The content and opinions found on this blog are mine alone, and do not reflect any position of the United States Government or the Peace Corps.

April 20, 2011

Killing to Live

Here, meat doesn't come wrapped in plastic on a styrofoam tray, with a barcode sticker slapped on the outside. That's the stuff of the First World. Here in Africa, if want to cook meat, you're going to have to kill the animal it came from yourself. That or come face to face with its hacked-up innards at a village butcher. Either way, you are confronted, point blank, with the consequence of your decision to be carnivorous: something is going to die so that you can live.

That being said, I still eat meat in Uganda because meat is just too tasty to ever give up. But now I have a fuller appreciation for what has to happen to turn a living, breathing animal into food for people. Blood and guts are an inevitable part of that process. In my opinion, if you can't handle the gore of the slaughter, you don't deserve to eat meat.

I had my first experience with slaughtering an animal this past Thanksgiving. I was celebrating the holiday at my friend Jake's house in northern Uganda, along with my other PCV friends Bernadette and Siong, and PCRV (Peace Corps Response Volunteer—a former Volunteer who opts to do a short term deployment in an area of critical need and sometimes higher risk) Bill. Though Thanksgiving is of course a day for eating turkey, turkeys can be difficult to find in Uganda, so we decided to buy two live cocks instead.

Eager to earn the right to eat chicken for the rest of my life, I volunteered to slaughter the first cock. Afterwards, I described the experience to my oldest friend Daniel, who lives in New York, over instant messenger. Here's an excerpt from the chat log:

(11:46:42 PM) Me: but the chicken....
(11:46:55 PM) Me: it was kind of intense
Bernadette and I, dressed to kill.

(11:47:21 PM) Me: my heart was pounding as i walked with it to the spot where i was going to kill it
(11:47:36 PM) Me: it felt like some really important initiation rite
(11:48:29 PM) Me: my friend showed me how to pin it to the ground, then plucked some feathers from its neck to clear a spot for the knife
(11:49:21 PM) Me: and then told me that it's simple, but once you start you absolutely cannot stop cutting until the head's off
(11:50:21 PM) Me: so i pinned the wings back with knee, grabbed the head and stretched out the neck
(11:50:31 PM) Me: and stated slicing

(11:51:52 PM) Me: severed the windpipe, some blood shot out, the chicken was struggling frantically, then i hit the neckbone and got stuck for a few seconds
(11:52:49 PM) Me: it was a bit fucked up. i felt bad cause obviously the spinal cord was still intact but the entire front of its neck was cut all the way through
(11:53:18 PM) Me: so i sawed and sawed as hard as i can until i cracked through the bone and the head was off
(11:54:13 PM) Me: and chickens really can run around with their head cut off. i had to hold it to the ground for about five minutes before the heart and powerful muscle spasms stopped. it was kicking that whole time
(11:56:13 PM) Me: my other friend bernadette also killed another chicken after me, but she was scared so she closed her eyes and made the cut too low
(11:56:33 PM) Me: hers was smaller so the neck was thinner and the head came off almost instantly
(11:57:58 PM) Me: but the low cut made the esophagus come out and flop around wildly like one of those children's water toys that you hook up to an outdoor spigot. it flailed around and shot blood all over bernadette
(12:00:59 AM) Me: dude but the most disgusting part wasnt the actual kill. it was making a circular incision around the anus and pulling all of the innards out from the back
(12:01:39 AM) Me: … pulling out a chicken anus is fucking nasty
(12:03:11 AM) Me: me and jake (another friend whose house we were at) both accidentally cut open the stomach and all this half digested food spilled inside the chickens, which smelled HORRIBLE
(12:04:00 AM) Me: … all in all its incredibly gruesome, but in the end it looked like a whole chicken you'd buy in a store
Cock pluckin' motha ukkas.
(12:04:51 AM) Me: … we made "beer can chicken": drink half a can of beer, stick the can up the chicken's ass, and bake it. the beer evaporates into steam and cooks the chicken from the inside

With our masterful culinary skills, a bucket oven (a small pot resting on some stones within a larger, covered pot, placed over a fire – the standard Peace Corps substitute for an actual oven), and some Lowry's seasoning salt, we managed to prepare a decent main course. Siong's Chinese stir-fry made the meal a complete, albeit unconventional, Thanksgiving dinner.

Since killing my first chicken, I've killed just one other, as well as watch another Volunteer slaughter a goat in Fort Portal this past weekend. (We marinated the meat in soy sauce and meat tenderizer, skewered it, and grilled it. The grill itself was made from an empty oil barrel halved lengthwise and mounted on 4 metal legs, with some scrap mesh fencing placed over the hot coals.) I'd upload the video of the kill, but it's hard to upload a file of that size on my slow Internet connection. Besides, it's incredibly disgusting. For now, I'll leave you with some pictures of the delicious aftermath.

Slaughtering an animal for food is powerful experience. I encourage every meat eater to try it at least once. It'll help you appreciate the cost of your survival.

Brian cuts the meat over some banana leaves
Kristin (PCV Paraguay, left) and Elizabeth fan the flames
Several people had birthdays, so we finished the meal with homemade chocolate and carrot cake.
Renee, Alexi, Boy Devon, and Girl Devon blow out the candles

1 comment:

  1. There is an Easter goat and sheep in my backyard awaiting the 'knife' tomorrow morning. Congratulations on completing the rites.