Question of the week: could you kill an animal to eat?

Would you, could you, kill an animal to eat? For most of us, it’s a hypothetical question. We’re not in a position to go out and kill a beast, upon which to feast. Nor do we need to. We can pop down to the local butcher, point to a precisely portioned cut of meat, have it plastic wrapped or or vacuum packed within minutes, and there’s no blood on our hands. Not one crimson splash.

I raise the question because i will be attending a Whole Larder Love food workshop next weekend, where participants have the opportunity to “dispatch” a chicken. Rabbit skinning is also on the agenda, as is plucking and gutting and butchering.

I confidently signed up for the whole hands-on experience (participants can just watch, if they choose), but as the time nears i’ve started to question whether i will be able to see it through. Says my good friend Mel — who is accompanying me on this gastronomic adventure: “I’ll probably chicken out.”

We have chooks at our community garden. When a batch of chicks turned out to be roosters, they were dispatched by one of the garden members. He was qualified for the job. By this time next week i could be, too. Stay tuned.



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Filed under Food Issues, Produce, Question of the week

36 responses to “Question of the week: could you kill an animal to eat?

  1. I am sure the workshop will be great Rachel. I hope you or Rohan or Kate or someone blogs about it! We slaughter all of our own meat including sheep, cattle, chooks and occasionally pigs. For us it is second nature, just like cooking or growing vegetables. Our children are often involved and it is completely normal for them also. It certainly keeps us connected with our food and having to ‘work’ for our meat makes us more aware of what we are eating.

    I will stay tuned!

    • I wish i could be connected to my food in that way, but living Sydney-side pretty much cancels out raising animals in the way you do. Envious of your lifestyle though. Will be writing about the workshop for Sophisticated Traveller magazine – in the Financial Review stable of publications. But will blog about it, too. Thanks for dropping in.

  2. Yes I could and have. Although it’s mainly been fish and chickens that I’ve caught, killed, prepared, cooked and eaten. I’d be interested in killing a mammal and learning how to treat it respectfully so I could cook it and enjoy eating it.

    • Well done, Gary. You make a good point about learning how to treat the animal respectfully. If i do dispatch a chook this weekend, it will partly be because it’ll be under the guidance of professionals who know how to do it correctly and respectfully.

  3. two engaging goldens

    I wish I could have a similar outlook to Jane, however, having been a suburban kid and lived in Sydney until retiring some years ago, I had never been exposed to killing my dinner. We have had chooks since we retired but I could never kill one – unless it was the humane thing to do. I have a blind chookie which I keep separate to the others but she can hear them and she’s happy with her greens and grubs, looks good (but doesn’t lay any more) but I wont just kill her. I have been vegetarian since the live cattle fiasco the other year and I cook meat for my husband with no problem but when I think about what I am eating, no way can it be an animal. Joy

    • Exactly, if you’ve never been exposed to killing your dinner it’s quite a conundrum. I’m way out of my comfort zone on this one … the outcome should be interesting.

  4. Yes! And I have and I don’t see why so much ado is created about it. We have evolved around it and now to try to look “humane” is just out of character of the humans. We need to have the right nourishment and meat is part of it.

    • I think it’s out of character simply because most of us don’t have the means to kill animals for meat ourselves. We don’t raise our own animals, nor do we have the skill set to slaughter. It’s part and parcel of the way we live … many of us are in cities, on small properties, and work full time in jobs that have nothing to do with the land. The opportunity to kill our own meat simply never arises. However, when it does – as it is for me this weekend – we have to face a dilemma. Will we, or won’t we? Could we? Should we?

  5. Hmmmm, this is a very good question, Rachel…. I will be waiting with baited breath to hear how you go. Could I do it? I’m not sure… but that’s because I’m a total wuss with blood, even when I cut myself I tend to run around in circles! Pathetic, I know.

  6. Yes, absolutely. I think it’s necessary if we are to continue eating meat, we should all at least once in our lifetime be exposed to how it is bought to the table. We have all become so desensitized to eating chicken for example that we forget that someone, somewhere had to slaughter an animal for us to have that breast or thigh.

    • Agreed. If you’re willing to eat it, you should be willing to kill it. As most of us don’t grow our own animals for meat, we don’t have the opportunity to slaughter it. It would be interesting to see how many (or few) of us actually would, if we had the opportunity.

  7. Good luck with this Rachel, I’ll be looking forward to hearing how it goes. I’d like to think I could kill my own food if necessary, but have yet to actually do so.

  8. For me, a big part of the question is what sort of life those animals have had. Were they looked after? Protected from preditors? Allowed to live in a natural environment free from pesticides and other nasties? Were they fed a balanced diet? Were they able to express their natural behaviour and all that that involves ie. dustbathing, scratching for bugs, living outside and not being tricked by false lighting into unnatural laying conditions.
    I can personally answer YES to all of the above.
    And not only that but I can assure you that those chickens that WLL will have at his course have lived loooooong chicken lives. Waaaaaay longer than any factory farmed or commercially bred chickens.
    At Daylesford Organics we take out responsibility to our chickens very seriously and I honestly believe that a respectful end to their lives as part of the food chain is ok.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Kate. I am looking forward to the Whole Larder Love workshop on so many levels.
      We will be in good hands, i know … just like those chooks have been during their loooooong chicken lives!
      I hope to learn lots, and take away some new experiences – challenging though they may be.
      You used two very important — and telling — words when you talked about your chooks … “responsibility” and “respectful”.
      There is a much bigger picture to what we eat, and it’s one many of us are happy to turn a blind eye to.
      Thanks for the work you do and for ushering some of us down a more responsible path.

  9. It depends on a lot of things personally. Depends on your philosophy about eating, how you are conditioned/educated etc when you are growing up.

    For me i always thought it was something i could do but it never presented itself as something practical (living in the city). But after moving to the country and raising chickens and the inevitable extra roosters . . .well. For me the hardest part was the lead up to the ‘deed’. After that – life has left the animal and you get on with the job. Because quite frankly an animal has been dispatched by your own hand that you raised yourself and to waste that life would be close to criminal. Everyone is different. If you do ‘chicken out’ do not feel ashamed or reduced because you couldn’t do it. I don’t think everyone can or should. I didn’t have any experience except some extensive reading on the net. I think it might have helped having someone there who was a practiced hand. I would have felt more confident. I’m not sure if it makes it easier not raising the bird in question though.

    Weirdly i think rabbits would be easier – especially wild ones. Bloody pests driving me crazy at the moment.

    • Great response Simon … and interesting to hear of your own personal journey. You’re right, i guess, that not everyone it cut out for the job, or needs to be. And equally, each to their own. During the course of responding to comments on this blog post, i’ve actually started to feel better – and more confident – about the whole thing. I’m also interested to see the impact will be – if i do the ‘deed’, that is – on my chicken eating habits, post workshop. Could be another blog post in that! Thanks for dropping by.

  10. I think if you’re going to eat meat then you should be a) aware of where it has come from b) understand (and care about) the way it has been raised and c) know and/or care about how it died. Sadly so much of the meat industry is “cloak and dagger” so being able to butcher an animal you’ve raised is really very special. And killing your own meat in a kind & respectful way is probably WAY better than what goes in an abattoir – less stressful to the animal for starters. It’s a privilege that you should embrace….you’re really very lucky.

    Death is just the end of the road in the lives of our meat animals — there is so much more too their story, and in factory farms much of it is suffering and sadness.

    I think to eat meat we need to respect the animal…not just in death but throughout it’s entire life.

    • Thanks for your considered response. I like your point of view that killing an animal yourself, in order to eat it, is a privilege, something special. I am already looking at my up-coming workshop experience in a whole different light. Not something to be afraid of, but to embrace … an opportunity that may not come my way again for some time.
      You are also the second person to mention respect, in terms of handling animals – throughout their lives and at the point of death. Only if we handle animals ourselves, do we know what they have truly been through.
      I don’t expect i’ll ever be in a position to be a regular chook dispatcher … but i’m pleased to have the opportunity and feeling more confident about seeing it through.

      • I probably didn’t answer your 1st question though. I think that in this day & age, and as a city dweller that NO you don’t have to kill an animal to eat it, or be able to kill it. Most of just wouldn’t get the opportunity anyway. But we should be responsible consumers…eat free range, don’t support factory farming. It’s such a complex issue! I hope your experience this week goes well for you (and the chook).

      • My sentiments exactly – and the Whole Larder Love workshop only served to enforce that! Thanks for dropping by.

  11. I’m a total wimp. I should be a vegetarian because I would have a very tough time killing anything. If they were shaped like a cockroach and didn’t have big eyes, it would be much easier.

    I accept that an animal has to die for me to eat meat and I have seen an animal slaughtered. I didn’t die but I just don’t think I could do it myself.

  12. Dear Rachel,

    That a great question. Growing up in Asia, I used to see chickens, frogs and turtles being slaughtered in wet markets.

    Personally, I think I can kill chickens, fish, frog, turtle and snake for food but definitely not a cow or pig. As a kid, I remember refusing to eat chicken given to our family which I saw freshly slaughtered by our maid to my mum’s dismay.

    • Thanks for dropping by … and i agree, pigs, cows, sheep, etc would be much harder. Doubt i could do it. I did, however, kill a chook at the weekend. Surprised myself somewhat by going through with it, but pleased a did. Post to follow!

  13. i’m late to this conversation, but what a great one. i read ‘whole larder love’ and wondered how many readers would take on that lifestyle. it seemed, if not elitist, then very niche.
    but to your question. as a suburbanite, i can squash a snail with relish, and have no qualms about posioning rodents who clatter about in my roof. but animals i have to eat? the one time i sectioned a whole chook was very distressing because it just reminded me of … chooks!
    however, my dad was born and rasied on a farm, and he can kill a chook, and does when the old girls on their property are ill and unwell (otherwise we let them grow old gracefully. but it is sad walkign out in the mornign and finding the body of a chook in the yard who has passed away).
    i’ve read too many stories of industrial animal farming and slaughter that makes me question what it is that gives us the right to treat animals like that. but that’s industrial meat production; if anythign then i have very negative feelings about people who mistreat animals in their life and in their death (re the live animal exports and recent egypt episode, for example). i certainly respect and appreciate what jane said way up front: about knowing where your food comes from and being part of that. but for most of us, growing our own food in our backyards is restricted to carrots and beans, not chickens and lambs.
    i don’t think i’ve added anything new to the conversation but as always, thank you FS for such a thought-provoking post. it’s good to think about our food beyond ‘what’s for dinner tonight?’.

    • Thanks for joining the conversation.You’re right, suburbanites like us are limited in what we can actually do when it comes to killing the meat we eat. But for me one of the things that the conversation has enforced is the idea of respect – respecting animals in life as well as their death. I may not have the opportunity to kill my own dinner, often ( i did at the weekend when i slaughtered a chook at the Whole Larder Love workshop), but i can at least make responsible decisions about where i source my meat from. I can choose small producers who raise happy animals in free range environments, that have been content and well looked after during the slaughter process. If i can’t kill my own dinner, that’s the least i can do.

  14. I agree wholeheartedly with the philosophy of responsible meat eating and putting it into practice but when i started thinking harder on the subject (your post has been knocking around in my head for a while now) it poses some pretty big questions beyond would you/could you. First of all i should say upfront – i think we should be treating the animals we eat ethically. I do raise/slaughter/eat my own chickens but only infrequently – surplus roosters only (as per my post further up) and the girls will get to scratch out their days for the service they do in my permaculture setup and providing eggs (sentimental attachment). I buy from a local butcher that has his own farm of cattle and sheep (and sometimes pigs) and sources locally if he can’t provide the usual fair (i live out in the ‘sticks’ 3 hours from Sydney).

    But then what does the whole ethical question mean? Lots of land to roam, a close as natural lifestyle, free of predators? (not counting us), a responsible end to their life and then consumed. But that then leads to the issue of money. You have to chop down trees for land, extra costs for all that entails (fencing/protection of investment/transport from far off farms etc). Then there is the issue of growing population and how to provide for that. The idea of China becoming more affluent and middle class and wanting a western diet is mind boggling. Our society is unfortunately driven by the almighty dollar and that means people want what they want for the cheapest price possible. The food industry responds to that by providing the status quo which they rightly hide from the public eye because most people don’t want to know the reality of their food production. I know i’m simplifying this all (and throwing in generalisations to boot) but it does make the brain hurt when you take in all the factors of meat/food production. Quite frankly it makes the vegetarian stance (or vegan) a better view point in regards to food. But where do you draw the line – it is a moral personal opinion (and meat is so damn tasty – steak on the bbq or even used economically in a nice stew . . . . ). Even planting all those veges takes up room, but at least more manageable in your average backyard which may slowly disappear with the increasing world population.

    There was even a news story released recently that insects provide 1kg of biomass from 2kg of food (whereas a cow would produce 1kg from 8) can’t find the exact source that quoted those figures but it’s a link to the AM story. Insects seem pretty unpalatable to my basic western ideal – i can imagine how that would go down at home if i served them up! Even if they were presented ala garlic prawns. This subject is even starting to creep into the UN agenda and shaping up to be a pretty big issue. So i don’t think the question is just about whether you can kill your own meat – it’s a step in the right direction though and not enough people rate it high enough on the agenda of how to live their daily life. It does seem to be gathering momentum, unless i’m just reading a certain subject of material.

    But anyway this was just a bit of musing (with hopefully not too much shooting my mouth off) – i saw a humourous answer to a blog poster that took up heaps of space. The reply was “this is my blog. If you want to write so much – get your own blog” : )

    p.s. congratulations Rachel on attending the WLL workshop. Looking forward to the post on how that went. Was interested in going to that myself but funds were not permitting.

    • Thanks for your (long) but very welcome response. There is so much to think about on this topic, once you start, isn’t there? I agree wholeheartedly that we should be making our food choices and decisions more seriously and responsibly. Killing one old chook is a miserly contribution in the big scheme of things, but i felt an important step to take and skill well worth learning. You’re right, though. There are a lot of impractibilities to take into account with a sustainable lifestyle – and i have to admit i hadn’t really considered them before you came along (with your extra long response!) But i think in the long run they’re steps worth taking and lessons worth learning. I wish i could be in a position to do more, but as a city slicker it’s baby steps all the way, for me!
      P.S Get yourself a blog!

  15. Hi Rachel,
    that sounds like an interesting workshop. I am a city kid so as you described never had or have to slaughter an animal to get my meat, and I probably wouldn’t want to. I have been to farms though where they do and I was alright watching it as it feels natural if it’s done in a respectful way. Good luck with your course, looking forward to hearing more about it.

    • Yes, us city kids have a lot to learn. The workshop was great fun, and immensely satisfying on so many levels. Blog post, now posted, if you have time to read it.

  16. brenda

    Hey Rachel, nice to stop past your blog and take a poke around! I was in the same emotional place as you pre-WLL workshop. I think it’s testament to how the workshop was run and the support by everyone present that made us all feel that we were strong enough to do the deed and learn from the experience. I really did feel supported with my emotional wavering…I look forward to reading your experience xx

    • Yep – i think most of us were in the same pre-workshop space. It was certainly a supportive group, which i think made all the difference. Rohan gets a gold star for his training skills. I liked the fact that he talked us through it, step-by-step. Thanks for dropping by, Brenda.

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