Saturday, September 8, 2007
Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, the Headless Chicken
I killed my first chicken today. Well, 141 chickens to be specific. Okay, I didn't actually kill any of them, Sam and Tom did most of the killing. But I scalded and plucked the majority of the 141 and even cut off the feet of a few. It was far less disgusting than I had imagined...really.
I was a vegetarian for almost 15 years. I gave up eating meat for Lent one year when I was living in the dorms in college and just never went back. I hardly missed it, to tell the truth. Except for bacon. I really missed bacon. For years I lived out in the country and raised my kids and even raised chickens, ducks, a few goats, a calf or two, and didn't eat them. My ex-husband was the meat eater, but I was usually the cook, so we ate vegetarian at home and that was just fine with me. A few years ago, after my divorce, I was reflecting on many of the life choices I had made over the years. I had gone through periods of choosing not to drink alcohol in the hopes that I would inspire the alcoholics in my life to do the same. I stopped eating dairy and sugar and wheat because it was better for you. I didn't eat meat because I was a vegetarian! But why?
Every once in a while someone would ask me that question. Depending upon the crowd I was currently hanging out with, my answers ranged from: It's gross. It's unsustainable. I don't like it. I've been a vegetarian for my adult life, I don't know how to cook it. All of a sudden it dawned on me. If I ate what tasted good and made choices based on what I thought was best, I could not call myself anything and eat meat if I felt like it! Imagine that! Besides. I missed bacon. I have now been a meat eater for about 3 years. I eat it a few times a week, and I like to know where it lived and how it was taken care of before it was killed. I've even learned to cook with it.
A few months ago I joined a poultry co-op with a few friends. I no longer live on acreage in the country, so a friend agreed to house my birds, and several of us arranged to slaughter and butcher together when the 8 weeks were up. I liked the idea of raising my own meat and being so involved in the life of my food. Last night I began to dread the work ahead. I'd never killed anything. I'm not really thrilled at the sight of blood. I tend to look away during violent scenes in movies. I began to have doubts. Maybe I wasn't cut out for this meat eating business. I called my friends who are experienced homesteaders and butcher chickens often, and explained my fears. They promised I could have a job involving the least amount of blood and guts. They also listened to my worries and encouraged me to give it a try anyway. As I fell asleep, I prepared myself for the worst. Maybe I would return to vegetarianism after all.
On the drive over this morning, I got amazing clarity. If I can't participate in the slaughter of my food, I shouldn't be eating it. It just clicked. It took us 7 hours to butcher 141 chickens. When it was all over, I was hot, sweaty, disgustingly dirty, and quite satisfied. I drove home with 21 freshly processed broilers in my van. As I loaded them into my freezer at home, I was so glad that I didn't chicken out (sorry, couldn't resist). It was hard work, but we had an awful lot of fun. I remembered that my kids love the Frank Meyer song about Mike the Headless Chicken (you gotta hear it). I still have it stuck in my head. Best of all, I learned something new. Sometime ago I got the idea in my head that there were things in life that I couldn't or wouldn't ever do. As an unschooling mom, observing my kids challenge that theory on a regular basis, I'm slowly learning that I can do all kinds of things. Who knows what I'll tackle tomorrow.