The Omnivore’s Dilemma

“When chickens get to live like chickens, they’ll taste like chickens, too.”

-Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

Bacon. It is my weakness. You may wonder why I have a quote about chicken as an introduction to this post–but we’ll get to chicken later. Right now I have bacon on the brain. In recent years, bacon has become a kind of fad–chocolate covered bacon, bacon scented cologne, bacon salt, bacon cookies, bacon martinis, bacon t-shirts; I do, in fact, own a pair of knee socks that say in large block letters up the shin: BACON.

A trendy bacon cupcake

However, I have only eaten bacon twice in the last six months. What a sad realization! This is due to the fact that Evan and I decided to start practicing vegetarianism in April. The switch was fairly easy to implement, especially since we ate mostly vegetarian before this decision. I guess that’s what we still are: mostly vegetarians; but we are stricter in our exceptions than before. We still eat meat now and then, but we try to only eat meat from local, organic sources that we are familiar with.

We lovingly call ourselves “Meat Snobs.” This kind of meat snobbery was hilariously portrayed on the sketch comedy Portlandia, when the characters ask endless questions about the source and name of the chicken at a restaurant. Luckily, we aren’t that obnoxious. Perhaps it is a lack of conviction, but we will eat meat when with our families, no questions asked. We will also eat meat at restaurants with poor vegetarian options–we rarely resort to this, but it is an exception we have discussed and accepted as okay. I’m sorry, but I really don’t want to pay fifteen bucks for a plate of overcooked pasta and bland veggies. Plus, having meat once in awhile helps keep those meat digesting enzymes in our guts for when the really good meat is available!

You had a good life, pig.

Speaking of good meat (specifically bacon), those little piglets I’ve piglet sat for at Sun Circle Farm are going to be slaughtered and butchered this coming weekend. Evan and I, along with a few of the folks on the farm, all pitched in for half of a pig, and we are excited to process and savor the delicious, local, GMO-free goodness. It is a bittersweet event, the raising and subsequent slaughtering of animals for the betterment of our lives and palates. However, these animals wouldn’t even exist without us. The best we can do is give them happy, humane lives in the open air doing their piggy things and allowing them to be the most “pig” they can be. This is so much better than the factory raising of hogs–where they spend all of their lives under one roof, tails and ears snipped, not allowed to root in the mud and bask in the sun, pumped full of antibiotics and fattened up on food-like products.

You had a good life, rooster.

I have a good friend who loves meat, but she cannot bear the idea of eating an animal that she once knew. I’m starting to think more and more that this is the only way I will eat meat (from animals that I have known and raised). It is the best way to feel grateful for the nourishment that an individual animal has provided for you. I learned this firsthand last week, when we finally decided we had to slaughter some of our roosters–roosters from the clutch of eggs we raised in Farm School last spring.

Perhaps this story will resonate with some of the other Farmgirls out there. Perhaps it will conjure up memories of the first time you killed an animal for food. I have never killed anything bigger than a slug, and the thought of killing one of my roosters freaked me out way more than I had expected it would. Out of the clutch of eggs that we hatched last spring, five of the ten were roosters, so I had mentally prepared myself for killing four of those before the summer was over. Well, summer came and went, and we still had five roosters. Two weeks ago, the roosters were well on their way to killing each other, so we knew the time to “slaughter before they off each other” was upon us.

Evan had to work the day we wanted to do the deed, so I set up the station before he got home. While I was setting everything up, I was crying and freaked out and probably looked like a crazy mess. My friend Gil came down and helped me out a bit, and upon seeing that I was crying comforted me. The conversation went something like this:

GIL: You knew you were going to do this all along, right?

ME: Yeah, but it’s still so sad. I knew them when they were eggs! (tear)

GIL: Well, you could sell them to somebody else for them to do it.

ME: But I want to eat them! (sniffle)

GIL: Being an omnivore kind of sucks, yeah?

ME: Yeah, it sucks a lot. (sob)

Well, the night went on. Jared and Amanda (who also live on the farm), instructed us how to kill, feather and clean the birds. I couldn’t actually kill any of the birds, but I did the other portions of the process. I was amazed at how much the chicken carcass smelled like chicken. It makes sense, but I had never sensed the scent of chicken on raw chicken before. While the slaughtering was going on, most of my effort went to calming down the other birds and making sure they couldn’t see what was going on.

In retrospect, the biggest mistake I made in the whole process was setting up the station directly in front of the main entrance of the farm–the door that students, visitors, employees and administrators use daily. I just wasn’t thinking straight. Needless to say, I spent quite a bit of the next day (Sunday) raking up feathers and trying to cover up bloody grass before Monday rolled around. Only one person not involved in the process saw the mess before it was cleaned up, and she was convinced (before we told her what had happened) that a grouse had been killed by a wild animal in the front lawn.

Brined and roasted rooster.

I brined and roasted one of the chickens the other day, and it was delicious–perhaps the best chicken I’ve ever tasted! The meat was a bit rubbery, I think because the roosters were a bit old, but the flavor! The flavor is outstanding! Michael Pollan was right–chickens that are allowed to live and act like chickens, taste like chicken! Yum, Yum, Yum.

Michael Pollan was also right about the Omnivore’s Dilemma. As humans, our palates are nearly infinite. This is a blessing and a curse. It might be easier if we were like cows–just eat the grass! But then we wouldn’t have the pleasure of eating a thick slice of applewood smoked bacon. So, we might as well use our omnivorous appetites for good by eating sustainably grown fruits and veggies, supporting our local communities through purchasing local goods, cultivating healthy relationships by sharing good food with one another, and by purchasing meats that are ethically raised and killed. Our world, and our taste buds, will thank us for it.

Thanks, Farmgirls, for sharing in my experiences in discovering what Farmgirl life is all about! Your words of wisdom and support inspire me more than you know!

Leave a comment 0 Comments

  1. drMolly says:

    Alexandra,

    You have "hit the nail on the head" – we ARE omnivores, but we don’t need to be ridiculous and we DO need to make sure the "critters" we eat have been given the best life that they can have for the type of critter they are. The DH & I practice what we like to call "sustainable omnivorism" – lots of veggies, but when we eat meat it has come from a source we know about.

    Well done!

  2. Marilyn says:

    Good morning. I enjoyed your post. I lived on a farm one summer when I was a little girl (8 or 9 yrs. old) and saw the lady there kill a chicken on Saturday for Sunday’s lunch. After that I have always said I wouldn’t eat what I’ve seen walking, lol. But nowadays, I think I have changed my mind. The bad part is I don’t live on a farm so I won’t have to put it to the test. I have great admiration for farmers and am glad that more people are becoming more concerned about where our food comes from and what is is it. I try to eat only fresh or frozen foods, not processed with chemicals and preservatives in it. I add my own herbs and spices. Thanks for your essays. I really enjoy them.

  3. Diann says:

    I agree one hundred per cent with your view. I learned a while back not to name the "food" critters…..actually, my spouse, in no uncertain terms, requested that I not name them….apparently my strong man felt a little tug about that issue as well….lol. There is nothing like your own home grown food source, whether meat or vegetable. So with that!…..and a repeated….don’t name the food critters!…thanks so much for your continued musings of the farm life. Blessings in All of Your Endeavors.

  4. Nan Roberts says:

    Thanks for this, Alexandra. I have big ideas for my new yard (my new rental) to become an urban mini-farm. I’ve started garden beds. But I might inherit a neighbors pet chickens, which I promised not to eat. But if I get more chickens, I do want to eat them. And then there are rabbits, which make great worm food and fertilizer. But I’d like to eat them too, except i’m like you. A friend told me she’d never eat anything she had named. My problem also. But I appreciate your experience with the chickens. I would probably cry too, but I am a meat eater. I also try to only eat local, organic, free range/grass fed (depends on the critter.) It’s expensive. I ordered a quarter beef. If I could find free range piggies (as it were), I’d order some too.

    I listened to the audio book Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter. They raised various livestock and she talked about killing geese and chickens and rabbits that she knew, and how she looked at that process, and how she felt about it.(A great book.)

    So maybe I will think of more chickens and rabbits. I could even not name them, if I try hard. And I could cry, too.

    Thanks for sharing your life with us, it’s entertaining, and helpful.

  5. Sundi says:

    As much as I don’t want to eat any meat whatsoever, I find myself craving the protein (from chicken) every few months. (This doesn’t happen with beef – no desire whatsoever). So I’m a sometimes-omnivore with a serious aversion to eating any animal I’ve ever actually known. And thus I totally resonated with this post and thank you very much for taking the time to write it.

  6. Adrienne says:

    I understand your system and applaud your care for the animals you eat. In 1997, I became a kosher vegetarian and haven’t missed eating meat at all. Substitutes can be found in soy chicken, beef, ham, sausage, seafood, and yes, even bacon. I enjoy yogurt, cheese, some milk products, eggs from pastured chickens and honey from local beekeepers. My veggie friends and I don’t eat anything that would cause a critter to die. We’re blessed to live in the San Francisco Bay Area where there are many vegetarian and vegan restaurants so we don’t have to spend frivolously on a $15 veggie/pasta meal. Knowing where your food comes from and how it’s grown or raised are very important aspects of our diets. It can’t help but improve our health. Thank you for sharing your stories.

  7. shery says:

    I found a super easy bacon recipe that you might enjoy. "Pig Candy" – simply dip bacon pieces in melted chocolate – dark or milk chocolate, whatever your preference. MmmMmmmmmm :)

    I’m a part-time meativore. Love veggies, most fruit and meat a few times a week. My occupation: cattle rancher :) I was raised on venison and it is still my first love.

  8. deedee says:

    What a coincidence that your article comes on our first full official season of raising our own turkeys and chickens. I can’t agree with you more that the taste and texture are superior to market meats. I will say however that our first flock of meat chickens that went to slaughter left me bittersweet, i just loved to see them mingle with each other and enjoying the outdoors, but when we sit down to a meal of roasted chicken, I thank them for providing us a delicious meal and I feel good knowing they were raised in clean, happy surroundings.

  9. Debbie says:

    Congratulations on being able to kill and roast one of your own! I’ve got of our own homegrown roosters in our freezer from last September… ( They were the fellas we didn’t plan on in our backyard flock ) We paid 5:00 each to slaughter them and I’ve yet to be able to cook them… I loved em too much to eat em I guess…I’ve got some farmgirl growin’ up to do! LOL Great post!
    Deb ( MJF Beach farmgirl blogger)

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