I handle PR for Whole Foods Market®’s Meat Department, and last Thanksgiving I gained a profound appreciation for what it takes to get turkey on the table.
Writer Tamar Haspel and her husband, Kevin, had been raising six birds on their farm; Tamar has documented the process on her fascinating and witty blog, StarvingOfftheLand.com. I reached out to Tamar to chat about Whole Foods Market’s work with Global Animal Partnership. During our talk, Tamar asked me a tough question: had I ever killed an animal for meat? When I said no, Tamar invited me and our global meat buyer, Becky Faudree, to join her and Kevin on the Sunday before Thanksgiving to slaughter and process their turkeys.
Becky and I went because we both work in the meat world, but neither one of us had a first-hand experience with slaughter. We felt it was important that we come face-to-face with the realities of meat production. It wasn’t an opportunity we took lightly. It turned out to be a challenging and very personal experience for both of us.
We hope you’ll read over each of our experiences with an open mind.
In talking with a friend about my turkey slaughter experience and sharing how close it made me feel to that animal in that moment — and the tremendous amount of appreciation I had for the turkey as I held the knife and cut the artery with tears rolling down my cheeks — he brought up Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook and his lesson on rabbits. In Keller’s book he writes, “Because killing those rabbits had been such an awful experience, I would not squander them. I would use all my powers as chef to ensure that those rabbits were beautiful. It’s very easy to go to a grocery store and buy meat, then accidentally overcook it and throw it away.”
I really love Thomas Keller’s message. We need to value the meat we eat. We need to make sure meat is not squandered. On slaughter day, I had an attachment to my turkey, once killed. From plucking to eviscerating, taking part in the entire process was truly important and an experience I will not forget. We watched it change from bird to meat, as Kevin explained.
I’ve been in the meat world pretty much my entire working career, but turkey-slaughter day was a profound experience. It made me more thankful for the ranchers and farmers that work so hard to properly raise the meat we eat. I am more thankful for the animals that end up on our plates.
When we arrived on slaughter day, I wasn’t sure I could do it. I wondered if the experience would make me vegetarian (and if so, what would that mean for my job representing our Meat Department?) and I feared I’d botch something and cause unnecessary pain. When I picked up the knife, it felt heavy in my hand.
But I did it (for details on how, check out Tamar’s post) and two things have stayed with me.
First, this experience was extremely emotional and it changed my relationship with meat. I felt a progression of fear to sadness, compassion and gratitude. I am now much more invested in knowing where my meat came from, how the animal was raised and that it was humanely processed.
Second, I think as shoppers and meat eaters we should talk more about animal welfare. In my job as PR Coordinator I get web alerts every day about meat. Now I see more clearly than ever that the life – and death – of the animals is largely left out of the conversation. We should ask our butchers how the animals were raised and take responsibility for our choices. It’s the only way to move the needle toward better lives for farm animals.
I know that it’s not easy to think about where our meat comes from but I hope you’ll join the conversation. If you’re interested, check out microfarmer Jason Ring’s story of raising and processing his own chickens, courtesy of DarkRye.com. Or tell us: Have you ever processed your own meat? How has it affected the food choices you make?