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The Blood Moon: traditional harvest time for meat... so where is your protein coming from? (WARNING: GRAPHIC!)

1:16 PM

People who know me and my habits of reading labels, and being super-conscious of everything I consume, often assume that I must be a vegetarian.  I'm not.  For several reasons ranging from that my body can overdose really quickly on plant protein, to that I really really love bacon.

I am big on source, and type, and amount.

Those plastic packages of unnaturally huge chicken breasts gross me right out, and i WILL NOT eat meat that has any sort of artificial dye in it (if i'm the one cooking).

Most foodies will recite lines from "Supersize me" , "King Corn", and "Fast Food Nation".  They'll talk about "real food" as in the words of Michael Pollan... and I have to say that all of these pose excellent points.

But that isn't the real reason for my choice.

I buy all of my meat and eggs at the local butcher.  The brown eggs just plain old look pretty and make me happy.  But meat is another topic altogether.

Did you know that the full moon in October was traditionally referred to as  "The Full Blood Moon".  This is the time of year that farmers used to butcher the livestock they tended with so much care over the past year ( or possibly over several years in the case of pigs and cattle).  They did this by hand.  They fed, and raised, and tended, and finally slaughtered all by hand.  They extinguished the life of a living creature with their own hands in order to sustain themselves and their families.

And so, one crisp morning in October several years ago, my Husband and I headed over to our friend's farm.   He raises sheep, and goats (at the time), and honeybees, and chickens.  The chickens have free-range of his yard after he gets them as chicks every Spring... and he slaughters them every October to fill their family's chest freezer.

When we pulled in the driveway, we were greeted by our friend, two other acquaintances, and a large pen full of live chickens.  Each of us picked a bird and one by one we slaughtered them.    My turn came up last and, of course, the last bird was HUGE because everyone else was avoiding him. I cornered him and grabbed him by the legs.   He flapped and struggled for a second, but became eerily still when we slipped his legs into the rope noose hanging from the garage.   I grabbed his neck, felt the blood pumping through his jugular, took the sharp knife and cut.  I cut hard with one swipe so that I wouldn't have to do it again and I was successful. It was a surprisingly tough swipe to make through the connective tissue and bone.  And there he was, wide-eyed with his blood draining out.  The blood ran onto my hands and shoes and the ground as I held his wings down firmly to prevent his struggling body from bruising the meat. And he struggled hard as his life ran out.  And I felt it running out underneath my hands. Then suddenly the blood stopped running, and the wings went slack and he was gone.  All that was left was a warm carcass of blood caked feathers, skin, and meat.

There was actually an entire lineup of chickens hanging lifeless from the garage at this point and we quickly got to work.  We took them down and were instructed on how to properly  gut them.  I stuck my hand up elbow-deep into that chicken.  Up through it's "vent" (gross, i know), into the top of the carcass where the esophagus and windpipe reside.  Funny thing was that while we were plunging our hands into these birds, the severed tracheas were emitting "clucking" noises as if they were unaware that their heads were completely missing.  We were instructed how to remove the intestinal tract and other guts in one well-placed swipe so as not to rupture anything that may spill feces all over the carcass... and us.    After that, we plunged the gutted carcasses into a 5 gallon (ish) vat of boiling water to scald the feathers.  We plucked the feathers by hand.  Some came out easily... some not so easy... 

And then, dirty, and tired, and about as sober and alive as I've ever felt, we sat there for a while discussing EVERY POSSIBLE culinary use for these chickens.  Because after this process I could never look at meat the same way again.

After this process, I realized that those chicken breasts on the supermarket shelf were 2 to 3 times the size of that huge rooster.  They were bred and fed that way.  And all that packaging... all that plastic... that disgusting "meat pad" underneath anything you buy... seems nothing short of perverse.

This is a LIFE that you're taking every single time you eat meat.  I just ask that everyone be mindful.  Know where it's coming from and what it really is that you're eating.

Respect it.

These days I buy my chickens whole and cut them myself.  Breasts, thighs, drums, and wings get made into a whole slue of different dishes... and occasionally we'll roast the bird whole in the oven with root veggies. But then there's the carcass.  DON'T WASTE THE CARCASS!  It can be made into soup or stock! 

Here's a recipe for the BEST chicken stock I've ever tasted and it's super-simple:

Chicken Stock
One chicken carcass
8 cups of water
1 onion
3 carrots
3 ribs celery
celery seeds (1 or 2 tbsp)
Parsley (a big handful)

Put 8 cups of water in a large pot. Add a tablespoon or two of seasalt.  Add and rest of the ingredients (no need to chop... unless you're planning on making this into a soup).  Bring to a rolling boil and then turn down to low.  Allow to simmer for about 3 hours.  At this point, any remaining meat should be falling off the bones of the carcass.  You can, at this point, strain everything out of the stock and freeze in batches, or, if you're making a soup, remove the carcass, strip the meat off of it, and return the meat to the soup. Add salt if desired  and serve (over noodles or rice is nice).

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