Warning: some readers may find the subject matter of this post disturbing.
An article in the latest issue of Gourmet magazine addressed the oft-ignored, but very real, dilemma of the carnivore that is the slaughter of animals for human consumption. We touched on this issue briefly a while back in a post on Provencal rabbit stew as I had a succession of rabbits as pets growing up and initially found it difficult to decide if I could eat rabbit given these very friendly relationships in my formative years – what my sister refers to as the dilemma of whether or not to “eat your friends.”
In this Gourmet article, two Brooklynites go shopping in search of goat meat in order to recreate some goat tacos they’d eaten in northern Mexico. After searching high and low for the cut of goat they need to re-produce this dish authentically, they end up at Madani, a halal butchers in Ozone Park, Queens, and there, they witness the slaughter of their chosen goat in the traditional halal method of throat-slitting, and subsequently, they experience some philosophical issues relating to mortality, meat-eating and the preparation of the goat tacos.
For a rather more comprehensive discussion of the ethical slaughter of animals, check out Halal: The Original Ethical Meet Eating at EatDrinkBetter.com where the gist of the piece is that halal-style slaughtering methods are the most humane to be used anywhere – showing as they do proper and due respect to the animal before, during and after its death.
Never having witnessed the killing of an animal for food using halal, kosher or any other method, and therefore not knowing the look in its eyes as the knife is drawn across its throat, nor having watched the life (and blood) ebb out of it, I was both fascinated and made a little fearful by this article. For me, it wasn’t that I had a sudden ethical problem with the killing of animals for food — far from it, in fact, it brings me great delight on a daily basis that animals are killed so I can eat them — rather I felt that I should also witness, first-hand, the death of at least one animal that was to play an important role in my dinner in order that I too could appreciate this sacrifice in all its horrific reality.
Little did I know that within hours of having read this article I would be faced with almost exactly this opportunity. And, when I say almost, I mean that whereas the guys in the Gourmet article only watched while someone else dispatched their goat, in my case, I was to be cast in the role of the grim-reaper.
Regular readers of this blog who look at our photographs carefully may have noticed a certain black and white (a so-called “tuxedo”) cat loitering in the background, paws poised to take a swipe at whatever’s in focus should our backs be turned momentarily. This is our cat Windsor and, being our cat, she is a gourmet and a gourmand in every sense of the word that is applicable to felines. A lover of all things dairy (including a recent obsession with the Italian hard cheese Piave), Windsor has a well-rounded palate and is just as likely to nibble on avocado and tomatoes (she is also an amateuse of mushrooms sauteed with garlic and parsley) as she is to be tempted by pieces of fish skin and lamb bones, and of course, this pleases us no end that our pet shares our hobby (and, to a degree, our waistlines).
However, we are not so enamored when her tastes expand to feral beasts. Indeed, several are the times when we have been awoken before dawn on a spring day to the pathetic, plaintive final shreiks and whimpers of some unfortunate sparrow hatchling that Windsor has been tormenting. After which she continues this agonizing soundtrack serenading us with cheerful and proud meows to alert us to her macabre victory over a defenceless prey. This is the cue for yours truly to drag himself out of bed and step very carefully through a dark apartment — now littered liberally with tiny feathers — into the kitchen to retrieve the dustpan and brush in order to usher the late creature to its final resting place as respectfully as I am able to at 4am.
So it was with an extreme sense of foreboding last week when my wife called me at work in the late afternoon to tell me that Windsor had outdone herself and had left us an altogether larger gift this time. Happily, she had left this one outside our back door, probably because she couldn’t carry it inside.
It was a large grey squirrel – about two or three pounds (1 – 1.5 kilos) in weight, I would guess. Fully grown with a large bushy tail and some very serviceable-looking buck teeth. The kind of urban squirrel that we had been cursing as vermin for months for digging up everything we planted in our small garden regardless of the amount of chicken wire we tried to protect it with. Ironically, it was precisely the same kind of squirrel that, because of this, we had been trying in vain to encourage Windsor to be more territorial about and go after.
The moral of this story, though, is not be careful what you wish for. No, it’s actually make sure that when your cat does what you want it to and brings you the animals you’ve been telling it to deal with, that said animals are actually dead. This one was gravely wounded but had certainly not yet shuffled off its mortal coil, and it was this liveliness that so bothered my wife. After all, what the hell do you do with a half-dead squirrel?
Hurrying home on the subway, I wasn’t able to come up with a good answer to this question. It seemed to me that the easiest (and most cowardly) approach was to hope that at least Windsor had done enough to mortally injure the squirrel and that it would succumb to its wounds mercifully soon. However, were this not to happen, I was left to wonder just how long I could mentally deal with the fact that a kind of cute squirrel was dying a slow and agonizing death just steps away from where I was trying to sleep.
When I got home however, one look at the stricken creature gave me my answer — I could probably sleep quite well, or if not well, then certainly better than if I had to dispatch the thing myself. My wife though, ever my moral compass, directed me towards a heavy snow-shovel and suggested invitingly that I “be a man about it.”
I shall spare you, gentle reader, the finer details of just how I sent the poor squirrel off to meet his maker, but suffice it to say that both Windsor and I could learn a lot about humane methods of slaughter should this situation recur. If it did, not only would it occasion a great and heroic blog post about killing ones own food, but it would also necessitate an investigation of recipes for squirrel, the idea of which for now, at least, rather turns my stomach…