After a 26-hour cross-country road trip from Texas to Virginia, my two friends and I arrived at our buddy’s farm in the early afternoon. He greeted us with a smile and asked if we were ready to slaughter some chickens. Over the next 2 hours we learned the entire process: catching the chickens, slitting their throats, plucking and dressing. I have to admit that it was difficult for me to make my first fatal cut (as they say, the first one really is the hardest), but, by chicken number 30, the killing wasn’t much different than any other job. We ate the birds two days later at my friends wedding reception (the reason for our road trip). It was the first time I had eaten an animal that I’d killed.
When I got back from my trip, I told several friends and family members about my chicken killing experience. I wasn’t surprised that many of them were uncomfortable with the idea of killing an animal, but what surprised me was their apparent disgust of my having eaten the very animals I had dispatched. The most resonating of these comments came from a friend of mine who said “I prefer not to think about the fact the the food I eat was killed.”
This experience caused me to think about how we view food in industrialized countries like America. Walking through the open markets SE Asia, I became acutely aware that many people in the world are much more familiar and comfortable with the knowledge that the seasoned chunks of protein on their plate came a living, breathing creature. Dead chickens and fish hung proudly in racks on the food stands, live animals paced about anxiously in their cages, turtles were being killed and de-shelled and there were even dogs for sale (although no one buying them was looking for a new pet). All of this was in stark contrast to the nice, neat meat display at my local grocery store where chicken breasts sit proudly in their Styrofoam containers alongside lean ground beef and trimmed steaks.
What does this separation from the source do to our society’s approach to food? Would you eat less beef if you knew the cow it came from? What if you had to kill that cow? How much of that leftover chicken would go to waste if you understood the work it took to catch, kill, pluck and dress? Perhaps a greater understanding of where our food comes from and how it got on our plate would help to cure some of our current food ills, or at least give us a new appreciation for the fact the we don’t have to kill our dinner. After all, the chicken may or may not have come before the egg, but it definitely beat the Styrofoam.