THE FOLLOWING POST CONTAINS SEMI-GRAPHIC IMAGES. DO NOT READ IF YOU ARE NOT OKAY WITH KILLING/EATING CHICKENS OR IF YOU HAVE THEM AS PETS. (P.S. it’s a long entry – no way I could make it shorter).
I’ve tried starting this blog 3 times. The first time, I ended up writing 14 pages and it will most likely be a chapter in my new book. The second time turned into a rant against the meat packing industry which I firmly believe in and maybe I’ll post it in the future, but it doesn’t seem to be my way of doing things here– this is my space for storytelling.
This is extremely hard to do in this instance because I don’t feel like I can explain the story of this meal without the “whys.” But I need to try because platitudes and shouting are not my things.
I want to tell you the brief story of a couple who grew up in separate well-off families. Families who always had a healthy dinner on the table; families that grew up before the 1990s rehashing of food, making Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) present in almost everything they ate.
This couple didn’t garden before meeting each other. They owned cats and dogs at different times, but had never seen a chicken and maybe had driven by a pasture of cows.
When they met and fell in love, they simultaneously fell in love with cooking – and cooking good food at that. They soon started looking for a house to call a home and the only thing that was not to be compromised was space for a small kitchen garden.
The house they ended up buying was the Money Pit – 2008’s version – complete with BB bullet holes in shattered windows, punched holes in the walls, and soiled carpets (post home inspection). But they bought some steel horse troughs and grew three tomato plants in them — needing signs of life in the midst of a self-remodel. Then they received a copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle a year later all just because Kristin liked her fiction…………………………….
Fast forward to last week and the couple has now turned their one-fifth of an acre into a homestead that produces 40 pounds of vegetables a month and growing. The front yard contains blueberries, asparagus, rhubarb, and artichokes while the backyard houses almost every veggie you could dream of and a small flock of chickens along with over two dozen fruit trees. The trees will start producing in another two years, but the question remains of why?
This couple started to feel different about the world. That maybe it wasn’t important to save the world, maybe their own neighbors mattered more. It has never been about conversion to gardening or to God, but it has been about living out a way of life that is radically different. They did this because they really do want to make a difference in their own health and for the health of a world that needs stewardship desperately, however it needed to start where they were. They were done talking about it, instead choosing to live into the dirtiness of working it out through laboring.
Driven by hope, they now live in the rhythm of seasons, experiencing death and life and faith and liturgy in a whole new way – a way that is changing their souls.
Part of that change is understanding the role they play in some of the biggest politically divisive issues and not seeing them as issues, but seeing how they could actually be proactive about things like immigration, education, and human rights.
As it turns out, food was wrapped up in all of these things. So they took their blinders off realizing food is cheap for a reason. It led to changing the way they worship, the way they learn, the way they live out their marriage, the way they give gifts, the way they interact with their community, the way they eat, and the way they see God working.
This past weekend, these things took on an even deeper meaning – all of them – because it involved death and death by their hands.
Death – a thing that is so foreign to this culture. Cemeteries are not in our church yards anymore; some have been at bedsides, but then loved ones are whisked off to be handled by paid professionals. And that begs another question: why do this when they didn’t have to?
Because to be part of the circle of life, to eat food, to eat meat, someone somewhere kills it. And a lot of the time it isn’t humane- for the animals and for the butchers. They didn’t realize what their “meat” had eaten; that it is always (even organic meat) dipped in bleach to “purify” it; that meatpacking is one of America’s most dangerous jobs.
Ignorance was no longer bliss, so they knew when the time came their delicious egg laying birds would become stew pot birds because they were not pets to them, they were part of a bigger process – a process their faith and discipline had committed them to.
It is a process that has gone on for much of the world’s existence. One that has been forgotten and one that is reemerging. It is not one that is easy, or fun, or one that they relish in, but a necessary one to be responsible and ethical.
So we killed.
And we dipped, and we feathered, we cut, gutted, and processed. First with the help of an amazing local farmer and then in our own backyard. Because we believed.
It was the shortest commute for a meal I’ve ever taken. All but a couple veggies came from our backyard: carrots, onions, zucchini, kale, tomatoes, basil, and oregano.
And the people that we did it with – our bad ass friends – who slit throats because I couldn’t do that part. Who were gracious when I stuck my hand inside a still warm bird and realized (at first in my subconscious) that I had never touched warm raw meat and my gag reflux kicked in. But by the end I was fine… and the whole thing felt strangely normal and oddly as it should be.
Everything in my life up until these past couple years has been so sterile. My meat comes with a maxi pad and it’s always cold. My veggies were pristine with no bugs or dirt. …. And now I deeply feel that something is terribly wrong with the fact that getting messy is not part of our food culture… and maybe not our faith either.
I understand that not everyone can do this (or wants to), but don’t call us mean (which many have) because we participated in this. Our birds lived better lives than 99% of the meat in this nation- and no humans were harmed or exploited in the process. And for us that is important, not for our chickens’ “feelings,” but for our commitment to living in sustainable and intentional ways.
This sustainability and intentionality drove us to the kitchen and to our own backyard; these values have characterized our friendships and have fed our bellies and our souls. It’s never been clean and somehow I don’t think it is supposed to be.
We chose to make Coq au Vin – an old recipe for old birds. We cooked for hours after having prepared for years.
We gathered on our deck overlooking our little plot of land and I took the homemade loaf of bread in my hands to say the blessing: “This is the body of Christ broken for you” … and I looked around the table as I tore it… “all of it, this whole meal and all of you; we’re all connected in this Body and I feel this today more than ever before.” From death came life. That is the real story of this meal and of my life. How much more deeply do I understand this today?
And then we partook of this Eucharistic meal – a meal with depth of value and flavor that I have never tasted before. You can’t put a price tag on stories like these; on lives like these. And I don’t intend to, I just intend to keep getting messy in living it out.
Photos courtesy of our fellow co-op members Megan and Daniel Lundgren (DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION)