Confessions of an Omnivore
To my kids who will someday read this and understand the Omnivores Dilemma or be deeply offended by my actions. Please know I did what I did because I love you and I want to nourish your growing bodies and developing minds. Here I tell the confessions of an omnivore in honor of Big Red.
In May our suburban home became a real homestead when we became the proud owners of backyard chickens. It was not a fickle decision, my husband spent 9 months building the coop in his barely available weekends.
My upbringing was rural farmland and 4-H enthusiasts. I countered by adopting a vegetarian diet and moved to New York to dance. Ironically, I escaped the horrors of raising animals, naming them, and eating them only to become a holistic health practitioner in support of eating REAL food which includes animals.
However, we only consume meat from the most humane small farms and we buy only pastured eggs at $7/dozen. We go through 3 dozen a week; obviously backyard chickens is a logical investment for us.
We bought our gaggle of hens. The maximum is 3 by Redwood City ordinance which also states that roosters are prohibited. We paid extra for older chickens to be mostly sure they were all hens. However, Big Red had a tall comb, and a longer wattle, words we felt obligated to learn. He looked like a rooster, but as inexperienced homesteaders we held out for a month not ready to accept the inevitable.
One month later, Big Red exercised his voice at the crack of dawn. We had to act fast. We looked for farms eager to take him, but with the growing interest in backyard chickens, local farms are literally saturated with roosters. Our only option was to return him to the shop with no exchange.
My husband was adamant that we should eat the rooster. It was our responsibility to take care of our dilemma. We talked about this for months with the kids, but the comic banter became a frightening reality with this particular morning's cock-a-doodle-doo. The kids promptly denied ever agreeing to eat a pet, and refused to eat chicken for the rest of their lives if we laid a finger on Big Red. I had no intention of laying a finger on the poor guy, I can't even kill a daddy long legs for heaven's sake.
Though I did feel that my recovery from vegetarianism held a certain responsibility to understand where my food comes from. My family visited Morris Grass Fed Beef Ranch, we've seen the wild cattle, and eaten the hamburger for lunch. But, the visceral connection I felt in my gut thinking of eating my own rooster was far more severe.
I paced my kitchen, stomach in knots, and my heart in pain. I called the shop in Half Moon Bay to inquire the outcome of returning Big Red. They replied, "sorry, but he will most likely get eaten." Great, a lose lose situation.
In desperation I dashed to a neighbor's house. The father moved here several months ago from the Philippines where he raised and slaughtered birds for a living. He agreed to grab his knife and be right over.
My heart jumped into my throat. I was clearly not emotionally ready, but my husband was serenely eager. I needed to get the kids out of the house. I rushed them out in pajamas to a neighbors house to watch a movie. My kids stared in disbelief, clearly thought I was insane, and ran in case I changed my mind.
My neighbor helped my husband take care of our bleating rooster before the neighborhood could turn us in. I could'nt witness the slitting of the throat. I feel my role as a woman is to bring life into this world, I could not stomach taking it away.
Once the feather plucking commenced, my husband drug me out to be a responsible carnivore. This is not something I recommend, I'm obviously confiding now because I'm still trying to process the situation. However, I do think it is an important step in understanding our connection to the food cycle. Buying plastic wrapped, neatly manicured muscle is a far cry from what eating meat is all about.
My neighbor was a saint, cleaning the bird until it looked store bought. I rushed to conceal the evidence from my kids. Prepping the stew was difficult and the experience still haunts me but my nurturing instincts prevailed. I began meditatively cooking, concentrating on the nourishment that would feed my family.
Eating was another story and why I write this apology. I am sorry that I lied to you sweet babes. I feel like a terrible mother for feeding you the rooster that you swore off. Please know that I told you he went to a farm to save your precious hearts from the pain I suffer from and that I fed you the stew because it's so important for me to nourish your health. It's a complicated love that I hope you will someday understand.
I'm not a religious zealot, but I prayed for that rooster and made my kids give grace to the animal that lost it's life to nourish our bodies. Grace has since become a pillar in our lives. We should all take a moment to thank the animal, the farmer, the land, and the cook who makes our meals possible.
The bird was gristly and made me appreciate the slow cooked stews of heritage cooking. I had deep emotional pain chewing through the meat, but the broth was delicious. My kids slurped it up and asked for seconds, which is a rare treat for a mother that spends all day in the kitchen.
I don't know if I could do this again, quite honestly I would rather pay a farmer $30 for a pastured chicken and just eat less meat. I will treasure the nutrients from that animal, I will not waste a single bit, and I will honor the bird that gave its life for my benefit. My family will give gratitude for the meal served and cherish the health it brings.