Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Accidental Vegetarian, VI

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I will not embarrass myself by praying for a higher moral consciousness, but I now feel I would stray beyond the borders of my better nature unless I participated in the process of the beast becoming food. That's why I do not begrudge the hunter or the angler who eats what is killed. I even think those who humanely raise animals for food, and slaughter them and prepare the meat, do not stray into the territory I refuse to enter, that place where we are isolated from the flesh of a living being by clear plastic wrap or a Styrofoam container.

I remember this: on a childhood dare, I once visited a slaughterhouse. In France, as it happened to be, in that country where horse meat is table fare. The great beast entered – I remember it as an old Percheron near black in color, worn down by years in the field – and stood patient, nickering slightly at blood stench, before being dispatched into a heap of bones and memory.

And I remember chickens. Dozens of peeps, almost all clinging to life, arriving boxed on a crisp spring morning, emptied under a heat lamp to scurry toward the day three months later when my father would dispatch them one by one as my brother caught them and my mother set upon the crimson task of cleaning them for the freezer.

My father preferred the ax, but if a person is resolute, it's bloodless to grasp the bird by the head and swing it quickly in circles, but be prepared for the life force to shiver away in our hand. The ax too is not a pleasant thing, and the hot brassy smell of the sacrifice will linger. As will the smell of the butchering – a knife, open the chicken from breastbone to anus – avoid slicing open the stomach or the gut – spread the carcass and wash out the body cavity. But first my mother and father shared the task of using boiling water to loosen the feathers – dip the carcass, and then pull feathers handful by handful, again, and once more. The musty, acidic odor of the wet feathers will mix with the hot brassy smell of the blood.

To be continued.

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