By Ariel Duran, Phase I Fellow
When we arrived at AMI, we were told that we would be responsible for raising broiler chickens that we would eventually process during one of our workshops. Participating in the processing day was encouraged, but optional. Given people's comfort levels, we could choose to participate as we wished.
During the time leading up to the workshop, we cared for the chickens, watching them grow from chicks weighing a few ounces to larger birds weighing a few pounds. On the day of processing, we were led through each step by Jason Myers-Benner of Tangly Woods Farm. Beyond giving excellent instructions, Jason really helped us understand our connection to the animals we chose to raise for our food.
We started off speaking openly about our experience and comfort levels with the task at hand. However much we talked about the act of taking the life of an animal for food, there is not much that can prepare someone for actually doing it the first time. In my case, I had experience assisting in processing a pig and a lamb but had never actually slaughtered before. Jason demonstrated on the first chicken. As a cohort of meat eaters, we all watched. I could tell everyone felt some emotion and for some, a sense of understandable discomfort.
Personally, I also felt discomfort at seeing a life end. As someone who grew up in a family that ate meat at most meals, I felt I needed to be able to do this if I were to continue eating meat. The first chicken I slaughtered was not easy. As I picked it up and carried it to be killed, I almost did not want to let go. My heart racing, I did the job as quickly and carefully as I could to minimize stress on both me and the chicken.
In total, I processed four chickens and none of them were easy. But, I don’t think killing anything should be easy. Being responsible for ending a life should require that you consider the importance of the animal and why you think it is necessary to kill it. Now, knowing the work and sacrifice that is required for one or a few meals, I appreciate each animal more.
As a group, we went on to complete the processing of 21 chickens, from slaughter, to de-feathering, to evisceration. Sharing the responsibility of caring for these chickens and then processing them for food for each other has shown me how valuable each animal is.
Although these chickens are not for sale and only for our use, I wondered how these chickens would be valued by a consumer who might only see a price and a meal. I wondered if that value would be considered fair by the people who raised the chickens.
I did not grow up eating organic, humanely, or sustainably raised meat. I cannot say with confidence that all of the animals I've eaten have been cared for with the same care we put in for our chickens. I can say that being able to raise and process an animal for food has made me want to support those who do raise their animals with the same care we showed.