Before & After Turkey: From Farm to Slaughter to Oven to Table
I was especially thankful for turkey this year, because I hand-selected our bird at a local farm and participated in its slaughter and butchering in a visceral, almost spiritual way. Why would I subject myself to the blood and gore? And how could that not make you go vegetarian and swear off poultry forever?
But I am increasingly convinced the more we know about our food — where it was cultivated, who tended it and under what conditions — the more it fully nourishes us as we humbly accept our place in the web of life. Our massive tom turkey came from Afton Field Farm on the rural outskirts of Corvallis. Little did I know I could take part in the butchering when we ordered it at the farmers’ market in October.
But the farm’s young proprietor Tyler Jones invited us out and so I went. The Corvallis native and OSU grad learned how to run a small-scale sustainable livestock operation while interning with Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Virginia, which featured in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
Afton Field Farm raised about 55 turkeys this year, slaughtering, cleaning and packaging them on the Friday before Thanksgiving on the grounds of Jones’ wooded childhood home near Bald Hill Park.
The first bird I pointed out seemed too wimpy, but little did I know the next one I selected was a whopping 26.8 pounds, the second biggest the farm sold. We’ll be eating turkey tacos, soups and casseroles for the next year!
Then its neck is slit in a pain-minimizing kosher-style way that people have used to slaughter their meat for thousands of years. It just felt right. These turkeys had a good life at Afton Farm and are hopefully meeting a relatively painless end.
Feeling and learning about the turkey’s internal organs were another treat (and the warm cavity felt good to the hands on the briskly cold day). I helped them rip the head off, cut the feet, remove the esophagus and wind pipe and gut the bird. I also cut open the giblet gizzard (what’s the difference between the two, again?) to remove the sack of grass and rocks and other debris turkey and chickens ingest when they peck at their food.
Though trying, the experience didn’t gross me out. I came to the Thanksgiving table with a renewed sense of reverence. And the turkey, which we gave a salt rub the night before, tasted better than ever this year.