To properly drain a deer and cool down its carcass after you’ve field dressed it, hang it from a sturdy tree branch by its haunches. Reasonable minds differ, but some think it best to next place two sticks sideways in the chest cavity, allowing for better air circulation. Don’t let it hang there too long because venison can spoil quickly. Once you’ve drained Bambi, the hard part’s over. Take that carcass on over to the butcher and you’ll be enjoying venison roast, venison jerky, venison sausage, and venison steak in no time. Or if a wave of xenophilia sweeps over you, venison stir fry.
By the way, “field dressed” is a nice word for “gutted.”
I never hunted a day in my life, but I know this as sure as I know anything else. It’s part of my history—part of where I grew up. It seeped into you whether you wanted it to or not. It just was. And how can something that you grew up with be wrong?
One of my favorite stories to tell at a cocktail party or at an intimate gathering of friends is about the time a neighbor shot a buck and tracked it to the YMCA parking lot. It collapsed from either exhaustion or blood loss just as a tumbling class was dismissed. He slit the animal’s throat in full view of a dozen or so mothers and toddlers before dragging the carcass back into the woods.
Maybe I shouldn’t be telling that story at cocktail parties. Some find it offensive. Some find it nauseating. But it gives you a better answer to the question “Where are you from?” than the answer—Western Pennsylvania, if you’re curious—ever could.
So now you know where I’m from, and I bet you can probably guess that my diet consists of a lot of meat. I’ve eaten all manner of animals prepared in a variety of tasty ways. Some of it fresh—as in just killed less than an hour ago. Some of it not so fresh—as in slaughterhouse-processed, loaded onto a truck, and delivered to the supermarket where I bought it on clearance because it was about to expire. The one constant, though, is that I never bothered to give much thought to where my meat came from or how it got onto my plate.
And the times I have thought about that particular question, I’ve not felt a single pang of guilt.
Meat is a business, just like your smart phone or your diamond ring. Are there ways to clean up the industry to make it less gruesome and more environmentally friendly? Sure there are. And someone should get on that. But I’m as likely to turn down bacon wrapped beef tenderloin as you are to part with your iPhone or your conflict diamonds. In fact, I would have no problem slaughtering a cow provided I could keep the fruits (?) of my labor. Just give me the cattle gun and point me toward the rotating wall of knives.
Does that make me a bad person? I don’t think so. Does that make me an inconsiderate and thoughtless person? Maybe it does. There are certainly plenty of people out there who would say so.
I’ve watched the documentaries. I know the arguments. I’m not here to challenge any of that. Instead, I’m here to challenge myself to do exactly what I just said I wouldn’t: turn down that bacon wrapped beef tenderloin. Starting on June 1, I began my life as a temporary vegetarian for sixty days.
I can’t change the way I feel about meat—be it from a freshly killed deer or a cow chopped into bite-size portions by some nightmare machine. I like it all, and I probably always will.
But that doesn’t mean I have to shut down or get defensive when I see pieces like Becky Honeywell’s on Punchnel’s. Maybe the best response—and the response we all should occasionally give when we’re asked to think or act differently—is a simple “OK. I’ll try it.”
So, Becky, OK. I’ll try it.
What does living my life as a vegetarian mean? I have no idea. I can cross beef, pork, and poultry off the To-Eat list pretty easily. But what about cheese and eggs? Fish are probably a no-no, but what about mollusks? Mollusks don’t have faces, so they should be OK, right? And what about crustaceans? Is it cool if I eat those when the rare opportunity presents itself? They’re basically giant sea-insects, and you can’t tell me that even the most stalwart of vegetarians hasn’t occasionally sprayed a garden for bugs or swatted a mosquito.
I guess this is where I’m looking for your input. It seems like the first step to becoming a vegetarian is to establish some sort of ethos that informs your choices. If you’re a vegetarian, how do you deal with cheese and eggs? With mollusks? After you’ve considered the lobster, do you eat it?
Deer head photo by Matt Reinbold from Bismarck, ND, USA (Deer Head) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Meat case photo by Corpse Reviver (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons.