Some people call it “harvesting.” Others – more directly – “butchering.” We call it smiting. As in, smite the ducks. As in what the pharaoh did to his various enemies. We do this to add some levity to what is a serious thing.
And – of course – the ducks are far from being our enemies.
They are our food. And we are thankful for the food they provide. We just smote two of our ducks the other day and they are now handsomely resplendent in the ‘fridge, awaiting their even more handsome and resplendent appearance on the dinner table.
Duck (and chicken) smiting is not for everyone. It wasn’t easy for me, either. I don’t think it should be easy. And not just because it is the taking of life, a serious thing. A thing that – hopefully – makes you think.
I think it is too easy to just go to the store and pick up “meat” – as I have, many times – and not have to think that it was once a living being. To be able to disconnect what you eat from what it was – and what it means.
I knew the ducks I smote. I raised them. Fed them and watered them, every day, for months. I got to know them and they got to know me. It was not easy to end their lives. I know where the meat that is now in the ‘fridge came from and what it took to get it there.
This makes me more appreciative of it – and of them. The “meat” did not just fall from the sky, like manna. It is hard work to raise your own food. To care for the living creatures we are responsible for.
Italics to emphasis an important thing, I think.
I know our birds had a good life and – much more important to me – that they did not have a bad life. That their lives were not a serial torment from the moment they emerged from their shells. That – instead of living in a cramped and filthy pen – they lived free to roam (and swim). To eat what came naturally.
To feel the sun.
And when the time came for their lives to end, they were ended quickly and as painlessly as possible. They were not roughly stuffed into cramped cages with their fellows, to be trucked to a distant assembly-line abattoir for “processing,” as the euphemism styles it. They were smote within a minute or so of being picked up. And “smote” is just a euphemism, too. What we actually do is scoop up a bird (one at a time) and (very quickly) sit down with it on the grass, the bird between my legs to hold it still. With my left hand holding the bird’s head, I use my right to quickly slice its throat. Unconsciousness is probably nearly instantaneous.
And then, it’s over.
The hard part. Once dead, the birds we knew are meat. But also more than just meat. They are a bounty for which we are grateful in a profound and serious way that never attends the purchase of something wrapped in plastic that is just meat. There is a communion of sorts involved and while the birds may not have wished to be a party to it, we thank them for it, as hunters often do after taking a deer. It invites reflection about the nature of things and our place in it – as well as theirs.
That life requires death – and death gives life.
I also know that what we eat hasn’t been injected with anything. Is truly “natural” – and not just a marketing logo on a package. And I know how it tastes – which (if you haven’t tasted it) is a taste that is nothing like the taste of store-bought meat, which has been through god-knows-what and is the end result of a chain-of-events you’d probably rather not know about.
I know, also, that I didn’t just spend $100-plus on a couple of store-bought ducks. That being the going rate, last time I checked. And I know that raising them wasn’t free, either – certainly not in terms of the time it took. But I know that we will have meat this winter – because our birds don’t come from the store. Neither do the eggs we eat every day. If the store hasn’t got any eggs – or meat – or we can’t afford to buy eggs or meat from the store – we’ll still have eggs and meat, right here.
And that is worth a great deal more than whatever it would have cost us to buy a couple of ducks at the store.
. . .
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