that quote so that the logical conclusion would be drawn: all meat eating is culpable in the kill? How does that serve the overall point of leaving the slaughtering up to the pros? Or are we also not supposed to go with the big guy 'cause we'd still be guilty? Are we subtly being told not to eat meat lest we commit that mortal sin against your personal ethics, veganisim, a position that you are never forthright about in your writings, but seem to consistently hint at? God, I love Wikipedia.

Aside from the fact that your argument has more holes in it than a block of Emmentaler (how are you able to keep a job at a major university espousing crap like this?), I was still stuck on the incident with Pearl and why it made it into the article. And I also wanted to know why the Atlantic used that bizarre picture of a four legged, wet hen being held inappropriately by the wings to talk about backyard animal slaughter (shit, you guys should have asked me; I've got a bunch of pics you could have purchased for like a bazillion dollars or something). So I contacted the Atlantic's research department to see if, indeed, your piece had actually been checked for accuracy:
 Attention Fact Check Department and Editors of the Atlantic:
In your recent article, "The Locavore's Mistake: Deregulating Animal Slaughter" by James McWilliams, I see there is a quote from my blog and I'm curious as to why a mercy killing made it into the piece as it has nothing to do with the author's overall argument about backyard farmers killing animals for food. This should have been more than evident to any staff member who bothered to read the entire blog post. I know it's a tedious chore, but I would assume that a longstanding, illustrious magazine such as yours would go that extra mile in an effort to preserve good journalism.
I am also confused by two other issues in the article. 1. Why is Emerson only quoted in part?  The entirety reads, "You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity." As far as I can tell, this would make no logical sense given the author's overall intent of arguing FOR a graceful distance. And 2. Why was a picture of a mutant, four-legged chicken used in association with backyard slaughter? How does this even remotely have anything to do with topic at hand? I expect this kind of journalistic sensationalism from trashy rags such as the National Enquirer, not a well reputed media outlet.
Thank you for addressing my questions. I look forward to your response.
Heidi Kooy, a.k.a. The Sadistic Chicken Suffocater

While we wait for the Atlantic to get back to me on that one, I think we, you and me James, should consider who the real menaces are when it comes to inhumane deaths: Cats. Those little bastards are some cold-hearted motherfuckers, willfully shredding birds without a care as to how they get the job done. And they are fucking wasteful. Look at what they did to my poor bird, Lilyana:

I know. Totally fucked up. There's still a lot of meat left on her. That slimy long thing below her body is actually her trachea. At first I thought the cat had decapitated her, but in fact, it had just mangled the head beyond recognition.

We could end this immeasurable cruelty, James. I'm telling you, these cats have to go. There are too many of them and they are killing hundreds of millions of songbirds and other avian species each year, according to our government. If we could round them all up, we could send them off to the industrial poultry slaughtering facilities. I know a few of those crazy cat ladies would be totally pissed off, and I'm sure my mom wouldn't take it all that well since she loves cats, but it wouldn't really be that big of a deal 'cause it would all be done at a "graceful distance". We could rename the slaughtering facilities "Causchwitz". Catchy, isn't it? Though I would like to change the method of killing for the kitties and go with something a little less bloody, like gas chambers. Once all these blasted cats are gone, then we won't have to worry about all the gruesome deaths of the poor, defenseless birds. Well, I guess there would still be raccoons and opossums... while we're at it, we could take out those guys too!

Holy shit, James! Did you see how easy that was? We went from taking an unpleasant incident to Here Kitty Kitty Goebbels in only a few sentences. You see, that's what happens when we extrapolate a Final Solution from a small number of anecdotes. One minute you're trying to end suffering and the next you're creating mini gas chambers for felines. Just goes to show you how quickly things can get out of hand.

So the next time you find yourself writing an article, think about the larger picture first. Am I trying to end cruel practices or am I promoting a Causchwitz? Our theories can have unintended consequences, results that could be more gruesome than what we had imagined.

And I promise you that I won't go ahead with my cat gas chamber idea, though I will probably threaten my own cat, Luna, with Causchwitz since she has a horrible propensity to shit in the bathtub when she gets pissed off and I think that is nothing but rude and deserving of terrorizing, idle threats.

But I AM going to go ahead and kill my rooster. He's been crowing at midnight and that's unacceptable behavior on this farm. Don't worry, his death will be swift. I've learned much since my first time. You are more than welcome to come and help out if you are at all concerned that I might fuck up again.

Warmest Regards,
Heidi Kooy

P.S. By the way, the next time you put me in one of your articles, I would really appreciate it if you actually used my name, because when people Google "sadistic chicken suffocater", you can bet your sweet ass that I want to come up top of the list on that one. There's a resume I can build with that title. I'm just sure of it.


  1. Jesus, I can't believe this is even an issue. You want to grow your own food. You aren't bothering anyone by doing it. Why are people so threatened by this?
    Heidi, I for one, appreciate your straightforwardness and honesty, I'm glad you are fighting back.

  2. I love it! Congrats on taking a stand...and rather effectively! I haven't smiled this much at a blog post in a long time. I wonder if he picks his own soybeans to avoid the immense suffering of the rodents in the fields? Just another example of an extremist twisting a single event into an argument against those of us making an effort to be sustainable and self-sufficient.

  3. This is quite possible the most awesome post ever written on the internet EVER! You go girl!

  4. I was thinking along the same lines as Erin. I went over and read the "article" and like the crazy girl I am even attempted to read the comments. We are humans and have our place in the food chain (responsibly because we are thinking beings) and meat is a perfectly normal part of that. There is just no live and let live anymore. If a religious person was espousing theological rhetoric like that we would be up in arms but somehow someone has another idea about food and we are supposed to swallow it! The article was appallingly inaccurate and biased and merits not another wit of thought from me. I am sorry though that your humane story has been misrepresented and trotted out shamelessly for someone else's glory in twaddle. Vent your (understandable) anger and then turn your back on those types and give them no more of your precious energy.

  5. Wow, this is a great response to a very poorly written and completely inaccurate article. What we should lobby for is firing James and getting you on board!

  6. That guy comes across as an idiot on a mission, trying to save us all from ourselves. He got slammed in the comments on the article, though, so he's not fooling anyone.

    I slaughter, and I'm absolutely certain that what I do is more humane than anything produced under a factory farming model. My poultry have wonderful living conditions (including free range), a varied diet, no transportation stress, and a quick death at the end.

    If he wants to see cruelty, he needs to see what animals like cats and foxes do to poultry. Nature has no concept of a "humane" death!

  7. He gives Vegetarians a bad name. I hate high-horse douchebags. I have been a vegetarian for 30 years and APPRECIATE itty bitty farm in the city's kind and thoughtful farming. I've met the chickens and they are happy. And I've eaten the eggs (I'm lacto ovo.)

    When I need a good laugh, I turn to this blog post response and LOL. Thanks, Heidi, for an other job well done!

  8. Thanks Heidi. I plan to link to this post from my blog as well. There is so much in the mass media news lately about this kind of issue, and as far as I can tell it is all from people who tend to be vegan and animal rights activists....and oddly enough I have always felt we were all on the same side.
    I wonder if all the media recently is because there are so many that are opposed to family/urban farming practices or if it is a result of the media being swayed by Big Ag. I think I know the disappointing as it is.

  9. This is the sexiest, most awesomest, most bad-assest piece of writing I've seen in a while. You're so cool (even for a sadistic chicken suffocator, or SCS for short).

    Chai and hangouts soon?

  10. This is seriously bizarro world. It blows my mind that this is the issue The Atlantic wants to grab on to. Seriously, of all the important things to write about food production, this is what he chooses?
    You're going to end up on a PETA hit list.

  11. Awesome post! Im so sick of these so called "do-gooders" who just push their own personal agenda that has nothing to do with reality. Real life is messy, those that want to hide it go to the slaughterhouses and pretend that nothing happened. Most good people tho know where their food comes from. And some are lucky, like you to be able to know personally.

    But what I see out there in the world is a media gone wild and your blog just proved that. They dont even fact check or anything. Its all sensationalism. The good news is real people are catching on and calling them on their shit.....real people like you! Bravo.

  12. I love you more than chocolate ice cream. :) Really happy to "know" you on line. I'd let you choke my chicken any day. LMAO

  13. Found you from Dog Island Farm! And this has got to be the. Best. Post. Ever. I'm linking to you and this post shortly. Glad to meet ya, and keep on keeping on!

    All I can say about the McWilliams letter; F'n moron. Through and through.

  14. Kudos, Heidi, for a snappy and well-written response to a crappy cheap-shot article. It was a shitty way to find your blog, but I'm glad I did, and I look forward to reading about your farm... chicken-slaughters and all. Cheers, girl!

  15. Burn! Fight the good fight Heidi.

  16. The other day I watched my four cats get together to terrorize an innocent fly for hours, finally swatting it down and chewing on it, spitting it out, smacking it around, chewing on it again, etc. while it struggled with all of its little legs going in the air. After all that, they just left its mangled corpse there for *me* to deal with. No one ever talks about the immeasurable cruelty inflicted on these poor flying insects. My cats are on notice.

  17. I guess everyone is entitled to their opinion... even if their opinion is idiotic.

    Keep up the good work. I'm glad I found your blog. It's great, and I can't wait to read more!

    (PS - I just HAD to google "sadistic chicken suffocater". Your Facebook post was the first item listed, and this post was #7. Well done!)

  18. Gotta love the chicken shits (pun intended) that have to be anonymous.

  19. Excellent rebuttal this! Did you ever hear back from the magazine btw?

    I am a meat eater and I firmly believe that everyone should witness or assist with a slaughter at least once - so they appreciate where their meat comes from. I have done that and honestly hope never to have to do so again, but it has made me aware of what it is I eat, where it comes from, the quality of life it had, and how it was despatched. Therefore I eat less meat (but do still eat it), buy my meat more carefully and go to extreme lengths not to waste any of are brave to raise your own.

  20. What a great letter! One of my greatest disappoints as an adult is how few other adults in positions of authority act like... like I thought adults were supposed to as a child. What a jerk, and what a disappointing editorial process.

    I'm really sorry about your chicken... I used to babysit in the Berkeley hills, and the day raccoons left Jelly Bean looking like that was a bad one. They picked off all their chickens, one-by-one, over the course of about two weeks.

    In my years of experience with cats and chickens, sights like that tend to be raccoons. I have seen chickens mutilated like that numerous times by raccoons - who have the height advantage over chickens that cats lack, and are very very vicious (and always travel in 2s or 3s). Everyone I know with chickens (Berkeley, Sacramento, upstate NY) has had raccoon problems (and cats, whom I've never seen go after chickens). This becomes important when trying to predator-proof the cage against a predator with opposable thumbs!

  21. Everyone has to jump on the bandwagon - no matter how idiotic they are. Would love to know if you hear back from The Atlantic. Due diligence, guys, due diligence.

  22. Brilliant. I would leave a more extensive comment but I've got to go round up the neighbor's cats...

  23. Love your awesome post. Would love to hear the Atlantic's response. James is a dufous.
    BTW as noted by another person above, indeed while domestic cats totally suck, raccoons are your problem for sure. They are big enough to take your girls down and they only eat the heads as evident in your picture. The body and etc are too heavy to cart off and eat in privacy. While coons are a native species they are now nuisance wildlife due to pure human blundering. We leave our garbage out, stupid kitty lovers feed them, and they have adapted to our urban landscape. So preditor proof your girls with buried wire, stop feeding pets outside, and lock down your garbage. Keep the little bastards from reproducing.
    As far as killing-er I mean euthanizing birds, make a CO2 chamber. It is humane and cheap to make if you are going to consume your birds. I euthanize suffering animals using anesthesia gas and CO2. Its very peaceful. Backyard poultry keepers should share and help each other out so we don't have dufouses like James writing about us.
    Thanks again for the great blog. Will be following...

  24. Awesome post Heidi! I was doing research on the Animal Feed business and came across your blog...I will definietly be back to read more from you!

  25. You now have one more fan. Excellent rebuttal to a simple minded out of contex article.

  26. Love it! I just thought he was a corporate shill.

  27. I just want to second what Rob says in the comments above. Having seen what happens when meat is slaughtered, I feel deeply about making sure I appreciate meat when I do choose to eat it, and I don't waste it or take it for granted. I had to take one of my chickens to be harvested because she turned out to be a "he." I can't have Roosters in my neighborhood. I helped with cleaning the bird after it was killed but couldn't bring myself to actually kill it. The farmer who was helping me (who actually killed the chicken when I couldn't bring myself to do it) said that she helps lots of people who want to raise their own meat but who have a hard time doing the actual harvest. She said they all get together on certain days and do all the killings at once. She says it makes her emotionally tired, exhausted even, because its a hard thing for anyone to do. That made me wonder if we evolved that way on purpose. If killing is emotionally hard so that we don't overdo it. Only now, we have this "graceful" distance and its allowed us to become complete gluttons, wastefully taking more than we need, more than whats good for us or for planet in general.

    I applaud your honesty and what you are doing. More people, not less, need to raise their own food.