Friday, January 04, 2008

Field To Table

I killed and ate one duck during my annual winter trip to the Eastern Shore. It's become a tradition...though "ritual" is perhaps a better word for it.

A vegetarian otherwise, my days of frequent hunting and fishing outings are gone, but the process of killing, preparing and consuming fish, fowl or flesh remains important to me. Once familiar to all, the steps involved are now considered foreign (even low) by the majority of contemporary meat eaters.

I have written on this subject several times before; rather than reiterate the same ideas, I thought I'd post some pictures of the process.


Lucy, a yellow Labrador Retriever, carries the fallen duck back to the blind.


Dead hen American black duck (Anas rubripes), on the left, and a hen mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), shot by a hunting companion, laid on the dock before the cleaning begins.

(My father and I make every effort to avoid shooting black ducks. The species experienced a gradual population decline in recent decades. Fortunately they are now rebounding in the Atlantic Flyway. Still, I would prefer to kill a mallard, but on this particular morning I failed to correctly identify the species as it winged past. It wasn't until Lucy retrieved the bird that I realized my mistake with a groan. Sadly, most duck hunters don't pick-and-choose species at all. Indeed, many hunters are no better at distinguishing species "on the wing" than your average urbanite.)


Ducks after plucking.


Ducks following gutting. The heads, wings and innards have been removed, and the heart of the black duck saved (on pan). The heart of the mallard had been mostly destroyed by the shot and could not be saved.

(When I was young, the duck liver could also be saved and eaten, but environmental pollutants have led biologists to discourage the consumption of internal organs.)


My hand following the gutting, a shockingly beautiful reminder of what meat consumption entails. I'm baffled by people who find such images disturbing yet continue to eat meat. They are the very definition of unreasonable and irresponsible.

(This isn't to suggest that I condemn contradiction. Indeed, I embrace it, but logic wins out in this case. If you find an act (any act) reprehensible or grotesque, how can you, with a clear conscience, ask it of someone else?)


Cleaned birds on pan, readied for rinsing and final preparations. Note how much more fat the mallard (bird on bottom) has than the black duck.

(Anas rubripes is considered a "wilder" or "gamier" species and, in my estimation, the meat tastes better for it.)


Me, cleaning and picking off remaining pin feathers.


The two ducks are now ready to be cooked. I ate the black duck that same evening. It was delicious.


My irreverent father sometimes says, half jokingly, "Make sure you finish everything on your plate. It died for your sins." In the days of environmental footprint quizzes, carbon trading programs, and hybrid automobiles, most western eating habits could fairly be deemed hedonistic. My annual kill, then, is sacramental. I "sin," if you will, so that I might reconfirm my decision, five years ago, to stop eating meat unless I am personally responsible for the killing involved in bringing meat to the table.

I'm not a true moralist, however. I realize that there is no universal code of ethics - only that which we, as individuals or societies, project onto others - but I do wish more people would consider their individual impact on the lives and environment of the animals we share this planet with, and depend upon for physical and emotional sustenance.

Photo credit: All images, Hungry Hyaena, 2007


Hans said...

I love it, but you should have post a photo of the grilled ducks too ;-)

Earwig said...

Nice post, HH. I like the image of the bloody hand.
Sadly, I think that we continue to grow more squeamish of the world around us. In this era of video chats, MMORPG's, and internet porn, even our interpersonal relationships are mediated by technology. When it comes to the "down & dirty" biology of our body, we can barely cope. We bathe so frequently that it damages our hair and irritates our skin then slather ourselves with artificial scents and colors. Our urine and feces vanish instantly and effortlessly down the toilet. Our food comes pre-processed and pre-packaged-- barely recognizable as a part of what it once was. Any reminders of the provenance of our food disturbs us greatly and pushes us into awkward stances of denial or irrational fervor. We are each little Lady Macbeths scrubbing furiously at our consciences.
I often consider myself to be fairly grounded in the gore and dirt of my own existence, but I am regularly reminded of just how alienated I am. I was slightly nauseated the first time I saw milk actually exiting the teat of a cow. Likewise unwashed, farm eggs cause me to contemplate the cloaca of the chicken and fill me with uneasy fascination. Even the sight of onions sprouting from the soil fills me with incredulity (this after years of working on farms and in gardens).
At some point, our bubble must burst, but I wonder how far we will go. Will we be aliens on our own planet?
In the meantime, enjoy the duck.
Happy New Year

Hungry Hyaena said...


Yes, I would have liked to include a "cooked" photo, but I was tired that evening and so totally forgot! Next time.


Thanks...and nicely summarized.

Happy New Year to you!