It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
On Saturday, in part three of The Human Path’s Hunter-Gatherer class, we learned how to kill, field dress and cook a goose and a rabbit.
Yes, we learned how to kill animals for food.
It was anything but easy. As anyone knows, I’m a huge softy when it comes to animals. I’ll go out of my way to catch spiders, geckos, and other critters and take them outside. Commercials showing animals in shelters get immediately muted. I’m one of the students who avoided high school biology so I could avoid dissecting a frog. And I never hesitate to stop on a rural highway to snatch turtles off the road and send them off in a safe direction.
It was also necessary. For a long time, I’ve struggled with the hypocrisy that I eat meat but have been unwilling to fully acknowledge the fact that animals must die to produce my food. For several years, in fact, I stopped eating meat because I saw a news report about animals being slaughtered as a preventative for hoof and mouth disease and realized that if it bothered me to hear about livestock being killed, maybe I shouldn’t eat them. Although now I’m a recovering vegetarian and really enjoy my bacon, the conflict remains.
For months now, since the hunter-gatherer class was announced, I’ve struggled with my hypocrisy. How can I love animals but be okay with eating them? And in that case, why is it okay to let someone else kill an animal so I can eat it, but not okay for me to do it myself?
To try to come to terms with my dilemma, I talked to hunters, and listened to podcasts about hunting deer. I resumed eating poultry – the last vestige of my vegetarian days. I allowed my friend Russ to show me the home butchery portion of Marjory Wildcraft’s excellent DVD, Backyard Food Production, in which she demonstrates how to kill and dress a rabbit. I also sought spiritual answers, asking about my place in the world and my relationship with nature, and found some comfort in The Celestine Prophecy.
Through all of these experiences, and the support of my friends (including our teacher Sam, and my fellow classmates), I accepted that if I was going to participate in the demise of these creatures, I would bring respect and love, and made a promise to myself not to distance myself from the animals or pretend it hadn’t happened.
And on the day of the class, all of my classmates shared that respect, though I’ll admit there was also a moment of humor when many of us in the class found ourselves singing Elmer Fudd’s hunting ditty:
You know, you do what you gotta do, right?
When it came time, I made a conscious decision to physically interact with each animal, even though it meant I would have a connection with them. I held both the goose and rabbit in turn, giving them my positive energy, thanking them for their lives, and trying my best to calm them before the moment of truth. In both cases, even though it wasn’t pleasant, I saw how the animals died, and know it was as quick and humane as possible.
Afterwards, along with every member of our class (including Vickie, who’s a vegetarian!), I helped to clean the carcasses and prepare the meat for our dinner. I got to see all of the organs and learned a lot about both animals I hadn’t known before (who knew a goose’s gall bladder was jade green!). So much for avoiding biology…
In hindsight, I’m really glad I was part of this class. Several days later it’s still difficult for me to think about it, and even now, as I write this, the memories of the whole process are vivid, and they don’t bring me joy. But I do accept that the experience was necessary, for reasons that maybe I won’t ever be able to adequately explain in words (but will always know in my heart). I also believe that if I ever need to do it again, it will be okay, for I will bring the same attitude to the job at hand, just as I will never again take supermarket meat for granted.
That, at least, gives me peace.