Happy meat

As soon as I could cook for myself, I became a vegetarian. For all the usual reasons, I love animals and I do not like the way that meat is produced commercially. You are what you eat, and if you eat the meat of animals that have had a horrible life you will become miserable as well. But mostly I became a vegetarian because I did not like to touch raw meat, I felt I was touching a corpse (which is true) and I could not bear the thought of eating it. A few days ago we butchered the first 5 ducks of this year.  We thanked each one for giving his life, stroke his neck and then hit him on the head with a stick before cutting his throat. We ate the first one over the last 2 days, the others are in the freezer. Jummy! How did this happen? cows on the pasture

When we first moved onto our land, there was a lot of hard physical work to do. For the first time in my life, I got a craving to eat meat. I guess the human system is programmed to eat meat, and when you demand a lot from your body your body demands high proteine nutrition.

And also, we were raising chickens. I loved my chickens, I named the first ones and they did very well. They have much more personality then people give them credit for. We had them free ranging and fed them a little every day to keep them at home. I pampered the sick ones and they became very tame, up to the point that they would jump into my lap to take a nap. They followed me everywhere, not in the least because we lived outside and when I cleaned my veggies there was always something for them to eat. And they had many chicks. And many of those were roosters.

When you raise chickens, you have a need for only so many roosters. I had need for only 1 rooster for every 8 hens, so I had to get rid of all the young roosters. You don't want inbreeding, either.  And I had a craving for meat. And I had no clue how to transform those spare roosters into a meal. So I asked for help.

Friends of us came over and gave a demonstration. I caught a rooster, and they killed it. I was utterly miserable about it, I raised that rooster and devoted a lot of energy in keeping it alive, and here they were killing him! Then again, it is hypocritical to want to eat meat but not to want to parttake in the process of butchering. So I got over it and learned how to kill, pluck and clean. Once it was dead, the rest was not so bad and that young rooster tasted really good! I knew it had a happy and natural life, it ate natural food  and I ate happy meat. It was very satisfying after all. I was officially a (happy) meat eater.

Then one of our neighbours came to ask if we wanted to buy beef. He has a herd of 40 cattle and he had a young bull to butcher. That is several hundreds of pounds  of meat so he was looking for buyers. I know his herd, they live on the pastures just outside the village. He rotates them from pasture to pasture so they always have enough grass to eat and he takes good care of them. With cattle, just as with chickens, you have no need for the bulls so at a year and a half, they have to go before they become mature. We agreed to buy so at 5 in the morning we were at his farm. The bull had just been killed and was bleeding, warm and still twitching. The head was on display so everyone could see it was a young bull. His helpers were cutting the belly open to skin it and clean it. I was as horrified as I was fascinated. When it came to picking my piece of meat, I had no idea which part of that bull to pick. So we picked some of the ribs, and a big chunk from the hind leg, 40 pounds in all. They cut off the pieces with an axe, we put it in the cooler, paid the man and went home.

We cleaned and covered the kitchen table, sharpened the knives and found out that we had no clue what a professional butcher would do with these two huge chunks of meat. We just started washing and cutting it up and cut off the pieces that did not look  good, the fat and the sinews and whatnot and we put those in a big pot for the dogs. The meat went into the freezer in 2 pound portions. The ribs were so huge and we couldn't cut them up, so we put them in the vegetable drawer of the fridge and added a lot of homegrown spices and salt, and green papaya as tenderizer. Two days later we put them on the barbecue and they were delicious. We felt like the Flintstones gobbling up those mammoth ribs. The meat in the freezer turned out to be good steak and we have been buying local beef ever since. By now we have become much more skilled in picking out the pieces of meat and sorting them by their use: steak, stew, roast, grind. We even have a handoperated meatgrinder to make minced meat. The quality is better then anything you can ever buy in the store. And it is happy meat.

The villagers raise pigs, and have them roam free in the village. Traditionally they raise them for a special celebration, when they need to feed several hundreds of guests. A few years ago, a fatal chicken disease (Newcastle Bronchitis virus, long story good for another captain's log) broke out and it returns a few times every year. It kills almost all the chickens. So many villagers now raise pigs in stead of chickens, and fatten them up with corn. To eat a whole pig with a family is impossible, and most people don't have the means to preserve the meat, so pork meat is now for sale. I always thought of pork meat as inferior, but I do like the taste of that village pork! Buying it works the same as with the beef, we get clued in that someone will butcher a pig and we come that morning, getting the freshest meat any one could have. By now, when I see one of those big fat happy oinkers crossing the football field, I think jummy!

But the best meat is the meat that we raise ourselves. Duck is delicious! And it is still hard not to get too attached to them, they are so cute when they are small and they are so trusting. But I know why we raise them, I look upon it as harvesting the ducks. It is not hard to catch them, they come walking towards us because they expect something good from us. That is why we do the little ritual to honour their lives before we butcher them, although many people may think it is a silly thing to do. For me, this is the only way to eat meat: happy meat, from animals that lived a natural life and ate natural food.

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