I recently received an extraordinarily eloquent email from a former guest & cooking class student, twelve year old Noah, sharing his emotional experience slaughtering a chicken at camp. (We met Noah & the rest of his family last year when they came to cook, he was one of the most engaged & well-informed students we ever had, no matter the age.) This is worth the read and even more amazing when you realize he is just a kid, who understands more about where his food comes from & his connection to it than most adults grocery shopping for their families.
His words perfectly capture my feelings, not only the heart-pounding experience of our first chicken slaughter but why we proudly raise our animals to eat.
Here is an excerpt of Noah's essay:
Life is a journey, ups and downs included. Along that way, sudden realizations spring across your path, and there is no other option but to experience and consequently be changed by them. One of those striking moments happened to me at Farm and Wilderness camp last summer, when I slaughtered a chicken.
Without electricity and not much contact with the outside world, growing our own food was a necessity, and that included slaughtering our own meat. Doubtfully, I scribbled my name on a list spotted with grimy fingerprints, feeling like it was my own death sentence instead of a bird's. One misty Sunday later I stood under a tent, watching others kill, pluck, and butcher their chickens. The line shortened, and suddenly I was next. The chicken was on the stump, its fiery plumage dully gleaming with the glare of midday. My axe was raised, and I swung. I will never forget what it felt like.
The axe burrowed deep into the wood, and where a living thing stood before there was now just unprocessed meat.
With tears on my face, we went through the process, and in less than 10 minutes, a living chicken was turned into one of the carcasses that are kept in the refrigerated meats section at a grocery store. This was the true price of food, a lesson hard learned but important. After, I saw the food on my plate with more gratitude and respect than before. I decided that, as a chicken eater, I should experience how it gets on my plate. Before camp, I had never made the connection between "farm and fork." Chickens, as well as other meats and produce, went into one end of the agribusiness factories as raw materials and came out the other end as things I could eat. I had read the Omnivore's Dilemma for Kids many times, but to see what was meticulously described was completely different.
I realized what the true price of food was and it isn't $3.99 a pound.
It is hours of work, having to get up at 6:00 am on cold rainy mornings to feed the chickens, and, ultimately, an animal's life. To quote Michael Pollan, "meat doesn't come in sealed plastic bags." But with that understanding came another feeling, a feeling of pride. Not because I had killed a chicken, but because I had taken responsibility for eating it. I had no longer averted my eyes while someone else slaughtered the chicken I ate, and no longer paid someone else for taking care of it for four months. I took full responsibility for that chicken's life and I had every right to eat it. Before I felt guilty because I had benefited in the results of others work while never doing the work myself, but now I was as qualified as anyone.
It took hours of work, countless mornings getting up at still-dark hours, and the life of a chicken for me to feel proud about what I eat and learn the true price of food. It is a lesson that should be learned by all people living on Earth, because it's what is keeping us alive.
For now, my conscience and my stomach are both satisfied.
-Noah the Foodie
|That's Noah on the left with his mom & grandparents|
That coming from a 12 year old!
Noah continues to take weekly cooking lasses and it seems that his interest in food and cooking is just growing stronger! He may just be the next Michael Pollan....