This post is not intended to put you off eating meat/poultry/fish. I don’t believe in forcing one’s opinions and way of life onto others. I do hope, however, that it will prompt you to reconsider how much you value the hunk of muscle on your plate. It doesn’t sound very appetising when put that way, does it? When I used to eat meat, it had to look nothing like the body part it came from. I remember being revolted at finding little feathers on my barbequed chicken wings. They didn’t seem so finger-licking tasty after that. We used to loan some of our land to a neighbouring sheep farm and in return would receive a butchered lamb. Dad used to torment my sister and I by saying that it was our favourite one (i.e. the cutest & cuddliest). At the time his teasing seemed plain mean but looking back on that now, I think he was onto something. Becoming detached from the origins of the meat we eat, whether it be by happenstance or intentionally, has consequences.
It’s a lot harder to feel guilty about throwing away those extra sausages on the brink of spoiling or burning that steak into a charred mess when we’ve trained ourselves to ‘forget’ where it came from. Furthermore, when you’re trying not to remember where your hamburger came from, the welfare of cows destined for the slaughterhouse is the last thing you want to be thinking about.
As part of our cookery course, we’ve been taught basic butchery skills for meat, poultry and fish (though I don’t think anyone calls gutting and filleting a fish ‘butchery’). Last Thursday we deboned a quail. Call me unsophisticated but I’d never seen a quail before. It was tiny. I felt so brutal when pulling its itsy-bitsy ribcage out. And wasn’t particularly fun to find it’s minuscule heart still attached. If you’re feeling a little queasy at this point, I warn you – there’s more. The following day our task was to portion a duck. Chop, my knife came down on the neck, squeaking as it sliced through the flesh. Huh, I thought. Pretty sure it’s not meant to squeak. As I pulled the greasy, floppy neck away from the body out slithered a rubbery, flexible tube. Turns out the source of the strange sound was was the duck’s oesophagus. I bet you’re really craving peking duck for dinner now.
Despite the butchering classes being slightly grisly at times, it didn’t appear to discourage any of my fellow class members from eating meat. And would you believe it if I said that I become philosophical when dislocating the legs of a chicken or cleaving a rabbit in half? Well, it’s true. I wonder what kind of life it lived and subsequently hope that it was a pleasant one. With lots of room to hop/swim/waddle/skip about in and plenty of fresh air and sunshine. I like to imagine that its life was taken in a swift and relatively painless manner (though I know that is not always the case). More than anything else, I hope that whoever eats the meat that I have prepared truly appreciates the source of their food. I’d like to say that I did when I ate meat, but to be honest I was more focussed on pretending that it wasn’t from a fluffy white lamb.
From my experience over the past year, I’ve reached the conclusion that it would be highly beneficial for say, high school students, to participate in a few butchery classes. By learning basic skills regarding how to prepare and/or portion whole dressed (i.e with all the super macabre bits removed) carcasses, they would hopefully develop a deeper respect for the origins of their food. In turn this appreciation for the animal would hopefully reduce the amount of mindless meat waste. Additionally, a better understanding about where one’s steak and chips comes from may increase the push for improved, more humane living conditions for the animals destined for the slaughterhouse.
And lest not forget that knowing which cuts are more tender and suitable for grilling, and which require longer, slower cooking methods (i.e. the muscles the animal uses the most) will lead to a tastier meal!