I ate chicken! 🙂
Now this is not normally a problem for most people. You go to the supermarket or the KFC closest to your home; you buy yourself a pound of breast or thigh or whatever cut you like best and you stuff it in your mouth, maybe cooking it first if you’ve chosen the supermarket.
But let’s take a different look at this now. What happens when instead of getting your chicken out of a shop (where chickens don’t actually grow) you get it from the chicken coop in the back garden? Well, here things change a little, since you must kill your chicken first, then pluck it and gut it, and then finally cook it, hopefully for a very long time, because it’s going to be tough meat if you’ve gotten one of the old hens. A nice long braise is a good option, for example, or a soup. 🙂
So, this is actually an issue that I’ve been trying to reconcile myself with for a while now. I certainly do eat meat; I love the stuff, although I don’t eat that much of it since I consider it a treat, something to eat from time to time in moderate amounts to provide a bit more flavour to dishes or to add some [very tasty] protein, although from time to time I also pig out on a juicy T-bone steak. Anyway, I know that steaks, drumsticks, or whatever meat I eat does not grow on Styrofoam trays, and I also know that it comes from beasts that were once alive. In order to eat them, they must be killed.
When I get my meat from the supermarket or most butchers I know nothing about the beast I’m eating or the meat itself except its colour and maybe the packaging date, but I don’t know where it comes from, how it was treated, what it ate, how many times or what it was injected, how it was killed, whether it lived a good life or not before getting killed, or whether it lived happily in the field with its family around it or in isolation in a pen… All these are issues that should be important to a conscientious consumer trying to be mindful of their actions, so I’ve always wanted to become a little more involved in the whole process by participating in the actual killing of the beast and it’s gutting, quartering and processing. The ultimate step I’d like to achieve and that which I think may be the hardest is that of also rearing the animal, which is when you can get attached to it and may have a harder time when it comes to killing and eating it, but that’s something I definitely won’t be doing while I’m still travelling.
So, in short, I’m a meat eater and I know it, I accept it, and I want to reconcile myself with the fact by participating more in the whole process involved in the eating of meat and learning more about the implications of my meat cravings and the actual animal on my plate . I think that by buying the meat in packaged form (not to mention when it’s also pre-cooked), we have it so easy that we become detached from the death that is implicit to the whole process and all the other implications of the purchase, such as the need for industrial, large-scale farms and processing plants that cause many environmental problems and poor quality of life for the animals (at least in urban settings). There are some people who don’t care about any of this, or who openly admit that they love meat and eat it all the time, but are incapable of killing a beast or don’t want to have anything to do with guts and blood. I like to call these people “carnivore hypocrites”, because apparently they are not willing to accept the implications of their actions and act only as directed by their cravings and whims without caring for the effects these have on others. I like to think of it as the way nature works, since in nature there are also carnivorous animals that eat other animals that they kill, and I also like to consider a more spiritual way of thinking about our meat, maybe something like the indigenous peoples who first ask forgiveness for the killing of an animal and only do it when they need to do so for better nutrition, but who respect and care for the animals at all other times and acknowledge that they have the same right to existence on this planet as we do.
And after this extended philosophical rant, I’ll describe the actual process we followed to bring the hen that we ate last night to our plates. Some of the description and photos below might seem a bit grizzly to the faint-hearted, so be aware if you choose to keep on reading!
First of all we had to choose our victim. All of these are old hens that aren’t laying any more, so any of them would do. The cock was the largest of them all, but he’s the only male on the farm so that unfortunately was a no no. The rest of the process was kind of like choosing a car, we started to discuss anatomy, then colour, and finally we got one of the girls, Alixe, to choose it and she went for a white one, which after a while and some effort we managed to capture.
So once she was ours we took her home, still alive, to carry on the rest of the process in situ and thus avoiding rigor mortis and other nasty effects of death that would have made the subsequent steps more difficult. Once home we had to decide who would do the killing. I was up for the job, but Alixe wanted to have a go too so I decided to just film it instead, thinking that I’ll have plenty more opportunities to fulfil my dream during my travels (I’d already killed a chicken in Costa Rica, but that was because it was sick and we wanted to end its suffering, it never made it to the pot). So Anaël gave a detailed description of how to pull a chicken’s neck back and off, stressing the off part as important in order to bleed the chicken and clean the meat. I’ve heard of other techniques such as chopping the head off with something sharp and also slitting a vein over the chicken’s temple, but we were going for the more barbaric method. Apparently they don’t suffer, since if you do it firmly and with conviction it’s all over in a flash and they don’t even feel anything. So Alixe started to prepare herself for the job, but couldn’t really get round to it, and after about 10 minutes of saying sorry to the hen for what she was about to do, she gave it a minimal tug and then let go of it completely, which is when Anaël came in to finish it off properly. He did ask me if I wanted to do it first, which I did, but since I was filming it really had to wait until next time.
Once the chicken was dead and bled we moved into the kitchen for the plucking phase. More than plucking what we did was skin the chicken directly, which is easier and less messy than dunking it in boiling water and getting yourself burned.
The only thing separating us now from the phase your chicken is at when you buy it from the supermarket was gutting it, which I was also very interested in because I’ve never done it before (and I come from a family of farmers, what a disgrace!). This has to be done carefully, and in this case we did it by cutting the bird open at the breast in order to remove all the innards slowly and with great care not to pierce the gallbladder or the intestines. We managed to not make a mess of it and there we had it, a clean carcass to quarter and make soup with. We made a delicious lentil soup, and verified that indeed, backyard hen’s meat is tough as a rock, but full of flavour and very nutritious! 🙂