It was the morning of my 35th birthday and on that morning I realized in all of those revolutions around the sun, I had never once killed, nor butchered anything for food. I was admittedly very anxious about the prospect, but Farmer Ben Brown of Sonny’s Farm near Leland, offered to teach me in exchange for help butchering.
Ben is a gentle farmer, and I cannot think of anyone better to guide you through the process of your first processing experience. That said, walking up on the scene, taking up a knife, and starting the process of butchering forced me stop second guessing myself and focus on the doing.
I had never handled a freshly killed animal. I thought it would feel wrong. That I would be repulsed by the experience. Instead, I felt the still-warm body and recognized this being as something I’ve spent many years eating, completely segregated from this part of the process. It was a startling awareness. The killing and butchering were something that anyone could do, and yet, I had grown up without any knowledge of the process. How did we end up so far removed from our food? Our source of nourishment? To the degree that we can actually say, “Oh, I could never kill a chicken,” while planning on a rotisserie for dinner?
Suddenly I realized the disconnect was what I loathed, far more than any other aspect of handling the fresh kill. I was empowered, enamored with the connection I felt to this animal, this process. Though I had spent the previous night an anxious mess over the anticipation, at the first cut, it felt so simple, so concrete, and far more humane than leaving it to chance that my chicken might come from farm to plate with some shred of dignity and at the close of a life well lived.
And now I know I can do it, and best of all I’ve lifted the veil on my food. And in that, I have less of a craving for meat. Not because it’s gross to butcher; it’s not. But because I know all of the work that goes into the process. I’ve always tried to be aware of which farms grow my food, and have avoided meat if I wasn’t sure how the animal was raised, but now I am also keenly aware of something more. Of the delicate, artful, and connected process by which that meat is raised and becomes our food. I have the chickens and a farmer to thank for that.