I went down to Atlanta this weekend to visit some friends and have a break from the farm for the first time in 7 months. I decided to take one of the chickens I had processed down with me for the cook-out we were having Friday night. I felt so proud and so complete showing everyone how to break down a chicken carcass and talking about the importance of slow-growing, grass-eating, local-as-can-be poultry (well, meat in general). Even my somewhat squeamish friend Mary sat in the kitchen with me and watched (in mostly contained horror).
After I broke down the bird, I slathered it in really good pesto from Whole Foods and we threw it on the grill. I was a little nervous since I’d not grilled one of the birds before. It was a bit tougher than store-bought chicken would have been on the grill, but the flavor was great. Everyone tried some and enjoyed it. My friend Jordan was especially excited to experience true connection with his food. He told me that it felt really good to eat farm-to-table, especially when the farmer in question was a good friend. It warmed my heart and really made me realize that what I’m doing is completely worthwhile but also completely gratifying.
The true success, however, was to come Saturday night. My friend Sarah hadn’t been at the cook-out on Friday, but she was able to come hang out the next night. Having not eaten meat in 12 years, she has always been the most dedicated vegetarian I know. When we first met, I was eating very little meat and then only chicken. She’s got such a sensitive heart that I felt bad talking about processing the chickens in front of her, but I also almost wanted to know that she thought I was doing something good. She listened to everything I had to say, even asking questions about the process I used to dispatch them. She did shed a few tears, but that was early in the conversation when it was a very fresh topic.
After I told her how I had raised them from a day old and how they were heritage birds raised on pasture with all the bugs and grass they could eat (and even a chance at chicken romance), she told me that she was completely impressed. We talked about being honest about what we ate and the bravery it takes to look your dinner in the eye. I told her about turning to this because I just couldn’t stand to put the welfare of the animals that nourish me in the hands of corporations that can never care for them the way they should be. It was a really great moment.
And then she asked to try a piece! To be completely clear, I’ve known Sarah for almost 9 years and I have NEVER once seen her eat meat. I’ve seen her send back an order of rice at a restaurant because she could smell the chicken broth in was cooked in. I never in a million years thought that she would try it. She only tried a tiny bit, but I felt, at that very moment, like everything just made sense. She said it was very good but she probably wouldn’t ask for any more. And that was fine. I thought she would accept what I was doing but I could never imagine her taking it this far!
Now my passion and drive has never been stronger. I have no doubts about the path I’ve chosen. If one little (not so tender) chicken can spark the kind of emotional and intellectual stimulation that we all felt this weekend, we really can make a difference- even with only 20 odd birds and a dream.