About six months ago, when I was visiting my parents for dinner, I told them I was interested in slaughtering a chicken.
“I just don’t understand why you want to do this,” Mom said. “It seems immoral.” She said she didn’t want to imagine me killing anything.
And frankly, I didn’t want to imagine it either. For almost six years, I was vegetarian. When I was growing up we had chickens as pets; my neighbors and I would paint Lola’s and Nona’s toenails then walk them to the nearby park in handmade flannel harnesses. The idea of killing a chicken for meat was a very uncomfortable notion, and in some respects it still is.
But I steadied myself, sat straight, and said “Someone has to do it.” Which is true, even if we don’t want to believe it.
“But you don’t have to.”
I could tell Mom was getting disturbed; she said I would be making a chicken suffer.
And because I’m always mature and level-headed, I raised my voice and jabbed a finger at the partial roast chicken carcass that was resting on the table between us. “This chicken suffered!” I shouted.
How it is immoral to kill a chicken, but not immoral to eat it?
The Chicken Project, the original name I gave my quest to process a chicken myself, was born in the interest of aligning disconnects. There’s a disconnect between the production of meat and the consumption of it, and I believe this is where the moral dilemma comes in.
It’s very easy to buy meat from the store—you can get it cleaned, de-boned, de-skinned, and even shaped more like a hockey puck than a cow. You’re buying part of a dead animal, but you don’t need to confront it as such. I wonder, if packages contained pictures of chickens blinded by ammonia burns from the fecal concentration of their hen houses, or pigs being kicked and tortured, or cows with open ulcers, would it be so easy to buy pre-packaged, plastic-wrapped meat?
This disconnect between production and consumption occurs across the board in American society. What if Hershey’s Chocolate Kisses had snapshots of child slave laborers on them? Or cans of pork chili had before and after pictures of Brazilian rain forests that were cut down in order to grow the soybeans used to feed the pigs? Or what about wide-angle shots of the 20,000 gallons of water that get polluted to make one ton of bleached paper towels on each roll (the United States produces about 3,000 tons of paper towel waste daily)?
Brazil, Australia, Canada, and Egypt all have graphic art on cigarette packages: rotting teeth, diseased lungs, cancerous lesions. The idea of sticking photographs that show the indirect and often unseen consequences of products we use daily in the U.S. is basically the same thing, in my opinion.
It’s just so easy to believe, when you buy a clean slab of meat from the store, that it didn’t suffer. That the process, by being industrialized, regulated, and sanctioned is somehow cleaner, safer, and more humane. Which, evidence suggests, is just not true. I decided that I, at home and in my backyard, using birds that had been raised ethically and often not for meat, could do a better job.
So, I began processing my own meat and boycotting meat from animals that I don’t kill. If I don’t have a say in how animals are raised and slaughtered, then I have no control over or knowledge about the process. So far, it’s been chickens and ducks, although there’s a slug in my kitchen, housed in a temporary terrarium, as I type this (more on deep fried slug to come). I use a washboard for all my laundry, attempt to grow a meager amount of food in my garden, and try not to use more than I need. My goal with The Chicken Project abstain from industries I don’t believe in, find ways to live more responsibly and authentically, and to do my best to spread awareness about the ways in which humans can protect ourselves and the world in which we live.