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Turkey Butchering Day

Ever since the first week of school, we have known of the infamous “Turkey Butchering Day.” A classic part of agriculture class at my high school is knowing where your food comes from, meat included. For first year students: Turkey butchering in the fall and chickens in the spring. Plus, it gives the culinary classes a chance to try out their turkey-cooking skills. It’s the one day you can’t miss, the day you learn the real deal about agriculture. And that day was finally here. I couldn’t stop shaking. Over the past week we had gotten to know our turkeys for the hideous, malevolent creatures they are, but I still couldn’t bring myself to think about killing a living creature. I’ve never been hunting, or killed anything larger than a daddy long leg. Disecting things in biology was easy, but my entire perspective changed when there was blood associated with a living creature.
We walked out to the greenhouse, and our teacher explained the process. First we held the bird down on the ground and duct taped its wings to its body, so when we slit its throat it wouldn’t injure its meat or us. Then, we all watched in revulsion as Mrs. Lammiman began the butchering process. First, she stuck a small knife through the soft part on the roof of the turkey’s mouth and into its brain so it would be brain dead. It was knocked unconscious, but the heart still pumped blood. And even though I was cowering near the greenhouse door with my friend Ashley, we still heard the crunch of the skull. However, this is actually the humane way to kill an animal, as it can’t feel anything once unconscious. Next Mrs. Lammiman and some of the stronger people in our class took the bird and hung it upside down, and Mrs. Lammiman slit its throat. She explained that it is crucial we let the blood drain out, because meat with blood clots in it is gross and practically inedible. The whole time the blood was draining, the bird was purging and twitching in all directions. In fact, we needed to have people hug the bird as a mean of restraint in addition to the duct tape. Once the blood had drained, we brought the bird over to a bucket of boiling water near the welding shop and dumped it in there for a minute to loosen the feathers for plucking. We took it back over to the forklift and tied it back to one of the tiers to start plucking. I barely plucked at all, because a) it was a dead, bloody, sopping wet bird…gross and b) my classmates were going totally “Lord of the Flies” on the fowl! Pulling out heaps of feathers at once, spattering blood everywhere, and laughing about it! Even Ashley was proudly parading the blood spatters on her shoes that afternoon. Now don’t think I’m about to run off and become a PETA activist, but I still think a dead animal should be respected. After it was plucked we took it back to the table and sawed off its legs at the knee joint, its head, and the tips of its wings. Next we took its guts out. I never thought of myself as a squirmy person until today. I REFUSED to stick my gloved hand up that turkey’s butt, although investigating the organs was my favorite part. My teacher sliced open the gizzard and a bunch of rocks fell out! Birds have to eat rocks to grind up their food, since they don’t have teeth. Some girl also thought it’d be funny to slice open the gall bladder, and obviously bile went all over the table when she did. It was slime green and looked like the blown up space alien brains from the minor cult film, “Mars Attacks.” After that we rinsed Maddy (our turkey) out with a hose, which got rid of the rest of the blood, and finally carted it off to the culinary class.
Next Monday, we got a chance to eat Maddy with the culinary students, who had prepared a full Thanksgiving dinner. Although, the best part was watching all the other students cringe uncomfortably while Mrs. Lammiman explained what it took for a live animal to get to the culinary class, and then to our tables. That really put them in their places! Turkey cooking may be difficult, but props go to us for putting up with blood, guts, excretions and bird spasms. Even though the full process made me feel extremely nauseated, I know it’s important to have programs like this in a school curriculum. The butchering was optional, plus not everyone takes agriculture. But for those who do, this served as an important lesson in life. Today I learned how I get my food. Students today need to know that the lives we lead today aren’t as soft and cushiony as they seem, and that meat comes from animals. By no means am I trying to force anyone into becoming a vegetarian. But now that I know where meat comes from I know I’ll appreciate it all that much more.



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