Group Teaches San Diegans How To Slaughter Animals For Food
As people buy their Thanksgiving turkeys, few will consider where the turkey came from: how it was killed, plucked and packaged.
A group of San Diego food writers, ranchers and documentarians are trying to change that. They contribute to a project called Death For Food, and they want to connect meat eaters to the process of making meat by showing them how to slaughter animals for food.
At a recent demonstration at Suzie's Farm in south San Diego, Death for Food creator Jaime Fritsch guided a select group through the process, including 10-year-old Calvin Berkley.
Calvin is used to hanging out with chickens. He has five of them at home.
"We have Iron Man, Roadrunner and Blackie. Those are some of the names," said Calvin, who attended the event with his dad.
Calvin won't be playing with the chickens. He'll be learning how to slaughter one.
"I don't really know what it's going to be like," he said. "It's kind of a new experience for me."
The 12 adults and Calvin each pick a chicken. Many of them cradle their chickens for a while, petting their feathers. For the slaughter, the chicken is placed upside down in a metal cone. It’s head and neck sticks out the narrow end. Holding the chicken's neck, one by one they slit both sides of their chicken's throat, hitting the major arteries. The chicken shakes for seconds inside the cone, then goes still.
The dead chicken is put in a vat of hot water, called a scalder, and then transferred to a metal drum that bounces the body around until the feathers come loose. Participants then learn how to eviscerate the chicken.
Fritsch said the form of traditional chicken blood-letting he teaches is the most humane way to kill the animal.
"We use surgical scalpels and they lose consciousness, if you're doing it right, in a couple of seconds. And the chicken should be dead in another ten seconds," he said. "They only experience that first cut."
The chicken's head is held up during the blood-letting so the blood is drained from the brain first, allowing it to lose consciousness quickly, he said.
Fritsch started Death for Food because he was struggling with eating meat. He came to terms with it when a farmer showed him how to humanely slaughter a chicken.
"I think there was a relief in owning up to the killing that was taking place for me to eat," Fritsch said.
Troy Johnson, a food writer who contributes to the Death For Food website, said people are disconnected from the food chain and that's a problem.
"The fact that we go into the grocery story and buy, under perfect cellophane, these glistening whoopee cushions of meat, it just makes it a product," said Johnson, who slaughtered a chicken at the demonstration.
"There's no emotional connection to our food system and I just think there's something perverse about that," he said.
Ever since he slaughtered a quail for dinner at another Death for Food event, it changed the amount of meat he eats, Johnson said.
"I'm pretty much a vegetarian until sundown now," he said. "It changed me for sure."
Not surprisingly, animal-rights activists and vegans are not fans of this project. Suzie's Farm was going to co-host a Death for Food dinner and demonstration this past weekend. They received a phone message from a man who didn't leave his name. This is an excerpt of what he said:
"This is going to come out so bad that if you are able to sell beets at a profit it will be a miracle. You guys are f*g disgusting and now the world is going to know."
An online petition launched by animal-rights activist and lawyer Bryan Pease to cancel the event got more than 2,000 signatures. Days later, Suzie's Farm pulled out.
Robin Taylor, founder of Suzie's Farm, said in an email to KPBS, "due to the overwhelming negative response, we decided to not proceed with the the event at our farm."
Taylor's wife and co-owner of Suzie's was scheduled to speak at the canceled event, along with Greg Koch, CEO of Stone Brewing Co., and Juan Miron, co-owner of the popular food truck MIHO Gastrotruck. Some of the city's top chefs were to cook courses for the evening's meal.
Drew Deckman, a slow-food chef and owner of Deckman's restaurant in Baja California, said Death for Food proponents and animal-rights activists have much in common. Both believe in respecting animals.
"We feel exactly the same way as they do about how an animal should be taken care of, about how an animal should be fed. There’s one key difference," said Deckman. "We eat them and they don't."
By the end of the day, young Calvin had harvested his first chicken. He did it mostly himself. Fritsch only helped him use the scalpel on the chicken's neck. About the events of the day, he said, "it felt a little hard at some points and then a little easy."
"It was my first time, so I'm not used to all the blood and stuff," Calvin said.
He said mostly it was no big deal, and he learned about all of the parts inside the chicken.
Fritsch said he has one main goal at these demonstrations.
"I want people to experience what's real, what actually needs to happen to get food and then integrate that as they will," he said.
Death For Food plans to hold more demonstrations but because of the backlash from animal-rights activists, those events won't be widely advertised.