Mary and I were up and out of the house early that cold fall Saturday morning. It was the determined date to gather with some of our closest friends in this area to take part in what had become an annual event.
Despite the shining sun, refracted in spectacular color off the frost all around, my heart was increasingly overcast. We drove out of town to a less peopled part of our county where one of the four couples in our informal culinary collaborative had built their lovely home with plenty of space for a variety of creatures, human and otherwise, to roam.
The other two couples arrived soon after us, one in borrowed truck with a tarp over the back temporarily sheltering those underneath. The usual lighthearted, wide ranging chatter among us when we usually gathered seasonally share good food and drink was replaced that morning by down-to-business directives with an occasional remark about the good weather in which to do the weighty work before us.
There was some debate among the knowledgeable on the best placement of the various stations needed for the job. Then the most experienced among us talked through the necessary steps we’d follow to do this task most efficiently. There were all sorts of ways this could go very wrong, he underscored, from an incomplete initial cut at the start to an inadequately sealed double bag at the end.
If we worked well and the machines functioned properly, it was hoped we could finish the process by early afternoon. That would mean 125 chickens caught, killed, dipped in boiling water, put through defeathering machine, plucked clean, gutted and declawed, double bagged and finally heat sealed. We’d each bring home as many carcasses of these once beautiful creatures as we had pre-arranged and paid for, to provide nourishment in the year to come.
The homesteader husband, who, with his wife, had humanely raised most of the chickens (or broilers, as chickens raised for the purpose of eating rather than laying are called) offered a prayer before we began in earnest. I don’t clearly recall his words but appreciated something of his somber acknowledgement (or was it a confession?) that we were about to kill some of God’s beloved creatures so that we might live.
We took our places. I had determined months ago that I needed to be the one who caught and held to my heart each bird before before they died. That meant I was also the one who, after ardently apologizing to each beautiful bird, placed them upside down in one of the home-built metal funnels so their heads stuck out the bottom. After waiting briefly for them to calm, I slit their throats, decapitating their beautifully adorned, eyes wide open, formerly quietly clucking heads from their soft and plump feathered bodies. After they briefly bled out I removed them, one by one, placing them as reverently as I could on an adjacent table for the next step of the process.
More than once Mary and others checked in on me, asking if I didn’t want to let someone else take a turn in ending the lives of these curious, amusing, gentle co-inhabitants of creation. I didn’t. I was convinced I needed to be this close to what we were doing. I needed to be as near as possible to the culmination of our perspectives, intentions, plans, preparations, and the final act of deadly violence against another life to nourish our own.
By late that afternoon I arrived at the conviction, undoubtedly a long time in the making, that if I could live without taking the life of another sentient creature I would do so.
I’m grateful for the growing number of animal welfare advocates as well as those keenly aware of the burgeoning ecological, social, health costs of watering, feeding, and eating animals, who exercise greater compassion and self-control by choosing an increasingly plant-rich diet.
Nearly a decade on I’m grateful to note I can live–very well–without taking the lives of other creatures. I’m also saddened and flummoxed that more of my kindred in Christ have not come to a similar conviction and practice. What might it take for us to stop slaughtering the innocent?