Killing Your Food: A Sacred Rite of Passage
March 31, 2010 § 6 Comments
Here are three things about me: I love guns, hunting, and, above all, butchering. I love butchering because it’s a process that I find somewhat scientific, requiring a step-by-step, methodical approach, and that appeals to me.
As to guns and hunting, there are several reasons for that: for one, using guns is an empowering experience, especially since I grew up in Azerbaijan, which was a highly patriarchal society, and because even in the US, hunting is still very much a man’s world. Although there is a fair number of women who enjoy the sport, the ratio is still relatively low in my family, and any hunting magazine that I open, despite featuring a couple of women, is primarily filled with the pictures of men (unless, of course, you are talking Blue Press).
There are more philosophical reasons for my love for the sport – aside from the obvious satisfaction derived from harvesting my own food, and my deep love for the outdoors (which was the reason I decided to settle in the country in the first place), I very much enjoy the primal tension of the predator-prey relationship. There’s the respect for the hunted game. There’s the sacred aspect to the taking of life in order to nourish yourself and your own offspring. I could describe it as crossing the Rubicon and the Styx at the same time – the Rubicon because once you’ve fired a shot or sliced a knife across, let’s say, a chicken’s throat, you are committed to killing them quickly and efficiently, but, above all, to killing them, period. Like the Rubicon, it’s a point of no return. It’s a profound mystery, every bit as mind-shattering as giving birth, and I am grateful to have experienced both. Having thus directly participated in the greater circle of life, my connection with my food has been more intimate than ever. I believe it’s a valuable experience to have if you are serious about what you eat and where your food comes from.
Interestingly enough, I have only done slaughtering and hunting for the first time this past fall, although for years I’ve been a dedicated and enthusiastic participant in chicken and deer butchering. But last year, when we were helping with the Driftless Folk School chicken butchering class, I finally got over myself and killed seven of the chickens. Because it was a daunting task, the Jewish-American dread-locked farmer who taught me how to do it instructed me to take a deep breath and say “Thank-you” at the exhale, while gliding the knife smoothly across a chicken’s quivering neck. Which, by the way, can sometimes result in being sprayed by chicken poop if you don’t know what you are doing (that is, fail to hold down their tail immediately after killing them), as they release their final… you know.
Not that I’d flinch at such a thing. In fact, I not-so secretly take pride in not being squeamish. Can you tell from my smile? I bet you can. But don’t flinch you either, gentle reader, those chickens were totally worth it.
They always are.
Note that quack grass can be an innovative solution to the absence of kitchen twine if you are trying to truss a chicken in a pinch and are in a habit of letting a few weeds grow.
As to hunting, I got into it somewhat by accident. For the first time in its history, the Drifltess Folk School offered a hunter’s safety class this past October (required to buy a hunting license for everyone born after 1973), and I jumped at the opportunity. Normally, hunter’s safety classes are made up of 40-50 students, the larger proportion of whom are twelve-year-olds – the minimum age for buying a hunting license in Wisconsin. The DFS class, however, had the total enrollment of eight, seven of whom were adults (plus a very nice fourteen-year-old girl). It was a blast. Having never really handled firearms in nearly 29 years of life, this was a revelation. I’ve fallen in love with guns and there was no going back. I love the focus and the precision required of a marksman, and just the general feel of steel in my arms.
In fact, I didn’t take the class with the goal to hunt deer – but as the season approached, I found that I wanted to do it. It all started with one hot date we had with Jacob in the woods soon after I finished the class. Beautiful autumn glow, golden leaves, .22’s, and…
I would say blaze orange is definitely my color…
I must say I am yet to learn to appreciate squirrel meat, but they are just so fun to hunt that I am fully intending to give it a try again. By the way, if you and your honey are into guns, by all means consider doing this together – so far, this is the best kind of date I’ve ever had.
After I nailed my first squirrel, I told Jacob that I thought I was now ready to move on to bigger quarry…
(Not exactly a glamor shot of me… but hey! I like to think that whatever I lost in beauty, I gained in marksmanship.)
This baby was dropped on my sixth time in the woods. It fell down dead on the second shot, which went where it should, through the heart, securing me the kind of “quick, clean kill” that any hunter’s safety instructor worth his salt will encourage you to strive for.
But then winter came, the game season closed, not to mention the deep snow in the fields, and I decided to lay down my big guns and turn my attention to the unprotected pest species in my own backyard, which is when I got into shooting starlings and sparrows. The small difficulty is in the fact that I don’t actually have many sparrows on my farm, hardly any to speak of (believe it or not), but I do have starlings regularly congregating around my most prized bird-feeder – the deer torso tied up in a cherry tree – the most natural suet anywhere.
You’d think the birds wouldn’t be snobbish about where their food comes from, but they are, and all the woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees completely boycott the storebotten suet cake and go straight for the deer carcass. And that, unfortunately, includes starlings. That is, this fact was unfortunate until I got into guns this past fall, and now it’s quite fortunate, for they offer a wonderful way to practice, and the deer carcass is now in the bait category.
But there doesn’t have to be something living and breathing on the other end to get me to want to pull the trigger repeatedly – I derive great pleasure from target practice. Beer cans tied in trees are an especially wonderful target. (That would be empty beer cans. EMPTY.)
And even if a beer can has zero nutritional value, hitting them is still every bit as pleasing to the ego.