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I’ve eaten meat for as long as I can remember, but in my short time on this planet I have not killed many things. Sure I’ve stepped on cockroaches and swatted my fair share of mosquitoes, but I’ve never come face to face with my future dinner and ended its life. Until now.

I grew up in the hunting capital of the south, a self proclaimed sportsman’s paradise, but I never ventured to hunt myself. For the longest time I saw it as a cruel and barbaric act, not simply another step in the cycle of life. I never associated the act of eating with the act of killing, even though the two are inextricably bound together. Forget about the beef patty in your hamburger for a second, even the lettuce, tomato, catsup and mustard were once alive in some form. Then someone killed them and now you’re eating them. I know these seem like obvious statements, we all know that plants and animals are alive, but it’s something that we as consumers do not give enough thought.

There is a disconnect between people and their food. It’s understandable that when the only chicken you’ve ever seen is in the freezer section stripped naked and vacuum sealed, you wouldn’t think of it as a once living creature. It’s a commodity, no different than a pair of jeans or a power saw. This is a natural thought process, but it’s one we should try to correct. I’m not preaching vegetarianism; I’m preaching respect, from both a moral and a culinary standpoint. The moral one may be a little more obvious, that animal gave its life for you and deserves to have this sacrifice acknowledged, but the culinary angle is no less important. Animals that you respect taste better. When you recognize what went in to getting that chicken on your plate your meal becomes more than just sustenance, and you can appreciate it that much more.

Most people would have no qualms about devouring a chicken breast, but if they were given some sheers and a mature hen ready for “harvest” they’d run in disgust. Up to this point in my life I’ve been one of these hypocritical carnivores, and I intend to change my ways. I took my first step a few weeks ago. I was aimlessly wondering through Boston when I found myself in Chinatown. I walked into a random shop and saw a tank of live eels. Eel has long been my sushi fish of choice, but I had never seen one intact, much less breathing. They truly are evil looking disgusting little creatures. Before I knew it I was explaining to the fish man that I wanted mine given to me alive, I’d do the deed myself in due time.

It was an awkward subway ride back with my bag looking like it was possessed by demons fighting to get free. I could picture my dinner escaping and landing in the lap of the old woman next to me. Luckily I got it back to my kitchen without incident, then the reality of the situation sunk in. I was going to kill this animal. It was alive and because of me it would be dead. It was a daunting realization and one that I did not take lightly. I stashed him (I decided it was a him because in my head it made what I was about to do easier) in the fridge to calm his nerves while I prepared the scene for the slaughter.

I laid garbage bags down on the counter, placed a cutting board on top of them and grabbed the biggest knife I had. Suddenly my board was a scaffold and my cleaver a guillotine, it’s funny how situational meaning is. I checked on my dinner to see how he was doing. He was in a comatose state, breathing but otherwise completely lifeless. The time to strike was now. I took a rag and grabbed him, and then the trouble began. As if he knew what was coming, he snapped back to life and wrapped himself around my arm like a boa constrictor. For a second there I swear I was more afraid of him than he was of me. I instantly flung him into the sink and watched in horror as he darted for the drain. I grabbed him as he was halfway down and threw him in a pot to stay out of trouble while I collected myself and gathered my nerves for round two. This time as I grabbed his neck my roommate grabbed his tail, and together we held him down as I raised the knife. I came down in one hard swift blow about half an inch from his head, which looked more pissed off than scared. The knife bounced off like an eight year old on a trampoline. I was in complete and utter disbelief. Is this thing made out of Kevlar? I put everything I had into that swing and it was about as effective as digging a hole with a bowling ball. The next few seconds are a blur but once they had passed I was panting, my arm was exhausted, there was blood on the wall and the angry little head was no longer connected to the still struggling body.

It hit me every bit as hard as I thought it would. My hands had ended a life. I silently acknowledged this fact, half heartedly congratulated myself for putting a stop to my hypocrisy, and moved on.

I cut it up according to the instructions the man on youtube gave me and broiled it with a soy glaze. It ended up being the best sushi I’d ever had. In part because it was probably the freshest sushi I’d ever had, but mostly because I saw what went in to making it, I could appreciate the meal that much more.

I intend to kill my food more often if the opportunity arises. Not because of some perverse joy I get from it, because it is the hardest and most mentally and emotionally draining thing I’ve ever done, but because I feel it’s necessary. I am as carnivorous as they come, and I don’t think it’s right to reap the benefits of eating animals without at least understanding what it’s like to make the sacrifices. A meat eater who can’t kill is no better than a man who doesn’t pay his taxes sending his child to public school. And I will not be that man any longer.

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Michael Ruhlman, in "The Soul of a Chef", describes a similar scene as Thomas Keller endeavors to kill a rabbit, for reasons similar to yours. It's an interesting read and I recommend it to you.

In the future, I'd like to see you arrange to have the fish in water until the moment you take it out to kill it. There's lots of room for argument on what and how much fish "feel", but it's my opinion that it's unnecessarily inhumane to leave a live fish out of water for an extended amount of time. Others may have other opinions.

You address an issue that weighs heavily on my conscience. I am not willing to do what you have done, although I do acknowledge the hypocrisy in my stance. Keep in mind, however, that unless you can kill the animal humanely, you're creating a situation of even more questionable morality/hypocrisy.

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I don't necessarily buy in to the logic that it's somehow hypocritical to eat meat but not be willing to kill animals. There are lots of goods and services I utilize that I wouldn't build or perform myself. I'm not going to go out my window wearing a harness, but I have no moral qualms about paying a guy to wash my windows. I'd be totally grossed out by performing open-heart surgery, but if I ever need it I'll happily let my insurance company pay a doctor to perform said surgery. And I have no problem paying a farmer to farm, or a slaughterer to slaughter, or a butcher to butcher. If they ever need someone to write something, they can hire me.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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A meat eater who can’t kill is no better than a man who doesn’t pay his taxes sending his child to public school. And I will not be that man any longer.

As Marge Gunderson would say "I'm not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work, there, Lou. "

I'm all for it when people decide to face where their food comes from and not shy away from the fact that they are eating dead creatures when eating meat. I've hunted and fished and killed lobster. I also helped my granfather when slaughtering and butchering goats for the family (not much fun...no sir). However, it is a bit extreme to say one is a hypocrite just becuase they do not want to kill their critter is a bit extreme. I'm betting there are a lot of "hunters" or "carnivores" out there who kill their prey, but they have zero respect for what they did. It's really not about the action itself, but about the state of mind, the philosophy and what you do with the dead creature that matters.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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I believe that the concept of whether we're willing to kill our own food, etc., is one that evolved from our recognition, a few years ago, that we tend (as a nation) to not know much about where our food comes from. Subsequently we began to realize that animals were being raised and killed in some pretty inhumane, or worse, conditions, while we blithely picked up plastic-wrapped packages at the grocery without much concern for how they got into the refrigerated case.

Lots of generalizations there, I know.

While I wouldn't argue that each of us has an obligation to kill our own food, I would argue that we should be aware of all of the various kinds of costs involved in producing it, not just those at the bottom of the ticket from the cash register.

Similarly, discussions could be held about who picks our produce, how those individuals are treated, and the kind of lives they live so that we who have money can have anything we desire on our plates. I believe, however, that this particular topic ventures into highly charged political waters, and that may not be compatible with eG's discussion guidelines.

Edited by jgm (log)
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At this point one would kind of have to be living under a rock -- or be in nursery school -- not to know about factory farming, battery hens, etc. It's more likely that most people just don't care, or don't care enough or have the financial flexibility to pay more for food than they have to. In any event, aware or no, those of us in Western industrialized nations are living in societies where all food is created by about two percent of the population. If one lives in Tanzania then 80 percent of the population is involved in agriculture. I happen to think the former is preferable. Moreover, lack of involvement in the agricultural process may be more likely to make people vegetarians than anything else.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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You took an eel on the T?

I suppose you'd need another fare if your seminal victim was a hog or a steer.

Seriously, I applaud your efforts -- more people in North America need to be reminded what groceries really are, and how our food decisions can have far-reaching ramifications.

Lots of people are too busy to care, or just don't want to know the full life-cycle of a hot dog. Over the years I've slowly gone from "ignorance is bliss" to "give me all the facts" and that's the way I like it.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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sort of a side note...

does nobody do the "drive a nail through the head" thing?

granted, the first time i saw that was on iron chef, but then i asked my grandmother about it and she does the same thing, so i thought maybe that was a valid way of disassembling an eel.

anyway, there was an article in food and wine a couple of years ago very similar to this, although his first experience was with wild hog, i think. he stressed some of the same things---knowing where your food comes from, not being disconnected from the fact that something has to die in order for you to eat, every living thing is different, etc.

the way i understand your article is that it was a bit of a revelatory experience, and that's totally cool. i might go hunting for the first time next year and will be interested in how it affects me (not to mention the whole thing will be exciting, i think.)

i don't necessarily think people who don't hunt are hypocrites, though...my mom has tremendous respect for her food, and while as a child she had to kill lots of things on her own, she simply prefers not to do so. she grew up on a small farm and had to kill the chickens and geese and rabbits, and she'd rather someone else do it for her.

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sort of a side note...

does nobody do the "drive a nail through the head" thing?

granted, the first time i saw that was on iron chef, but then i asked my grandmother about it and she does the same thing, so i thought maybe that was a valid way of disassembling an eel.

anyway, there was an article in food and wine a couple of years ago very similar to this, although his first experience was with wild hog, i think.  he stressed some of the same things---knowing where your food comes from, not being disconnected from the fact that something has to die in order for you to eat, every living thing is different, etc.

the way i understand your article is that it was a bit of a revelatory experience, and that's totally cool.  i might go hunting for the first time next year and will be interested in how it affects me (not to mention the whole thing will be exciting, i think.)

i don't necessarily think people who don't hunt are hypocrites, though...my mom has tremendous respect for her food, and while as a child she had to kill lots of things on her own, she simply prefers not to do so.  she grew up on a small farm and had to kill the chickens and geese and rabbits, and she'd rather someone else do it for her.

We used the same method, along with a pair of pliers and a tree, for catfish. They are sort of "eelish" I suppose.

I have killed enough, and seen enough killed, that I don't mind others doing the work. I'll stick with my agrarian activities, thank you. Though I would love to have some hens that produced eggs. Somebody has to fix the side dishes. Of course, when a hen gets too old to lay, she goes in the stew pot for dumplings.

That's where hubby comes in...

The funniest story my husband tells is of the "unsexed" 100 chicks he got for free with a bag of feed. He thought it a great deal. Hehehehe. He had to butcher multiple roosters, as there were of course too many, and it turned into bloody carnage. He got in a bit over his head that day, from his description. This is the sweetest guy you would ever have the privilege to know, and wouldn't hurt anything he didn't have to hurt, but he persevered and the church had fried chicken that Sunday.

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wow what a dramatic event and your first post! makes me wonder what is ahead!

I will stick to plucking carrots from my garden and buying animals from a humane butcher

your event does not sound all that humane to me..however that is me an my opinion

thanks for the reminder as to how "disconnected" we all are

(scratching my head over the motive here)

Edited by hummingbirdkiss (log)
why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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Michael Ruhlman, in "The Soul of a Chef", describes a similar scene as Thomas Keller endeavors to kill a rabbit, for reasons similar to yours.  It's an interesting read and I recommend it to you.

In the future, I'd like to see you arrange to have the fish in water until the moment you take it out to kill it.  There's lots of room for argument on what and how much fish "feel", but it's my opinion that it's unnecessarily inhumane to leave a live fish out of water for an extended amount of time.  Others may have other opinions.

You address an issue that weighs heavily on my conscience.  I am not willing to do what you have done, although I do acknowledge the hypocrisy in my stance.  Keep in mind, however, that unless you can kill the animal humanely, you're creating a situation of even more questionable morality/hypocrisy.

Keller describes it himself in The French Laundry Cookbook.

Except I think bunnies are somewhat cuter than eels.

This is very much an individual perspective-based issue.

I often go on fishing trips to northern Ontario where we have native Ojibwa guides. I would generalize that they often have more respect and reverence for nature than the average person, as the woods and river provide their livlihoods and have for generations. However ,I have seen (what I consider to be) brutal things happen to fish while they are being dispatched for lunch. Although, I cannot say I've ever seen anything go to waste.

I suppose the mere act of killing your food doesn't necessarily create immediate respect for it, but I have to imagine it can contribute to enlightening most individuals. And although I am not a hunter or farmer, I've had numerous arguments with individuals who believe the act of hunting is immoral... yet they love a good burger. :blink:

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Killing your own food isn't necessarily more humane for the animals involved. Killing an animal cleanly takes skill, and that comes with practice--on living, feeling creatures. The first chickens that I butchered probably suffered more due to my inexperience. Eating what you kill is respectful, but it doesn't mitigate any pain the animal may experience. So, the case can be made for leaving the actual killing to experts. More importantly, it's just as respectful to not waste your food, no matter where it came from or how it was killed.

April

One cantaloupe is ripe and lush/Another's green, another's mush/I'd buy a lot more cantaloupe/ If I possessed a fluoroscope. Ogden Nash

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Killing your own food isn't necessarily more humane for the animals involved.  Killing an animal cleanly takes skill, and that comes with practice--on living, feeling creatures.  The first chickens that I butchered probably suffered more due to my inexperience.  Eating what you kill is respectful, but it doesn't mitigate any pain the animal may experience.  So, the case can be made for leaving the actual killing to experts.  More importantly, it's just as respectful to not waste your food, no matter where it came from or how it was killed.

April

I totally agree thank you for saying this!!!!

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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Having lived in rural Crete for over 10 years now, this is an interesting view of *food sourcing.* 100 percent of the people I know must raise and/or collect most of their food. As a former city dweller myself, the first time I spent a week in shepherd's country, I was taken aback. But I had to get a grip...the slaughter of lamb is a part of life...for those who choose to enjoy it for dinner. A shepherd and his/her family does not have a choice in the matter. Granted, the younger generation is moving out of rural areas and might feel just as leery about *direct food sourcing* let's say, than a Bostonian might. Still, they acknowledge the facts of life in a more realistic way and are very suspicious of foods that were not produced or collected by someone they know. It's food safety common sense.

Nikki Rose

Founder and Director

Crete's Culinary Sanctuaries

Eco-Agritourism Network

www.cookingincrete.com

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I don't have a problem with people not killing their own food, but I do have a problem with people who eat meat disrespecting hunters.

There are hunters and there are hunters. I totally respect those hunters who eat what they kill. Those who do so simply for sport, however,...

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I don't have a problem with people not killing their own food, but I do have a problem with people who eat meat disrespecting hunters.

There are hunters and there are hunters. I totally respect those hunters who eat what they kill. Those who do so simply for sport, however,...

Are you referring to "sport" as strictly trophy hunting, or would this include someone who gave away all the meat they harvested?

Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

www.malletoyster.com

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............

I often go on fishing trips to northern Ontario where we have native Ojibwa guides.  I would generalize that they often have more respect and reverence for nature than the average person, as the woods and river provide their livlihoods and have for generations. However ,I have seen (what I consider to be) brutal things happen to fish while they are being dispatched for lunch.  Although, I cannot say I've ever seen anything go to waste. 

...........

I

As a flyfisher and bird hunter I have some interest in these issues since they frequently come up in the philosophical, ethical and practical writing and discussions of those who fish and hunt.

Can you tell us what are the brutal things that happen to the fish?

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My only experience killing animals has been in spearfishing. I've had the opportunity turn bulls into steers years ago. Not a pleasant job but something that needed to be done. There is a big disconnect between food and it's source. I find myself trying to get closer to this source while the mainstream moves away.

While I agree with Fatguy that you don't have to want to kill an animal to eat meat since there are people skilled in that job, I find it hypocritical that there are those that eat meat find it so offensive that animals are killed for whatever reason. Protect the bunnies, protect the ducks......while they eat their chic fil a sandwhich.

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Putting that eel in ice water would have slowed him down enough to handle. When we go fishing we only keep a few for the table the rest we release, most of the time without even touching them. The keepers go on ice as soon as we boat them. You can't beat fresh fish.

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I did not grow up in a hunting family and the idea of hunting for food or sport has never appealed to me. However, I have to admit that I was given a different perspective when I read Michael Pollan's chapter on hunting in his book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma." He also had never hunted for his dinner before and was surprised at his reaction to the chase. At the end of the chapter he is reminded of "that place and time where humans 'looked' at the animals they killed, regarded them with reverence, and never ate them except with gratitude."

If you haven't read it, check it out!

Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with abandon, or not at all.

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I really appreciate your post, and I applaud what you did.

I am a vegetarian, precisely because I realized the hypocrisy of my diet, when I was not willing to end an animals life myself.

I don't have any problem with people eating meat they kill themselves. In fact, I prefer it, and kudos to you for that!

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"I pay others to wash my windows or operate on me."

Do you own/contribute to a website dedicated to window-washing, or heart surgery? The analogy doesn't work so well when you don't leave out the fact that eating is one of your passions.

ETA: Original poster: congrats on your first post, and on having the courage to do what you did.

Edited by MikeHartnett (log)
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