The Truth About Styrofoam Trays

A few weeks ago Rob and I were having dinner with his godfather, who is also a dear friend.  An attorney by day, this man loves nothing more than to come home, change into overalls and dig in the garden with five children, bright homeschoolers who are all as full of curiosity and good nature as he is.  This particular evening his daughter and I had been cutting Brussels sprouts off their stalks as his youngest son held an umbrella over our heads.  I told him it was only drizzling lightly, we were okay.  He shook his head.  "Daddy said I had to."

We feasted on grilled sausages, ripe tomatoes and a big green salad, and we were about to cut into the watermelons (there were two -- one for the kids and an immeasurably superior spiked one for the adults) when my friend leaned over the table conspiratorially.  "Listen, we have something to take care of before dessert, and I thought you might want to help us.  You've said before that you were curious about the slaughtering process . . . "

Seeing what was coming, my slightly-squeamish husband began firing glances in my direction.  I knew the Under-Table Nudge was soon to follow, so I tucked my feet under my chair as I smiled encouragingly.

" . . . and we have a couple of chickens that need to be dispatched this evening.  Are you interested?"

"Absolutely!" I said, before Rob could stop me.  The kids danced around, cheering.  "Yaaaay!  Auntie Em's going to kill a chicken!"  (I'm not kidding.  They are THIS enthusiastic about everything.)

I didn't actually kill it.  I was worried that, with my lack of experience, I'd cause it more pain than it deserved to feel after a lifetime of faithful service.  Our friend clad himself in tall rubber boots and an apron, strode outside to the chicken yard, and in one smooth motion lifted the cover off the temporary hutch, grabbed both unfortunate birds by their necks, and swung them around in a circle once.  Their heads popped right off, and he threw them into the woods, still walking toward the tree where he hung the bodies by the feet from two tiny nooses.  The whole thing was over in less than 30 seconds.

The bodies jerked around just as I'd heard they would, and even after they were hung up to bleed they continued to twitch for a minute or so.  I took the opportunity to tie on my apron and be seated at one end of a long table, opposite my Brussels sprout partner.  When most of the blood was gone, he handed us each a bird and proceeded to explain the butchering process in careful, detailed terms.  His daughter, of course, finished in about half the time it took me, but I enjoyed every minute of it.  The organs were all perfectly-formed miniatures of the illustrations I had seen in Biology textbooks; in fact, the whole process felt a little like a lab, except that the chicken's flesh was pleasantly warm, and I could still see the marks in the dirt where it had scratched for its last meal.

We pulled out the innards, saved the hearts and livers, and then skinned the entire bird (plucking, apparently, is difficult and even more smelly.)  We cut off the necks, feet and wing tips, and at the end we had something that looked suspiciously like the chicken from the supermarket.  Minus the tray, of course.

Rob watched from a respectful distance, nursing his drink and occasionally rolling his eyes at me.  How I ever talked him into a lifetime of stunts like this, I'll never know.  But several slices of Southern Comfort melon later, I told my friend how much it had meant to me to be able to see the other side of dinner.  "That's why I do this," he said simply, his waving arm taking in the garden, the chicken run, the wall of homeschooling materials.  "We can study chickens all day long, but in the end, what matters is that they understand -- this animal was sitting over there eating bugs, and now it's sitting on the table and we're eating it.  It gives them a healthy respect for life and death."

Indeed.  What better lesson for a child to learn?  Chicken Doesn't Grow On Styrofoam Trays.