Whole Story

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Being Grateful for the Meat We Eat

By Beth Krauss, January 20, 2013  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Beth Krauss

Kevin with turkeyI handle PR for Whole Foods Market®’s Meat Department, and last Thanksgiving I gained a profound appreciation for what it takes to get turkey on the table.

Writer Tamar Haspel and her husband, Kevin, had been raising six birds on their farm; Tamar has documented the process on her fascinating and witty blog, StarvingOfftheLand.com. I reached out to Tamar to chat about Whole Foods Market’s work with Global Animal Partnership. During our talk, Tamar asked me a tough question: had I ever killed an animal for meat? When I said no, Tamar invited me and our global meat buyer, Becky Faudree, to join her and Kevin on the Sunday before Thanksgiving to slaughter and process their turkeys.

Becky and I went because we both work in the meat world, but neither one of us had a first-hand experience with slaughter. We felt it was important that we come face-to-face with the realities of meat production. It wasn’t an opportunity we took lightly. It turned out to be a challenging and very personal experience for both of us.

We hope you’ll read over each of our experiences with an open mind.

 

turkeyBecky’s Experience

In talking with a friend about my turkey slaughter experience and sharing how close it made me feel to that animal in that moment — and the tremendous amount of appreciation I had for the turkey as I held the knife and cut the artery with tears rolling down my cheeks — he brought up Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook and his lesson on rabbits. In Keller’s book he writes, “Because killing those rabbits had been such an awful experience, I would not squander them.  I would use all my powers as chef to ensure that those rabbits were beautiful.  It’s very easy to go to a grocery store and buy meat, then accidentally overcook it and throw it away.”

I really love Thomas Keller’s message. We need to value the meat we eat. We need to make sure meat is not squandered. On slaughter day, I had an attachment to my turkey, once killed. From plucking to eviscerating, taking part in the entire process was truly important and an experience I will not forget. We watched it change from bird to meat, as Kevin explained.

I’ve been in the meat world pretty much my entire working career, but turkey-slaughter day was a profound experience. It made me more thankful for the ranchers and farmers that work so hard to properly raise the meat we eat. I am more thankful for the animals that end up on our plates.

 

turkey feathersBeth’s Experience

When we arrived on slaughter day, I wasn’t sure I could do it. I wondered if the experience would make me vegetarian (and if so, what would that mean for my job representing our Meat Department?) and I feared I’d botch something and cause unnecessary pain. When I picked up the knife, it felt heavy in my hand.

But I did it (for details on how, check out Tamar’s post) and two things have stayed with me.

First, this experience was extremely emotional and it changed my relationship with meat. I felt a progression of fear to sadness, compassion and gratitude. I am now much more invested in knowing where my meat came from, how the animal was raised and that it was humanely processed.

Second, I think as shoppers and meat eaters we should talk more about animal welfare. In my job as PR Coordinator I get web alerts every day about meat. Now I see more clearly than ever that the life – and death – of the animals is largely left out of the conversation. We should ask our butchers how the animals were raised and take responsibility for our choices. It’s the only way to move the needle toward better lives for farm animals.

 

I know that it’s not easy to think about where our meat comes from but I hope you’ll join the conversation. If you’re interested, check out microfarmer Jason Ring’s story of raising and processing his own chickens, courtesy of DarkRye.com. Or tell us: Have you ever processed your own meat? How has it affected the food choices you make?

Category: Meat

 

21 Comments

Comments

Diana says ...
Hello, How many people eat goose during the holidays? I moved here from another state that has a higher European population and its easy to get goose, but not in Little "Rock.If raised my own geese who would process it for me? Thanks, Dian
01/22/2013 3:16:52 AM CST
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@DIANA - Unfortunately, we do not typically offer processing options at our stores. I would suggest reaching out to the store in Little Rock to see if they have any recommendations for you. You can call them at 501.221.2331.
01/25/2013 3:19:45 PM CST
Lisa says ...
WOW...loved this blog post :) I think humans are meant to eat meat (sorry vegetarians); however, respecting your meat and knowing where it comes from is important too! Thanks for this post!
01/29/2013 5:57:46 PM CST
Erik says ...
We have raised and slaughtered our own chickens for the past few years. I think it is an important part of the process that we understand where our meat comes from and how it is treated. Animals should be shown compassion and mercy throughout their lives but especially at the moment of slaughter. If someone wants to learn to slaughter the best thing they should do is find someone in the area that processes the birds or animals in the Islamic manner (halal) as this is the most merciful to the animal. When you see them slaughtered this way it is like they go to sleep and that is it.
01/30/2013 5:22:52 PM CST
Marisa Procopio says ...
Beth and Becky-- Thank you for your elegant and brave words on this uncomfortable topic, and thank you also for directing me (and all of us) to Jason Ring's video. I'm a food writer (my blog link is below; I also write and edit for Edible Jersey magazine) and I agree with you and with Jason: more needs to be said about this subject, and children DO need to be involved if they are ever to understand, truly understand, the link between themselves, what they eat, and the earth. Good for you for opening up the topic, and I hope you'll keep the conversation going. mcproco.wordpress.com
01/30/2013 8:54:52 PM CST
Jim Platter says ...
On the subject of Killing animals. From the words of most or all of the women. & maybe two or three men, I can tell that they did not grow up in the counrty. I grew up in the early "60s" in the outskirts of Loomis, a (then) small town in Calif. Later in my life, I had five acres on the South Tip Of Camano Island, in Washinton. Living in the country, I/we the family, raised most of our own food. Vegetables, and meat. Plus my brother and I hunted duck, phesant, quail, and deer. I have helped cows deliver Breeched birth calves, helped my goats in their delivery of babies and also sheep. Most of the time the cows, sheep and goats have no troble delivering on their own. But more to the subject: and to give some advise, To Diana, I have found that when it comes to butchering geese & ducks, the quickest and easist way to remove the feathers is just to skin the birds. Both geese and ducks have a thick layer of fat just under the skin. Due the fact that water foul, have an oil that keeps their feathers water proof, sticking them in a pan of water at the temp. of 165 degrees to loosen the feathers--dose not work. 165 is the recomended tempruture to use with chickens and turkeys. Anything hotter will start cooking the flesh. When it comes to killing my animals that is never a pleasent job. In my case most of my animals become my pets. I don't plan it that way it just happens. My daughters would come of to visit me in the summers 5 to 7 weeks. My then youngest daughter of about 8 or 9 years, would name every chicken, goose, duck and turkey and then drill me untill I had remembered the name of every bird. ie: Mighty Morphin Power turkey, Power Puff Freak face--a chicken, Buffy butt, Road Runner--a Rooster, Milk Stud--our young calf--I robbed him of his man-hood so a steer. Back to the subject, As far as toughness of birds goes, inorder to keep tender meat you have to butcher them at 6 to 7 weeks of age. As she said (our old rooster) he was tough. What I did for older birds was to strip their bones of meat and run it through my meat grinder--a small one that would not accept meat any larger than 1 inch square. When it comes to killing my birds, I use my prunning shears. My thinking is: I want to sever the back bone--the spinal cord as quickly as possible. As far as (we) know collectivly speaking severing the spinal cord they will feel no pain. As far as we know. But how can we ever know with any athority know how much or little pain birds or any other animal truely feels. But this I do know, every time I cut the head off of a chicken with in 1 or 2 quick chops the head will fall to the ground and the eyes of that bird are looking at me wondering about what the heck just happened--what had I just done to him/her. This takes place for a few seconds or until the oxigen in that birds head has been consumed and then slowly the birds eyes will close. But once the head of that bird has been cut off and the eyes have closed, all of the birds personaliy/feelings are gone. The remaining part is just a lump of fleash to be cleand and prossed. If anyone has any more questions send me an E-mail. j3plat@yahoo.com Jim
02/02/2013 7:35:47 AM CST
brady.ja says ...
I always give thanks to the animal (as Native Americans did, I'm told) when I eat an animal (which isn't often). I'm so glad both you & those present do not take such an awful task lightly. Once I researched, I know I will never, ever participate in the abuse of animals in agribusiness by purchasing meat raised in such abusive conditions. I'm so happy to hear of microfarmers. The information about Keller's book is moving, as is this entire account. Thank-you for sharing. Hopefully, the world of consciousness will continue...
02/02/2013 5:27:15 PM CST
Michele says ...
Thank you to all of those who work so hard to provide your loyal customers with meat we don't have to feel so guilty about. It is not easy for me to eat meat, because it was once a living thing. But I crave meat on occassion. I do know I will never again eat meat that isn't from a quality farm. I can't even go into a standard grocery store anymore and walk by the meat section. It smells TERRIBLE! No way can I cook it in my home and have it make the house smell like that. Gross! What I get from Whole Foods never has a nasty odor, so that is one plus. The other is the reason. Quality farms, run by quality people, equals quality food. Thank you all for that. I just wish more of this would occur, so everyone could have the option.
02/04/2013 11:30:40 AM CST
shawn says ...
As a person who has recently decided to stop eating animals, I found this article very enlightening. I can appreciate your statement of, “Because killing those rabbits had been such an awful experience, I would not squander them". It is important for those who choose to consume something that was once living to realize the impact their choices have on the world around us. Unfortunately most of us do not correlate the "meat" on our plates with the +19,000 farm animals killed every MINUTE in the US alone. I personally have only seen a few dozen farm animals in my entire life. Its hard to contemplate such a number. For whatever reason you choose to consume animals, try and reflect on the birth/ personality/ living conditions/ and ultimately death that, that animal endured.
02/08/2013 7:52:16 PM CST
Ruth Rosen says ...
Thanks for this. I just sent a question to the store asking if it's possible to extend the info you provide on how animals were raised to how they were slaughtered. I am new to trying to research this but I really want to move toward the goal of only consuming meat that comes from animals that were not only respectfully raised, but humanely slaughtered. Your post really resonates with me. As a city dweller who has long been uneasy about the probable cruelty involved in many meals I've consumed, I want to be more in touch in constructive ways that allow myself and others to make constructive and well informed choices. If Whole Foods can take the lead on this I will become a die-hard customer.
03/04/2013 3:48:17 PM CST
Lori B says ...
I'm at about the same place as Ruth. I've spent much of my life in an unconscious state when it comes to the food I consume - especially meat (I know it was a living creature before it hit my plate, but I've tried to put the process of how it got there out of my mind). I guess you could say I've recently been awakened and am now a conscious consumer. It's actually been two weeks since I've eaten meat, but I don't know that I will continue as a lifetime decision. To start I'm educating myself and am grateful for the information provided here. I'm looking into local farms, but I'm excited to know that there is a Whole Food Store about 30 minutes away, so I'll be visiting soon and I'm sure I will become a life long customer.
03/07/2013 7:45:59 AM CST
Christine Carey says ...
Your comments echo my sentiments exactly--every time I eat meat I realize that an animal gave its life so that I can do so. I respect the meat and have a very had time ever wasting it...and it is disturbing for me to ever see meat wasted, knowing what the animal went through so that we could enjoy it. Thank you for doing this. I know it was a profound experience.
03/21/2013 1:22:24 PM CDT
Lori Antz says ...
Some 25 yrs. ago, I read the book "Out of Eden", and as a result did not eat meat for about three years. When I moved back to a northern, very cold, climate, I found myself craving meat my first winter there. I have never knowingly eaten lamb or veal as I always felt the treatment of those young animals and their mothers was heart-wrenching. I too give thanks, out loud, for the turkey that graces our table at Thanksgiving, and wish that all those who hunt would do so with reverence. I have a very difficult time accepting the reality of hunting for sport, and then displaying trophies and animal heads to boast of that act. My family, or maybe even I, would have to be extremely hungry for me to be able to bring myself to kill an animal, and I know I would do it with gratitude and a heavy heart. To be witnessing a shift in the way the people of our country regard our animal population gives me hope for humankind, whether it be the animals raised to feed us or those who provide companionship and unconditional love in the form of our "pets". As Ghandi stated, and I believe; "The greatness of a nation, and it's moral progress, can be judged by the way in which it's animals are treated." Reading of the direction in which Whole Foods is attempting to go, and all the comments related to the above article, gives me hope for both the animal kingdom and human "kind".
04/01/2013 2:55:52 PM CDT
Vegan Rabbit says ...
Since when do we show respect by killing? If you love animals, you won't eat them. If you try to reduce unecessary suffering by "humanely killing" (an oxymoron) animals, you must go vegan. I am living proof that eating animals is not necessary.
04/08/2013 1:26:43 AM CDT
Casey Terminello says ...
It is not enough to treat an animal humanely while it is alive. We must do everything we can to make the slaughter process as humane as we possibly can. I hope Whole Foods will address this also.
04/10/2013 7:41:32 PM CDT
Corey Lee Wrenn says ...
Wow, how incredibly disgusting...the glamorization of violence for personal pleasure and convenience. Whole Foods is doing worse for the animals than Tyson by peddling this "happy meat" mythology.
04/16/2013 12:28:58 PM CDT
Cindy Campbell says ...
Thank you for this perspective. I have been Vegetarian for about a year now, but I do miss eating meat. My problem w/eating meat is not eating the meat, it is the cruel treatment of factory farmed animals. I don't mind paying more for humanely raised meat and after reading about Whole Foods 5 steps, I am planning a trip today to your store to purchase a roast beef. I appreciate so much that somebody cares about this (besides me). In this "hamburger obessed" world we live in, sometimes I feel like I'm the only somebody who cares about the animals who live and die (by the millions) every day. thank you again.
04/18/2013 10:24:35 AM CDT
Susan Cho says ...
I'm glad more of us are willing to make ourselves uncomfortable in order to consider someone else's welfare. So let's not forget that dairy cows & egg-laying chickens suffer horribly, and they are all slaughtered, too. The cows are forcibly separated from their newborns, who are also slaughtered at some point. In fact, if the cows are pregnant when they are slaughtered, the unborn calves simply suffocate. Male chicks of egg-laying breeds are gassed, smothered, or ground up while fully conscious. Laying hens may be ground up right on the floor of their "cage-free" facility, but one way or another, they are slaughtered, too.
04/18/2013 10:38:31 AM CDT
Susan Cho says ...
Also, in order to avoid supporting factory farming, folks should stay away from all prepared & processed foods w/meat, dairy, eggs, and fish. The cows who brought you the cheese on that pizza assuredly were not slaughtered carefully. The hens who brought you the egg whites in that breading were not slaughtered carefully. Animal exploitation and abuse is everywhere; we just have to allow ourselves to see it.
04/18/2013 10:40:54 AM CDT
Julie says ...
When I was in college, in an Anatomy and Physiology class, we did an experiment with growth hormones. To study what they do, we injected baby chicks with growth hormones and measured/recorded what happened. They reached puberty early, and became extrodinarily aggressive. We are already seeing the affects of antibiotics in our meat with resistance, what are the hormones doing to us? Not to mention "angry meat". When animals are pennned up and kept in stressful enviornments the level of cortisol, the stress hormone, increases and floods their system. We are then eating this meat. What are the effects on us and our children? I don't even want to consider.....
04/23/2013 8:56:59 AM CDT
Rebecca Wisniewski says ...
Having grown up on a very small farm, I have been part of bring an animal or bird that we raised to the table. I too developed a feeling gratitude. It is childlike thinking that we can just stop the slaughter of birds, bunnies, animals. We do need to make sure that the animals we eat are well treated. Thank you for this well thought out piece.
06/26/2014 9:34:12 AM CDT