On Killing Chickens
Jay Thal (jay.thal@TCS.WAP.ORG)
Sun, 23 Aug 1998 18:43:35 EST
This thread on killing chickens is a long one, separated in the middle by lost
memory due to three weeks at Philmont. But, memories (and questions) of a
different sort arise and call upon me for a comment.
I was an urban kid growing up. You cannot get much more urban than Brooklyn,
NY. But, that was in a different world of 50+ years ago as I accompanied my
mother to the local butcher and watched as live chickens were converted to dead
ones, defeathered and gutted, and packaged for the trip home for the final
preparation of removing pinfeathers before cooking. New York City back then
was a different place - before suburbs, and interstate highways, there were
even farms within the city limits. Now so much is prepackaged and antiseptic.
Some years later, in 1950, we drove west to visit my sister who had married and
moved to southern Wisconsin. She was now part of a farm family, close to the
land, in which the slaughtering of livestock (and chickens) was commonplace,
though not a mechanical operation, in a subsistence economy.
In our travels westward we stopped in that Hog Butcher to the World, as Carl
Sandburg put it, and visited the Chicago stockyards. Fascinated was I of the
efficiency of the operations as cattle were stunned with sledge hammers,
suspended, bled to death, and prepared to feed a nation. So too did it occur
to conveyor belts of pigs, some spilling yet unborn piglets from their
So fascinated was I that, in the nature of enthusiastic youth, I described
these events around the farmhouse dinner table as we consumed the freshly
picked strawberries and just whipped cream from the cows out back. But, what
came slowly and penetratingly to my young mind was the horror and revulsion
that I brought to that table. Here were people, close to the land, who killed
animals for necessity and not as part of a relentless process.
Was I transformed? No. I am still an omnivore enjoying the textures and
flavors of the rest of the animal kingdom. Was I scarred by that exposure?
No, but it is part of my memory. Only now as I set about this typing did it
occur to me the operational similarities which separated that slaughterhouse
from those which were separating six million of my brethren from me only a half
I will, most likely, remain an omnivore - the top of the food chain - buying my
sustenance in polyurethane and styrene sandwiches as necessity and hygiene
requires. Rarely am I even cognizantly thankful to those who do the deeds for
I know that I can, individually, prepared my meals from scratch using sharp
instruments if it is required. Few would be traumatized by such a demand.
But I do wonder about the hidden scars on those who must do it continuously as
part of a job; or as a ritual, rite, or initiation. Does it desensitize one?
Does the killing become easier? I have read that molesters and serial killers
have, often in their formative years, perfected their trades on stray animals.
That, I am sure, was not part of a Scouting activity.
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City