Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Where does your food come from?

I've been thinking about this post for a long time and am still not sure how to approach it, but here goes:
Ever since the turkey incident with the former VP candidate I've been pondering what the level of awareness is that people have for where their food comes from. I heard all sorts of outrage over the video of the turkeys being killed. People were warned to cover their eyes and remove the children from the room. My response was "WTF?!" and then I had to go out into the barnyard and slit the throats of 30 Thanksgiving turkeys my customers were waiting for. Ya see, I raise totally organic, truly free range pasture fed turkeys and other poultry. In USDA lingo, "free range" means the birds have a place to put their feet on the ground. On my farm it means they get to go wherever the fuck they want to go. That's why it doesn't surprise me when a neighbor stops by and asks if I've seen my turkeys lately because he had just seen them 1/4 mile down the road foraging the local cemetary. My birds live happy, wild and free lives full of sunshine, fresh insects and vegetation and lots of whole grain organic feed. . . that is, until Thanksgiving and Christmas comes.
At that point, I very humanely take them into the slaughterhouse, insert them upsidedown into a “killing cone and slit their throats. After all the blood has drained from their body I lift the dead bird out of the cone by their feet and submerge them into a tub of 145 degree water for ~1.5 minutes. From there they go into the plucking machine where a big majority of their feathers are removed. After that, the plucking table where the remainer of the feathers are removed by hand. Now the fun begins. I pass them over to the dressing table where the process goes like this. . . remove feet, remove head, insert knife into abdomen and slice down along side the vent (asshole), cut around vent, cut fat and connective tissue from entrails (intestines), pull intestines from bird, reach into abdominal cavity and grab ahold of the gizzard. You gotta pull hard and hopefull the gizzard, liver and gall bladder will come out intact without rupturing the gall bladder. A ruptured gall bladder can ruin a bird. Slive the meaty sides from the gizzard and deposit in the giblet bowl, remove gall bladder from liver (this is a very precise maneuver requiring a steady hand, sharp eyes and sharp knife. I usually have a sharp knife) and deposit liver in giblet bowl (the giblet bowl is a big bowl with ice), Reach into abdominal cavity and with finger tips dig the lungs and kidneys out from around the ribs. Now spin bird around, cut skin down the neck and with one blow of a cleaver remove the neck. Trim and deposit in giblet bowl. Very delicately work your fingers around the crop and pull it out of the chest cavity. Hopefully you will remove the throat and esphagus at the same time. If not, remove. Clean out any remaining fat, go into the abdominal cavity and clean out any bits of guts and fat. Now spray bird down with water hose and get all the traces of blood and guts off. Submerge into ice water bath after removing previously killed bird and depositing it in a cooler full of ice.
Repeat . . . in my case, 25 times five days before Thanksgiving and 15 times five days before Christmas.

But the point is; it takes a lot of hard work and the spilling of lots of blood and guts to deliver that fine piece of meat to your dinner table. You should think about that the next time your satisfy your carnivorous desires.

The next day, I deliver and collect a crisp $100 bill for each turkey. That evening, I bemoan the fact that it just isn’t worth the effort when all I do is break even at best.
Yes, I sell these turkeys for $100 each and only break even. My chickens are $20 each and I only break even. . . sometimes, not even even.
Now go down to your local grocer and see how much he charges for a fully dressed turkey. $20? $25? WOW! How do they do that?!
Well, I’ll tell ya. They raise em in big pens containing thousands of birds. Each bird has a small area to move around in. Chickens are kept under worse conditions and laying hens, for those eggs you love are kept in tiny little cages they can't even move around in. They feed them all a specially processes feed for each stage of their life. The feed is full of cheap grains, which are grown with tons of cheap chemical fertilizers, vitamins, growth enhancers, “animal byproducts” (you don’t wanna know what that is) and all sorts of things that when you read the label you just wonder WTF they’re feeding these birds. They grow em fast. Factory chickens are raised in 6 weeks. Yup, that chicken you bought at the market last week was six weeks old when slaughtered.
The slaughtering process I described above is done with respect to the living animal and with the least amount of trauma to the animal as possible. No animal ever sees another animal killed on my farm. The way animals are killed on factory farms is reprehensible to me. There is no respect. The animals are treated like some sort of manufactured product, which is basically how they are raised and delt with their whole lives. I won’t describe the horrendous conditions under which these birds are slaughtered.
So yea, they grow em fast and cheap and use a big bag of tricks to do so.

How bout that cheap beef you get at your store. Same deal; fast and cheap. Lots of antibiotics, because when you finish off cattle in close proximity feed lots that are nothing but mud or dust, they tend to pass around some nasty bacterial infections. For feed, they get lots of cheap corn grown like the grains described above with all sorts of artificial chemical growth enhancers and growth hormones. And like above, the slaughtering process is horribly brutal.

How bout the politics of food? Do you know where the beef comes from when you bite into that cheap fast food burger that’s full of cholesterol and carbohydrates? Much of it comes from South America. Remember back in the 90s you heard a lot of screaming about the destruction of the Amazon rainforest? Well, it’s all for the beef. You see, they cut down huge patches of rainforest and up pops lots of forage for cattle. They populate those patches with lots of cattle to eat this abundance of new growth. Unfortunately, this new growth doesn’t last too long as the soil in a tropical rainforest is very low in nutrients nutrients and depends upon the constant natural cycles of growth death and decomposition to remain viable. Clear cutting the forest halts that process, so after a year or so, the cattle farmers have to abandon those once forested patches and move on to another.
Like I said, in the 90s there was outrage, but then it kinda dried up when the rethuglicans took over. Hmmmmmm. Wonder why?
So every time you chomp down on that fast food burger, be aware of where it came from and the consequences. Wanna save the rainforest? You can start right here at home.

Shall we talk about how that cheap fresh brocolli or those fresh Apples are raised? No, you’ve probably heard enough,. but believe me, when you bite into any veggies you buy frozen canned or fresh from the store you’re getting a good dose of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals used for the fast and cheap production of food. Unless it’s clearly marked as “organic,” there’s no telling what’s in it. Oh, and those “all natural” labels mean absolutely nothing.

Who doesn’t love shrimp? Don’t we all? Do you ever buy those relatively inexpensive bags of frozen shrimp or those big “tiger shrimp” in the grocery store? Most of them are labeled “Product of Thailand” or Indonesia or China. How bout that crap meat they’re trying to push on folks these days called “talapia?” “Silverbrite Salmon?” All those products are farm raised in some fairly unsavory circumstances. Who regulates what they are fed over there in China and Thailand? Shrimp will eat absolutely anything. You could throw whole dead dogs into a shrimp pond and they’ll strip it clean. How much antibiotic does it take to keep those silverbrite salmon alive in those cramped enclosures that line bays from Washington to China?

Speaking of China. . . after all that has happened in the past year with Chinese products, would you knowingly feed your family anything that is a “Product of China?” Read the labels. You’d be surprised what gets sold in the grocery store from China. Everything from fresh garlic to canned meats. Chweck you apples thoroughly. The Washington State apple industry is being wiped out by cheap imported apples from China.

I could write hundreds of pages on this topic. I’ve just barely scratched the surface. The point is that you should know where your food comes from. Ask your butcher. READ PRODUCT LABELS!
Apply your own moral and ethical standards to your food purchases.

I'm tired of all the killing. Killing in the cold, killing in the rain. . . the past five weeks have been a bloody mess filled with entrails and body parts. I need a break. I'm going to Floriduh till after the New Year. I'll sit in the sunshine, eat some good food, watch beautiful women in sexy bathing suits. . . mostly my wife, cruise around in my boat, I'll fish, then kill the fish, rip their guts out and eat them. . . it never ends.

Y'all have a good holiday.

Be in the moment. Pay attention to what's going on around you. Enjoy the peace it brings.


rainywalker said...

Do you remember Mr. Ruby who had all those turkeys and chickens in caves around West Virginia. But I went to some of his parties and you never lacked for eating and drinking. I agree with you so what are all of us poor people supposed to do? There are very few people in Colorado who can afford a $100 turkey, let alone a turkey. But I know you likely break even. I just cook everything to death these days and take my chances!

SagaciousHillbilly said...

Rainy, I don't propose that you do anything except be aware of where your food comes from and do what you can. Hell no. I couldn't afford $100 turkeys, but I can check out where all my food comes from and adjust my buying habits wherever I can afford to.
Oh, and don't eat fast food. It really is a bunch of shit.
And really, I don't think I actually broke even this year with the turkeys. Feed costs $20 per 50#. I have to travel 250 miles each way to get the feed. Baby turkeys cost over $4 each.
Do the math on a turkey that weights 35-45# walking around. It takes at least 4# of feed to put 1# of weight on a bird. . . that's under optimum controlled conditions. Gas was $4/gal at one point this summer and my Tacoma gets ~20mpg.
I have to get feed once per month.

mike said...

How would one go about buying one of your turkeys? Do you take pre-orders? I share much of your disdain for modern intensive farming methods, but obtaining (real) free-range poultry, short of raising or shooting it yourself, is tough.

rainywalker said...

Sometimes I think you read more into my comments than I mean. I really enjoy your posts and learn from them. Have a safe and happy holiday with your friends and family

SagaciousHillbilly said...

No Rainy. I don't think so. . . I just go beyond what is called for in my replies!
Glad you enjoy my posts. I think your's are some of the best on the net.

Mike, I deliver locally in western West Virginia and surrounding areas. Are you around here?

CurvyGurl said...

Excellent blog! You've given me a few things to consider. I see why MacDaddy and Kit are fond of you :-).

Happy new year!

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

Sagacious, this was an amazing article and I'm so glad you shared it. It was so graphic at first that it was a bit hard to read, particularly since I had a chicken drumstick in my hand, lol! But I couldn't stop and glad I didn't.

I also wondered (again) if this food processing is partly responsible for so many people getting cancer and so many kids having learning disabilities and behavioral problems.

By the way, tonight I passed on an award to you. I know you're chilling in Floriduh so check it out when you can pr get back.

~ Kit

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

Hey Sagacious, I'm leaving this here to make sure you get it. Thanks for noticing that I hadn't posted in at least 10 days. I've been working on developing a cool Forum and a new Internet umbrella group. I have the jitters about announcing it because it's such a BIG idea for lil' ole me to execute... you know how it is when you take the road less traveled.

Anyway, please drop by the Forum when you can and join. Check out the main site and blog too; the address is at the forum. I'd LOVE it if you posted this article or an excerpt of it under the Category "Self-Sufficiency - Food & Warmth", along with anything else you have in mind. Thanks,

~ Kit