Since 2012 David Schaefer, along with Featherman Equipment, and I have demonstrated poultry processing at MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS. During our poultry demonstrations, David and I strive to teach humane slaughter techniques, which David calls “the Screaming Shipping”. At each fair, David and I kill, scalding, pluck, eviscerate and refrigerate eight pasture chickens, and leave little to the imagination. (If you haven’t been to a MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR, go ahead, it’s the experience of a lifetime.)
Even with three years under our belt, a 9-year-old participant surprised David and I at the 2015 Oregon Fair by innocently asking to take the stage with us at the protest. Of course, we were in agreement, and before I knew it, this youngster had torn off the head of a dead chicken and triumphantly lifted it up. The crowd hooted and applauded.
Before David and I could get together, more children approached. Some looked into the boiling water. Others grabbed a souvenir foot. A few even tore off their heads. David and I looked at each other and realized that we had definitely added a new theatrical dimension to our no-frills shoot. At the next fair in Asheville, NC, we asked parents to allow their children to come forward – and nearly a dozen did!
Although the response to this story has been overwhelmingly positive, some people are strongly opposed to children being actively involved in the transformation of animals. I would like to touch on this thorny issue a bit because I believe that many of the negative reactions to exposure of children to animal slaughter are based on two major misconceptions.
Myths about meat
The first misconception at play asserts that, because eating meat is unnecessary and immoral, killing sentient beings is neither civilized nor charitable. Refusing to kill animals does not indicate a new state of evolutionary cosmic consciousness; rather, it reveals a profound disconnection from the life-death-decay-regeneration choreography that underlies all life on Earth. Everything is being eaten and being eaten; if you don’t believe me, go lie naked in your garden bed for three days and see what eats and what is eaten between you, the bugs and the vegetables.
Let’s be clear: animals are not the only reservoir of sensitivity on our planet. All of nature vibrates with observation, language and adaptation. When the sunflowers rotate with the sun’s course in the sky, it is sensitivity. When the leaves change their chemical makeup to become less attractive to herbivores and nibbling insects, that’s sensitivity. The depository bacteria communicate by guarding every human cell; it is sensitivity. In addition, cyclicality is just as prevalent in the world as sensitivity. A compost heap, perhaps better than anything, illustrates how biological cycles require death to produce life. Having recognized that death is a part of life, we can understand that animal slaughter embodies what happens every day in the ground and in our bodies.
Proponents of the second myth argue that it is natural for a person to avoid being viscerally involved in the production and processing of food, including the slaughter of animals. This is, historically speaking, completely aberrant. It is only with the privilege of the contemporary West that we can so ignorantly disconnect from ecological food systems. Without this luxury, we would be like many other places on the planet, where children welcome a piece of chicken or a glass of milk, and, where each child would know the origin and the process by which this food arrived on his plate. .
Changing practices and perceptions of animal slaughter
The inability to envision how something must be sacrificed in order for something else to live may seem like a small failure, but I think it deeply affects how a person values life. Participation in logging has an impact on how a person views their personal responsibility to the overall ecological system that sustains life. Frankly, I’m surprised we didn’t start discussing the appropriate age sooner to participate in the showdown.
At Polyface Farms, my wife and I have never protected our children from the cost of living. Whether we are pulling weeds out in the garden to grow green beans, chopping and stacking firewood to stay warm in the winter, or unloading chickens to feed the following week, we’ve got our kids involved in it. everything from day one. We haven’t seen an inappropriate time to expose them to the depth and breadth, mystery and majesty of the great choreography of life.
Without the vital lessons provided by the intimate processes of taking and creating life, I fear that future generations will not understand the seriousness of life. The preciousness of life. The repercussions of our decisions. Staring our own addiction in the face as we take care of our food, then harvest it, shapes our minds, and humbles our spirit.
It’s time to take a breather. I’m sure some people are disgusted, maybe even seriously offended, by what I have written. They will ask questions about animal abuse, factory farms and those horrible industrial slaughterhouses. Believe me, all of these methods disgust me as much as anyone else. The scale of the operations and our willingness to engage make a huge difference. I believe we can eliminate factory farms and processing facilities by training our children in self-reliance and joyful participation in food systems. The existence of such horrific and large-scale operations is testament not only to our pursuit of profit at all costs, but also to our assumption that integrity could never exist in a climate of ignorance. The fact that so few people know how animals are treated – on the farm or elsewhere along the processing chain – creates a blind spot that allows abuse to spread.
A more human way
In addition to victimizing animals, I think contemporary slaughterhouses are inhuman to the humans who work there. No one should be killing animals all day, every day. While I encourage children to participate in the slaughter process from an early age, I firmly believe in controlling the regularity of exposure to slaughter, regardless of age. Excessive exposure to slaughter allows insensitivity and promotes emotional imbalance with non-human life.
However, when a caregiver participates in the death of that sentient being, the sacrifice is sacred rather than sacrilegious. Honoring an animal in life by providing it with a diet and living conditions in which it can express its distinctiveness (or “the chicken hen” as David puts it) elevates the harvest to a respectful completion of its life cycle. life.
Having helped children slaughter chickens for decades, I have concluded that if children are not exposed to slaughter before the age of 10, then more often than not their first experience will cause repulsion rather than ‘an innocent embrace. A warning to parents who accept this responsibility for their little ones, but who have not yet experienced it themselves: you will probably have a harder time having this experience than your children. A child’s open, discovery-oriented mind will see a massacre event as part of their life consciousness. However, adults who have been disconnected from it all their lives may experience knots in their stomachs. I believe food goes with festivals. Respectfully bringing food from the field to the festive table should never put us off.
Ethical animal slaughter is a final tribute to our care and management of animal life. This moment when we harvest the sentient being that we have protected, nourished and watered provides a deep intimacy with animal life. Encouraging our children to understand, witness and participate in this type of relationship builds loyalty and character. Refusing young people to understand that death inevitably follows life opens them to egocentricity and superficial thinking.
If an animal is raised well, harvested humane, and eaten with gratitude, nothing in this beautiful cycle can alter the mind or the emotions. Yes, this beauty brings disruption and deep loss, but as long as hard times create beautiful times, our children will understand the whole picture, for emotional reasons and
Moreover, when we are grounded in ethical slaughter, we see that factory farms cannot offer a sacred sacrifice because they belittle and belittle life. But when animals are raised with respect and honor, their slaughter confronts us with our own fragility, our interdependence and our responsibilities to life and its management. It’s never too early for kids to tackle these deep concepts.
Joel Salatin and his family raise and harvest animals honorably at Polyface Farms in Swoope, Virginia. Joël is the author of Guys, this is not normal, as well as many other titles related to local food and sustainable agriculture, some of which are available on the site MOTHER EARTH NEWS store.
Originally published: February / March 2016