Features

To Kill A Chicken: The Tim Lawrence Story

PHOTO BY TIM LAWRENCE

By Tim Lawrence
CONTRIBUTOR

One Wednesday evening a few weeks past, my
friend, resident and housemate Sophie Maloney’10,
asked me, “Hey, they’re slaughtering a chicken at
Angelic Organics tomorrow morning. Could I borrow
your car? Would you want to come?” My answer was
obvious: “When do we leave?”
Driving down the country roads while I sipped
on my second cup of coffee, Sophie explained the
circumstances for killing the chicken. There was a
group of seventh and eighth graders from a Montessori
school camping there overnight. This morning they
would help to slaughter a chicken, and tonight they
would cook and eat it — an occurrence that happens
at most once a year at the Angelic farm.
Until this morning, I had never experienced the
killing of an animal. I was intrigued by the idea,
something once so fundamental to the human
experience. Something so far removed from
my suburban upbringing. On top of that, I’d
be witnessing the reaction of these children
to what could be their first experience of
death. I wondered how we would fare this
morning.
There is a whole process involved in
killing a chicken and making it ready to
cook. First, the chicken is not fed for a day,
so that it is not filled with food remnants.
Then it is killed, and the common practice
is to slit its throat while it is upside down
to let it drain of blood. Next it is put into a
bath of boiling water for a short time. Then,
the feathers are plucked and it is ready to be
made into a meal.
Arriving at the farm, we were greeted by
Deb, who was leading the day’s events. She
gathered the children and headed to the
barn to collect the rooster. As we entered
the barn, one of the children declared, “Time to die
chicken!” Another, “Why does he have to die?” Deb
grabbed the rooster, allowed the children to pet it and
found a volunteer to carry him.
The whole group ended up under a tree. Deb led a
discussion, asking the children to think why they were
grateful to the chicken. The children thought of such
ideas as food for them, protecting the women chicken,
eggs and fertilizer. Finding these proper
thanks, Deb took the chicken back into her arms.
We hung the chicken by its feet. The chicken was
calm as Deb held him upside down in front of the
children watching. A girl volunteered to hold him in
place. The chicken gave a flutter and a few squawks.
The girl held him there only a little longer. Soon a
teacher took over.
Deb took out her knife. It was a kitchen knife,
one that had probably been used for vegetables that
morning and would be used again tomorrow. She slit
the throat of the chicken. It fluttered and jerked.
The knife had not found the main artery. She slit
again. The artery was still lost. She dug into the hole
of its neck, found a dark red length of innard, pulled
it forward with her index finger and slid the knife
through it. Blood.
In the moments after, she invited the children to
touch the body growing increasingly cool. One boy,
who had been narrating the morning’s activities with
intermittent bursts of excitement and horror, began
poking the hole of the neck with a stick. He poked it
with his finger. “Ew,” he said, “blood.” He proceeded to
taunt the girls with the dark red of his finger.
A girl volunteered to carry the chicken to the
boiling water. Its head almost grazed the grass as she
held onto its feet. A short bath, and it was ready for
plucking. At that point, my 10 a.m. lecture called me
back to campus.
Throughout history, man has hunted and eaten wild
animals. For part of that history, he has raised his own
animals (in environments and on diets similar
to their natural ones) for sustenance. It is in
modern times that we see the factory farming
of animals, forcing animals to live and eat in
an unnatural way. Animals are now made to
grow bigger and more quickly in smaller spaces
and worse conditions in order to maximize
meat output. It makes for a low quality and
unhealthy life for the animals, and low quality
and unhealthy food for people.
Killing a chicken, as we did at Angelic
Organics, is a natural act. This chicken had
been raised in the out of doors, eating grubs
and feed in the fresh air. It had thanks said
over it, as it was patted and adored in its final
moments. It was killed to teach and feed a
group of young students.
On the return trip, my coffee gone, I
wondered what the children would take from
such an experience. I had not thought deeply
about where my food came from until reading “The
Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, required
reading for Beloit’s entering class of 2012. And not
even until now, my senior year, had I killed food
for myself. I wondered how these children would
understand the events of this morning; how they
would see their food hereafter.
Thank you, Sophie, for this experience.

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