Lets not dance around the issue. One year ago today I slit a turkey’s throat, scalded it in hot water, used some low tech machinery to get its feathers off, cleaned it, took it home, and I ate it. What follows is an account about all of that, and since I’m publishing this on Thanksgiving I’m going to go ahead and suggest that if you’re squeamish you may want to hold off on reading this post and certainly clicking play on any of the movies, until you’ve had a chance to let the turkey digest or maybe wait a day or two until leftovers are done cooking.
Disclaimer done, lets get to killin. First and foremost, I need to thank my lovely girlfriend Rachel, as without her I wouldn’t have been able to organize this. As I’ve said time and again the hardest part about all of this hasn’t actually been the ethical dilemma of whether or not I can bring myself to kill an animal, but rather the smokescreen of modern society that REALLY doesn’t want to let you get your hands bloody. I imagine if I lived somewhere other than Los Angeles, and knew some friendly farmers all of this might be WAY easier.
That being the case, Rachel was able to track down a place called the Flip Flop Ranch where we were able to take a Turkey Killing class. While not exactly cheap (classes were $150 if you wanted a turkey and $100 to watch, so for Rachel and I we got set back $250 and walked away with one turkey), it was a small price to pay given the amount of time and consideration we got. This was a one on one lesson in Turkey Murder, and out of all of these I’ve done it’s been the cleanest and most direct.
This is where the turkeys themselves were kept and it gives you a bit of an idea of the surrounding at the Ranch. It was a long drive up there and while we traveled Rachel and I had plenty of time to talk about expectations, thoughts and general nerves. Once we got there we were greeted by two of the folks who work at the Ranch (my apologies to them as their names have long since escaped me). They showed us the Turkeys and walked us around the farm. They showed us their livestock, pigs, goats, ducks, and more that they had there and were raising.
As you can see from the picture above these turkeys are just about as “Free range” as I imagine you’re likely to get. There were a pair of European guys staying there doing what’s called a Farm Stay. This was amazing to me as I imagine it’s like how we in the US go to Bulgaria to tour amazing castles, these guys having their fill of amazing castles have traveled to San Bernadino to shovel goat shit. All that being said, I would absolutely do a farm stay there and I think it was an awesome ranch, I just dont know that it’s worth a trip over from Europe for the experience.
There were also a ton of cats and dogs they had, which they mentioned they didn’t give names to until they had been there a while as wild coyotes would have a tendency to run off with them.
At first it seemed really sad to me, but it also struck a weird chord that we were there and sad that coyotes had been eating the cats, meanwhile I had payed someone to kill a turkey in the very same spot. Regardless, the cats kept Rachel company throughout the proceedings, except for when she revealed a hereto unknown superpower of Turkey Wrangling. In order to get the turkeys from the yard into the killing field (I dont know if that’s the right term… I’m guessing not), someone had to “Get” the turkeys, and while I was garbage at this Rachel was some kind of ninja when it came to turkeypoaching. She was basically like The Manhunter but for turkeys.
Once netted like a bunch of overly large pokemans, the turkeys were loaded into some giant cat-carrier looking contraption and dragged over to the road cones of doom. At this point I also learned something interesting which is that only the male turkeys are eaten (except for a few who get to grow old and giant like Turkeyzilla here).
So the next time someone is arguing with you about gender inequality you can bring up the fact that male turkeys are all killed for thanksgiving while lady turkeys get to live a long and happy life. Any fallout from using turkey based logic in arguments is all on you though.
This then lead to the inevitable moment, which was of course the hardest part of the process. I watched as the guy who was showing us the process went through it, but all in all it was pretty straightforward 3 step process.
- Load the turkey into an upside down traffic cone. This makes it go complacent and basically zone out.
- Extend the turkeys neck and cut the arteries on either side of it
- Go with the knife through the bottom of the jaw, up through the roof of the mouth and into the brain, making sure step 2 worked
All in, this was a very quick process and it was mentioned that this is basically the fastest way to handle things, and causes the least amount of suffering. Cutting the arteries rather than the throat prevents the animal from feeling like it’s suffocating (though I’m sure the experience isn’t pleasant).
All that being said. Here’s a video. It’s in color and it has sound and it’s exactly what’s described above so if that sounds like the worst thing ever to you I don’t recommend you watch it.
All things being said you can see in this video I still have the same problem as always which is not applying QUITE enough force, but in this case it’s not too bad. You can see there’s not much struggle or resistance and it’s all over pretty quick. Once that was done the process begins of turning something that was living into meat. This is the step that has always been fascinating to me, because it’s where the empathic connection seems to vanish for me.
The first step is basically scalding the turkey in crazy hot water. This loosens the feathers and makes them easier to pluck. Then the real magic came on a turkey plucker. Plucking the chicken was one of the most time consuming parts of the process, and this giant machine seemed to just batter the turkey’s corpse until all the feathers came off. For whatever reason however, this did 0 damage to the turkey or the skin, just magically made the feathers come off. My buddy helping me went ahead and handled this step since otherwise I was likely to defeather my hands. I appreciated this muchly.
Next was more familiar to me. Cut off the head and feet, and get the turkey neck. This required a bit of work to save the turkey neck and get rid of the gullet (which was a new experience). Then, remove all the guts from the internal cavity of the Turkey (don’t nick the anus!), and rinse everything out. This step was hardly “old hand” but I felt more comfortable having done this before with a chicken. It’s generally surprising how easily MOST parts of the inner cavity come out. This video may or may not be particularly disturbing as it’s a bit more gutsy than the other videos.
That being done the turkey went in a cooler and on ice and we made our way home for the holidays. I ended up brine-ing the turkey because I hadn’t had turkey in like 4 years and so I was super excited, and then I proceeded to totally botch cooking the turkey.
In my enthusiasm to handle all the parts of the turkey from selection and killing to the time it came out on the table, I had neglected to remember the important fact that I have no idea how to cook a turkey. Rachel’s mom helped save it but it was still kinda dry and a bit gamey. Also it was obviously not a giant crazy mutant turkey like we’re used to buying for Thanksgiving, but after all that I was able to re-enter the world as a happy turkey eating member of society.
I’m going to do a followup post on this with a bit more of the empathic and long term feelings I’ve had both as a result of this and everything else but I promised Rachel that I’d put SOMETHING up by Thanksgiving and at least a mechanical recounting of the expedition is the BARE MINIMUM I can provide for you. This was a hugely affecting experience that I still think of regularly up to a year later and I want to thank again Rachel and the Flip Flop Ranch for the experience.
I’m thankful this year to my friends and family, Rachel, that first turkey, and all of you guys who are reading this. Have a great Thanksgiving.
To Be Continued…