Why I’m Especially Thankful for Turkey This Year

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wild turkeys

I’ll never look at a turkey the same way again, or any other fowl for that matter.

You see, this past summer, a friend of mine invited me to attend a local chicken processing workshop with him, where we would be taught how to process a live chicken into chicken meat – from A to Z – killing, plucking, cleaning, you name it. I was quick to accept because it has always been an interest of mine to know how food gets from the farm to my plate. It’s also something I want my children to understand someday – that food doesn’t just magically appear on grocery store shelves – that death is required so that we may live.

Now, although I’ve eaten many-a-chicken before, I’ve never had to process a chicken until this class. So, I showed up not knowing what to expect, except that we would be getting our hands dirty. Needless to say, this would be an interesting experience for the whole group.

Upon arriving at the farm for the class, we were greeted by quite a character who would be our instructor. This guy certainly fit the stereotype of lifelong chicken farmer. He was well into old-age – I’d guess either side of 80 years old – but still very sharp and spry. He mumbled and was a little hard to understand, and was missing most of his teeth, but he was extremely competent when it came to the processing of chickens.

He talked us through the procedure while going about each step, and I later described his demeanor while processing chickens as akin to “making a sandwich.” He was a master of his trade for whom butchering chickens was merely second nature. And you’d believe it if you saw him. He wore tall rubber boots, a thick apron with tool belt, and other garments that screamed “lifelong farmer” – all of it saturated in blood.

After a brief hello and introduction, we were informed that this was a chicken processing workshop – as opposed to a chicken butchering workshop – because the terms killing, butchering, and slaughtering are apparently no longer politically correct. But make no bones about it, that’s exactly what we would be doing that day – dispatching, de-feathering, and disemboweling these birds as humanely as possible. We were taught two different techniques for killing the birds, which I won’t describe here, but that I will say were chosen to provide an expedient death that would result in as little suffering as possible – for both the animal and the students (some of whom were more comfortable with the task at hand than others!).

And over the course of the next hour or so, we each went through the entire process ourselves. We chose our chicken from the pen, caught it with our bare hands (I got a big one!), and then got down to business – going through the whole process step by step. And it was a really informative class that I appreciated especially because it was inherently hands-on. We didn’t sit in a classroom watching a power point presentation on the various steps involved. We just went out there to the farm and got our hands dirty, which if you ask me. is the best way to learn something like this.

Since then, I’ve helped my friend process about a half dozen of his own chickens. And my family has prepared, cooked, and eaten three of them ourselves. I’m not sure what breed of chicken my friend has, but the initial report is that these all-natural, free range chickens taste much more chickeny, have a lot more dark meat, less breast meat, and the leg meat is a bit tougher, too. But I hear there are variances from breed to breed, and that it largely depends on their living environment and diet.

Now, if there was one thing that I’ve learned throughout this whole process it’s that I appreciate more-than-ever just going to the grocery store and picking up a ready-to-cook bird. I just have a much greater appreciation for the entire process involved in raising and processing chickens for food. So much goes into it, and I am utterly amazed that I can purchase ready-to-cook chicken in any configuration I could possibly want for a few dollars – without having to breed, hatch, raise, feed and care for, kill, pluck, and butcher the animal myself (and do this every time I’m in the mood for chicken). I mean, just plucking the feathers is a lot of work, especially on a cold Fall day, I might add!

And this got me thinking. We’ve got it pretty good. I mean, these days we’ve got PHONES that make Star Trek technology look primitive. Not to mention we have fully-stocked grocery stores with more food than we could even imagine eating all around us. Heck, I live in what some people would call “out in the boonies in a small town” in the northeast USA, and I’ve got at least a dozen supermarkets within reasonable driving distance.

The truth is, we’ve got it pretty easy when it comes to nutrition and food, in general. Just the fact that we have access to such a wide variety of foods at our fingertips is reason enough to bust most excuses about not eating well. The fact of the matter is that most of us don’t need to hunt, gather, or farm any of our food at all. The hardest part is deciding what to get before we push it around in a cart. And food isn’t the only thing we’ve got easy!

In fact, in this day and age, we really have no valid excuses not to succeed when it comes to improving our health and fitness at all. Everything we could possibly need is right at our fingertips. And nine times out of ten, the only thing holding us back is us.

Final Words

So, I guess what I’m saying is that you and I should strive to be grateful for whatever it is we do have, instead of complaining about all the things we don’t. Plus, we should try not to take anything for granted – even the little things like being able to pick up a chicken at the grocery store anytime we want. And the longer I live, the more thankful I am for the little things in life. Not to mention my faith, family, friends, a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food in my stomach – among an endless amount of other blessings.

And maybe you’ll disagree with me, but I think one of the best ways to practice gratitude, instead of just having wishy-washy, feel-good emotions on a holiday like Thanksgiving each year, is to live your life with intention each and every day.

So, think about that and ask yourself, “could I be living a little more intentionally to better express gratitude for this wild and wonderful life I’ve been blessed with?”

And with that, have a very happy Thanksgiving everyone! I really, truly do hope that you have a wonderful holiday that is jam-packed with things to be thankful for.

When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. – Chief Tecumseh of the Shawnee Nation (1768-1813)

You pluck it. You eat it. – my friend, the farmer

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P.P.S. Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mtsofan/

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