I am not far removed from rural living. Both my parents grew up on farms in North Dakota. While these farms were vastly different (Norwegian/grain/some livestock farm versus German/livestock/some grain ranch), I learned early how to use an outhouse and that food doesn’t actually originate in a grocery store.
My Aunt Vi, dad’s sister, lived on the home farm most her life and had broilers. These are chickens specifically raised for meat production. Yes, you read that correctly, these chickens become Sunday dinner. Broilers do not receive cute names. They are not pets. They are future food.
Some summers, if I was unlucky enough, our visit to Aunt Vi’s farm coincided with the butchering of her chickens. Growing up in a big city, and being me, the thought of killing anything is abhorrent. Therefore, I never witnessed the actual event. I always hid in the house with a book and pretended the meat later served came from far, far away. Possibly a magical land where everyone is happy and meat is grown from the ground, similar to crops.
My younger brother and sister didn’t understand this thinking. For them watching was a rare, exciting treat. Maybe they were more connected to the ebb and flow of life than me. Whatever. Getting your younger siblings to cease talking about chicken butchering was a monumental task. They would run into the farmhouse, talking excitedly about the ‘goings-on’ outside. No, I do not want to know what is happening outside. No, I do not want to know what a chicken does when its head is chopped off. No, I do not want to know how clean, swift and humane the process was.
With no form of escape, I would whine to mom. “Make them stop.” “I am going to throw up.” “Do not make me eat any, and I mean any, chickens this visit!”
Mom, my wise, wise counsel, would put her arms around me, suggest a better place to hide but also nudge me to think deeply about life, food and personal preferences. If I was going to be a meat eater, I needed to realize that meat came from animals. Otherwise, I needed to change, drastically.
I flirted with vegetarianism for a while, it didn’t take. I still eat a number of meatless meals each week, but I have come to realize that meat is a part of my life. I am trying to be more conscious where my food comes from, whether fruits, vegetables or meat.
Which leads me back full circle to my family. My brother has laying hens and broilers on his hobby farm. My daughter, who lives in a suburb of a big city, has purchased laying hens.
Chickens, the real, living, breathing kind… no matter how hard I try, I cannot get away from them.