01/17/2014 08:37 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

That Time I Helped Slaughter A Turkey

First appeared on Food Riot, by Danguole Lekaviciute

I don't know if my willingness-nay, near-enthusiasm-to help slaughter an animal is more surprising or less surprising given that I was a vegetarian for 6-7 years.

Should it be surprising at all, though? This is just the other side of the "wrestling with the idea of eating an animal" coin (part of a "First World Problems" collectible coin set, natch).

Accepting and confronting the truth of consuming a formerly-living thing that used to make noise and flit about in the dirt is something about which I've long had preachy-ish tendencies. Remember when fellow Rioter Caitlin reminded us that when we freak out upon seeing a chicken foot in, oh, a package of chicken, there's a problem? "But to deny that the things we're eating are animals (or to expect food purveyors to do it for us) is disrespectful to the animals that died so we could eat." Amen, sister.

Since I've been saying the same thing for a long time, when the opportunity arose to put my money (i.e. shaky knees and queasy stomach) where my self-righteous mouth is, I jumped at the chance. How did I get here? Well, no one returns a favor quite like a friendly permaculturalist farmer: if you teach him how to knit, he will graciously let you come along on a turkey butchering adventure.

Said adventure began when Nathan (friendly farmer) and I pulled up to his poultry-raising friends' house and they led us to the backyard, where a few chickens and Iris (the star of this show) were, you know. Hangin' out, bein' birds.

There was sunshine. There was room to roam. There was an air of love, care, and appreciation of the give-and-take, cyclical nature of the human-animal relationship. We all leisurely stood around in a sunny backyard, chatting about how beautiful Iris was and how much the owners enjoyed the experience of raising turkeys (apparently they have great personalities, and at least so far, I agree).

After a round of smiling, appreciative goodbyes, into the Sterilite crate Iris went. I sat with her in the backseat on the ride back to Nathan's farm just on the outskirts of the city, holding her in place. Not that it was necessary: she was sweet, curious, and content to just chill under my arm. I already liked her road trip companionship more than that of some humans (love you, Mom, but YOU KNOW HOW YOU ARE).

Back at the farm, again, we took our time, initially doing not much at all-just spending some of a gorgeous winter afternoon with a turkey, talking about her, and yes, a little to her. One might think it's a lunatic thing to do, but when you have a living creature making eye contact and inquisitively pecking at your palm, you don't go taking its life without thanking it first. Feels wrong.


Eventually, at go time, upside down and into a cone Iris went. Apparently, this leads to a headrush, which in turn leads to a daze. I could see this clearly as her head poked out of the other side, and even as she bled after Nathan carefully severed her jugular, she stayed peaceful, save for the expected thrashing toward the end of the process. It still wasn't easy to watch, of course, but compared to her time spent being fed, cared for, and loved in a sunny backyard with fresh air, spacious accommodations, and even regular petting, it didn't last very long at all. We dunked her in a big vat of hot water, and after plucking, she was ready to hang to cure for a while-I've yet to help gut and butcher anything properly, but it's probably all for the best. Baby steps.

I'd been afraid I would never eat turkey (and possibly any meat) again. No such thoughts crossed my mind during or since this experience, but it did cement my almost-unquestioning habit of essentially buying the most expensive meat I can find (read: not buying it very often). Meat is not supposed to be this cheap; the resources it took to raise such a gorgeous bird and properly butcher her don't even come close to what you pay for a Butterball. And if we give any serious thought to this sort of thing and accept the reality of killing animals for food, it's likely that when we envision our turkey dinners' ideal pre-food life and final minutes, we want to see the scenes described here.

Of course, I'd hate to suggest (and am not suggesting) that meat should only be reserved for those who can afford to subsidize ethics, or who have the time, space, and resources needed to raise their own animals. This is a complicated problem that many, many intelligent people are trying to solve.

For now I'll just say this: if you've never had an opportunity to be part of the animal-to-dinner transition, or at least to come face to face with pre-food, I recommend seeking one out, if only for the perspective. And especially if the pre-food in question is as cool as Iris was.


Iris. Gone but not forgotten!

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