Teaching helps me to see things that I take for granted through another's eyes. Yesterday, Sami and I taught our intern Callie and her boyfriend Matt how to process chickens. Sami and I have processed chickens on a regular basis over the last 8 or 9 years (first for our own consumption, then for our customers). Callie and Matt were new to the entire process, and their reaction to it helped Sami and I see it in a new light.
The butchering process, for me, is both physical and mental. I always do the "outside" work (that is, I bleed, scald and pluck the birds), while Sami does the "inside" work (evisceration, chilling, weighing and bagging). I've done the outside work enough to have muscle memory for the tasks involved. For example, I know where and how to use the sticking knife to quickly and humanely dispatch the chicken. I know how long to scald the bird to make sure the feathers come off completely, and I know how to hold the bird over our plucking machine safely and securely. Teaching someone these tasks, however, takes a conscious effort on my part to explain how and why.
On the mental side of the equation, I always remember that butchering involves the taking of a life. Indeed, eating meat involves this decision. When faced with this decision, some choose to remove meat from their diets. My family has chosen to participate directly in the process - I guess we feel like we have a responsibility to make the process humane and dignified. Our oldest daughter has helped us since she was 5, and she told me yesterday that she feels like her knowledge of the entire process of meat production makes her a more responsible human being.
As we taught Callie and Matt how to do the work, I realized that Callie found the "outside" part of the work somewhat overwhelming emotionally. Similarly, Sami prefers not to do the bleeding and plucking. Matt, on the other hand, was determined to learn how to do the outside work with care and skill. Back inside, Sami and Callie focused on learning to dress out the chickens and prepare them for storage. Both Callie and Matt remarked that they thought they could handle the type of partnership arrangement that Sami and I have developed over the years of raising, processing and eating our own chickens. Callie emailed me last night that they were looking forward to a chicken dinner this week!