Category Archives: meat

Why I Eat Meat

Don’t ask me how I had time, but when the NYTimes ethicist sponsored a writing contest on “Why I Eat Meat”, I felt compelled to enter. I think about this kind of thing all the time. Of course I didn’t “win” the contest. No one even contacted me to say “Thanks but no thanks.” They are busy. I understand. So here’s my essay:

Why I Eat Meat
Last week, someone broke into my backyard and scrawled on my shed, “Don’t Kill Animals—they are our equals.” I’m an urban farmer in Oakland, well-known for raising turkeys, rabbits, goats, ducks, even pigs in my backyard and lot farm near downtown. As a city farmer, I’m used to rubbing elbows—and getting into heated arguments—with vegans and vegetarians. These meat-avoiders don’t want to kill animals. They love animals. Things is, so do I: I love animals and I love to eat them.
The words of a psychopath? In this burgeoning world of designer dogs, pet daycare, and the House Rabbit Society: maybe. But in a world where there is a working relationship between man and beast, no. Increasingly, this world is disappearing; the working animal replaced by pets that are treated like humans.
I read the words again as my dairy goats thoughtfully chewed their cud, a chicken clucked the arrival of an egg, and the meat ducks splashed nearby. Here’s the deal: I feed my ducks and give them shelter—they in turn lay eggs, build nests, and hatch out ducklings. I feed the ducks bugs and excess produce from the garden—and their manure then goes to grow more vegetables. I cull the offspring—process them into delicious roast duck. It’s a cycle. This cycle, this closeness is what I love about farming—and eating meat. It nudges us to think about our role in the cosmos—that one day we too will be food, if only worm food.
Another cycle: my dairy goats. They are bred (which they seem very happy about doing), have offspring which stimulates their milk production. I take some of the milk to drink, and to make cheese and yogurt. The female offspring are retained or sold, the male offspring are processed into meat. I’ve had a Yemeni storekeeper from down the street help me slaughter a young buckling. It involved a prayer and a song. It was, literally, a sacrifice—sacred. I split the goat with the storekeeper who was keen to get the intestines, heart, stomach. His wife would cook their traditional meals with the goat meat; I would make a delicious stew. Nothing was wasted.
Let’s say I took the advice of the graffiti artist to not kill animals, and if everyone else did too—what would that world look like? On my farm, that would mean the ducks would breed infinitely, they would overpopulate the garden, ravage the vegetables and make too much manure; and the young goat buck would grow into an increasingly smelly and feisty beast, making the milk of the does taste foul.
And if proceed to the logical endpoint of a vegan world where we ate tempeh or petri dish grown “meat”: there would be no working animals. No pigs, with their joyous rutting; no chickens scratching for worms; no goats capering. Sure, maybe a vegan utopia would spring up and host a series of “farms” complete with geriatric cows and wizened turkeys, living far beyond their natural lifespan. But would this farm allow for reproduction, a natural process that all animals strive for? What about sick animals?
In the end, domesticated animals are not our equals, they are our creation. We have to take responsibility for them. I do so gladly. I enjoy the antics of the ducks and the goats–of feeding them well so they will then feed me well. I love living in a world filled with animals that remind us that we are part of the cycle, that one day we too will die.

Classes at Cafe Rogue

If, as the saying goes, “angels send meat, and the devil sends cooks,” butchers fall somewhere in between. The butchers I’ve known are centered, kind, hard-working people who know how an animal is put together. For farmers, they take up where we left off, and they are the intermediaries for the chefs, many of whom don’t work with whole animals anymore.

More and more home cooks are learning how to break down whole animals. It’s often less expensive to buy a whole chicken or a side of lamb; and many meat CSAs deliver half animals. Knowing how to properly butcher is a great skill to have, and there’s something empowering about knowing where each cut of meat actually comes from. So, I was so happy to hear about a series of butchery classes being held at Cafe Rogue. I’m going to attend the goat one on Monday, March 29. I heard there are a couple spaces left, so here are the details:

March 29th The Goat

6:30 pm Café Rouge Dining Room
1782 Fourth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710
510 525 1440

www.caferouge.ne

The next classes will be:

April 26th poultry, May 24th sausage making.

Same place, same time. See you there!

Happy Thanksgiving

Hello! I tried to submit this to the NYTimes Op-Ed pages, but they had too many damn Thanksgiving opinions, so here it is, on my humble blog…. 

Four years ago, I raised my first Thanksgiving turkey on my urban farm in Oakland, CA. My reasoning was the following: I wanted to eat organic, free-range turkey but didn’t have a lot of money, so I decided to do it myself. With this in mind, I did what any urban farmer does: I logged onto the internet and bought a bargain-priced assortment of day-old poultry. A few weeks later I received a peeping box through the US Post Office, my assortment was called the Homesteader’s Delight. The baby turkeys—poults–looked like chicks: fuzzy, adorable, with a little pucker of skin on their heads. As the poults grew, that pucker turned into a dangling snood, and I grew fond of this most American of poultry. They had a curiosity, an openness toward other creatures, including my dumbfounded neighbors. One of the denizens of my street, a strict vegan, even named the turkeys in a bid to turn them into pets, not dinner.

The turkeys lived on my farm for six months. They had a good life and were fed well. They roamed freely. And on one cold November day, one of my turkeys went from live animal to the celebratory centerpiece on the Thanksgiving table. My initial goal, to save money, was a colossal failure: I ended up spending about $100 each on feed for the birds, making it not so cost-effective. Instead of saving money, I learned a few lessons about what it means to eat meat. One surprise was raising a turkey made me feel deeply connected to our human ancestors. A rather post-modern experience—raising a turkey in the city—tied me to the first people who domesticated the animals that appear in farms today. I became part of a long line of historical animal husbandry. Another lesson learned: meat does involve killing. This is so obvious, but it’s a reality that most meat eaters avoid recognizing. Vegetarians and vegans argue that meat is murder. It’s not exactly murder, though, as my turkey wasn’t killed with hatred or malice, but with respect and thanks. A final lesson was that the most important part of animal husbandry isn’t the day of that animal’s death, something we Americans fixate on. No, it is the day-in, day-out of the turkey’s half-year lifetime that should be focused upon. Did that turkey get the chance to run about, to chirp and call, to feel safe, have access to plenty of food, and most of all to be a turkey? The fact that I could answer in the affirmative to these questions, made me feel like I did right by that turkey. And I did right by myself and family and friends, as that turkey was the most flavorful, tender, juicy bird I had ever eaten. I had a deep connection to the turkey that was served for dinner; I had the story of the turkey’s life to share at the table.

This November at my friend’s urban farm in Austin, Texas, I had the honor of teaching a handful of curious students how to raise their own turkeys in the city—something I have done every year since that first time four years ago. I like to point out that anyone who has room for a few chickens usually has enough space to raise a turkey or two. After teaching basics about coops and predator protection, feed and water, I demonstrated how to humanely kill, then pluck and eviscerate a beautiful Rio Grande turkey. As the class helped pluck away the bird’s feathers—the key moment when the bird becomes recognizable as meat–the group grew quiet and reverential. I taught the class because I want people to understand what it means to eat meat. It means a life is lived and a life is taken. Vegetarians and vegans acknowledge this fact more readily than carnivores. Instead of turning away from this reality, I would like people this Thanksgiving to look even closer, to examine where their turkey comes from, how it lived, and how it died. A small-scale turkey farmer friend of mine says she cries every November when it comes time to harvest their birds. Meat is precious. At the end of my class, my students assured me they would never think of turkey in the same way again. They now had a more complete vision of their meal, and they were eager to share that story.

 P.S. I will be braising my turkey Edith (pictured, preparing for turkey sex, on bottom), who was slaughtered as part of last year’s turkey class. She wasn’t able to hatch out any chicks, and grew to be an older bird, and will make a fine turkey soup. Thank you Edith!

Talking turkey in Austin

No one brought a camera for the turkey slaughter class in Austin, including me. It was more personal that way.

Heck, it was personal on so many levels. First off, one of my best friends in the world hosted the class at her little urban farm in East Austin. Leilani is from the Bay Area and I have been missing her for a few years now as she’s settled into life in Austin. Part of settling there involved raising chickens and turkeys. She and her beau, Luke, starting keeping a few Rio Grande turkeys, the oldest relative to the original turkey of North America.

Instead of just buying turkeys every year, they reasoned, they would retain a breeding pair and let the tom and hen go for it. This spring, the turkeys mated secretly, and the hen hatched out 8 adorable little poults. Tom and mom protected the poults, showed them what to eat, draped their wings over the babies at night. When I first saw the poults, they were almost full grown, five months old. And frankly, they were ready to eat.

I had come to Austin for the Texas Book Festival to be on a panel with a famous vegetarian, Jonathan Safran Foer; a professor; and a bad boy chef named Jason Sheehan (for that round-up, see here). Like any book related trip, I wanted to do some hands-on work. It was a delicate issue–err, Leilani, can I kill one of your turkeys? and teach other people how to raise turkeys…at your house? Any other friend would have been annoyed. Leilani, on the other hand, was delighted. She loves hosting parties and doing workshops.

And so, the four people who could make it to a Halloween turkey slaughter class arrived that Saturday, dressed for the occasion, ready to learn. I was charmed by the easy-going nature of Texans, their good humor, their independence. That was why they were there. After an hour discussing the ins and outs of turkey husbandry, we went up to the coop to collect our girl for slaughter. Leilani grabbed her, I did some wrangling–these were almost wild turkeys!–and we brought her down to the burning sage area. The turkey seemed mildly curious, we said our thanks and goodbyes and got out the loppers (my new dispatching implement). Her death was swift, with good intentions from all of us. Then we dipped her in hot water, gathered around the table, and plucked all her feathers away.

The difficult part–the real reason for anyone to take a class like mine, was the evisceration. I showed people my almost fail-safe method to avoid contaminating the meat. This is the thing that trips up most people, and by showing them this, I feel like I am really imparting some important, empowering knowlege. Someone fished out the lungs. Someone else examined the gizzard, cut it open, and saw what the turkey had been eating. And then our turkey was all cleaned up. And she was beautiful, with perfect conformation, wonderful black feet, meaty breast area (but not abnormal like those Standard Whites). She had been born on this farm, lived a great life, and now was ready for eating.

Almost. First we put the bird in some salted water for a few hours, just to get any residual blood out. Then we rinsed and dried the turkey off, wrapped it in a tea towel and stowed it in the fridge to rest.

While the turkey rested, we were invited to a great dinner party at Boggy Creek Farm, an urban farm nearby. The farmers–Carol Ann and Larry–have been farming in Austin since 1991, and have a famous farm stand that Austinites flock to every week. I was so amazed how sweet and friendly Carol Ann and Larry were, they showered me with gifts like Holly Honey and smoked tomatoes. The dinner, cooked by Elizabeth from Farmhouse Delivery, was off the hook–local blue cheese and apples, arugula salad, and seafood stew made with local shrimp and fish, and finally persimmon pudding. Holy crap, Texans eat good!

I was only in Texas for a few days, so I left Leilani and Luke instructions for cooking the turkey and hoped for the best. Chefs had told me heritage birds need high heat, over a shorter period of time, and the turkey should be rotated every fifteen minutes or so. They also said to remove the legs and roast or braise them for a little longer. Leilani seemed a bit skeptical–their last turkey had just been okay. Today Leilani called me to give me the report. After four days of resting in the fridge, she rubbed it with olive oil, salt and pepper and put it in the oven.

“I didn’t turn it every 15 minutes,” she admitted. Despite that, the turkey came out great–roasted at 400 degrees for a little less than two hours. The breast meat was tender and juicy, the legs were perfectly delicious. She sounded like they are going to harvest the rest of the turkeys, keeping the tom and hen and following the cycle again next year. After I hung up the phone with Leilani, I felt so proud of her–of us–for raising, preparing and cooking our own Thanksgiving turkey, with love.

Turkey Class: Austin, Texas

Welp, I’m going to do it. Teach a turkey raisin’ and killin’ class in Austin. The day before I go on a panel with Jonathan Safran Foer, vegetarian author of Eating Animals (and two great novels). There’s another guy on the panel who will be talking about how local food and eating meat is just all wrong. Don’t think I don’t recognize a paradox: I’m the nutball Californian coming to Texas where I will be the only gal (ahem) on stage promoting meat eating. 

It is fitting, then, that while I’m in Texas, I’m going to revisit the first meat bird I raised: the all-American turkey. A small-scale, locally raised, heritage breed turkey embodies all of the issues I grappled with as a blossoming urban farmer: why eat meat? can I kill it myself? how does this turkey feel about this process? how does this make me more or less human?

But this time, come October 31, I’m going to teach other people how to do it. I’ve taught this class before: last year, to a group of college students who were learning about urban farming. The feedback I got was powerful: the students had a new understanding of Thanksgiving, of what it means to eat meat. One of the students was a vegan, and I respected him so much for coming to see exactly what he opposed and to figure out why. I think that’s great. I do think people should eat less meat. And I think it’s good to take a really close look. 

I’m lucky that my brilliant and wonderful friend happens to be an urban farmer in Austin, and she raises heritage breed turkeys on her farm! She has graciously offered her urban farm as a place to host a class. And so, if you are in Austin, or know someone in Austin, please sign up or spread the word; details follow. 

The Complete Turkey

Saturday, Oct 31, 10am-1pm

For meat eaters, raising turkeys is a dare, a stunt, a Herculean effort. The turkey is the most American of birds—native to North America, eaten by Indians, Aztecs, and pilgrims. Most people, come November, eat a Thanksgiving turkey without really knowing what a turkey looks or acts like, much less all the work that goes into raising one of these birds for the table.  In this class, we will show best practices for raising your own Thanksgiving turkey, including feeding, coop construction, breeding, and day to day care.

Following these basics, we will “harvest” a heritage breed turkey. Novella will demonstrate a humane, fool-proof method of dispatching a turkey, including plucking and cleaning. Seeing this process firsthand will make your upcoming Thanksgiving more meaningful than ever.

What: Complete Turkey, Oct 31

How much: $30/person

Time: 10am-1pm; 3 hours total

Attending: 15 max

Where: East Austin, address given upon registration.

About the Instructor Novella Carpenter is the author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer (the Penguin Press, June 2009). She farms on a 4500 square foot abandoned lot near downtown Oakland and has been raising farm animals in urban areas for over ten years. Her writings have appeared in Mother Jones, Food and Wine, salon.com, and more. She studied with Michael Pollan for two years at University of California Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

To sign up, email novellacarpenter@gmail dot com for further instructions.turkey1

And then there were three

I started this week with six goats and now there are three.

Yesterday Moses came over with his friend and whole family and we sent Eyore/Pretty Boy “back home” as Moses put it. Moses is the owner of a liquor store a block from my house. He’s was a goat farmer in his country, Yemen, and so my goat’s death was swift and painless, facing east, and filled with prayer and respect. Still, it was really intense and sad, and I must admit that killing my little goat made me seriously question the wisdom of eating meat.

My friend who raises pigs and treats them like her children until slaughter time confessed to me that she’s going to get out of the pig business. It just breaks her heart. So all you vegetarians:  don’t think that just because I raise meat animals, I’m a remorseless meat eater. In fact, because I am so close to it, I almost begin to feel resentful of meat eaters who blithely eat lamb and never have to think of the fact that a little cuddle-butt had its throat slit so you can vaguely enjoy a gyro.

futurewether

After Moses left, taking his share of the meat and all of the offall (!), I went out to the garden and processed the goat hide. It’s really beautiful and soft, black and white, and so I want to save it. I stretched it out between some boards and scrapped the fat and meat off it. In a few days, Tamara Wilder is coming to teach a class at my farm about animal processing, so I hope to get tips from her about how to braintan the hide so becomes soft and supple. She is a wise woman, and will be demonstrating in the class humane ways to kill animals, and respect them by using all of their parts.

That night I went to do a reading at Mrs. Dalloways Books. I found myself getting choked up while reading the section in my book, Farm City, about killing my Thanksgiving turkey. I actually had to go through my thought experiment again to re-teach myself how I came to justify eating meat. The biggest one is simply economic: farm animals reach an age when they become a strain on the budget of a farm–it’s either eat them or lose money feeding them. Since, as we’ve learned (ahem) that a farm is defined as producing food not feeding pets, I had to make the decision to harvest the male goat.

Then I remember that keeping animals is a way of life for me, and many other people. I like being around farm animals, I raise and breed my dairy goats, and they will occasionally have male offspring that I can’t keep. From these males, then, their meat will sustain my life. That is why I’m so glad Moses–fount of goat farmerly knowledge–comes over to help. And because I know the whole story of meat: joyous birth, happy goat playing, naps in the sun, I often choose not to eat very much of it.

The other two goats that left the farm–Orla and his daughter Milky Way–didn’t “go home”. They went over to 18th Street, at my new friend A’s house. I’m so excited to have a fellow goat farmer only ten blocks from my place. We have plans to share buck service and milking and going on feed runs. Orlie and MW seemed very relaxed about the journey over to their new digs. Before long they were eating and pooping and seemed to be settling in. I’m always amazed how adaptable goats can be.

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I milked Bebe this morning, letting her know that I was sorry about her son’s departure. She stared forward, chewed her cud and let down six cups of creamy milk, more than usual, because this time I got her son’s share too. And for that, I was thankful.

Class Info________________________

For those of you who might be interested in taking the animal processing class: Tamara coming to GT farm this upcoming Sunday, Sept 13. The class will focus on how to humanely kill a chicken, a rabbit, and how to use all of the meat, bone, fur and feathers from these animals, as a way to truly respect and thank them. Each participant will get to process their own animals. It will be truly empowering. Class will start 10am and last the whole day, and costs $100 which includes all materials, and you will go home with the animals you processed.

Here’s the agenda:

10-11am: Introduction and check in, things to think about, etc….

11am -1pm: Rabbit killing and processing

1-2pm: LUNCH (cooking hearts & livers) cook pre-killed rabbit in some way

1pm: put fat on to render

2pm: pour off fat into containers

2-2:30 construct racks and string up rabbit skins to dry.  Demo of stages of tanning.

2:30-3:30 killing, plucking & processing chickens

3:30-4:00 finishing up and farewells

There are a few slots left: email me at novellacarpenter at gmail dot com if you’d like to sign up.