Roadkill, urban chickens, and other delights

Of all the side effects of living in a post-agricultural society, I think the worst is that most Americans have lost touch with their food.

That’s not to say we’re completely unaware of the plight of the salmon or the slaughter of dolphins. Some of us do our best to avoid meat from factory farms.

But how often do we really think about what we’re eating? Under all that stretchy plastic wrap, it’s easy to forget that our food was once alive.

My friend Tom (aka, “The Blogfodder”) woke me up to that fact with two wonderful articles.

First, he sent me a marvelous essay from Slate.

I was a bit disgusted by the idea of eating a rabbit off the road. “What about botulism? And tularemia—and plague?” I thought. I recalled my days as a licensed wildlife repair-person. In my three years of handling wild animals—lots of wild animals—I’d never gotten sick. But still …

Then I recalled Barry Lopez’ Apologia. And I thought about Arthur Boyt, who hasn’t paid for meat since about 1976.

“I haven’t bought a piece of meat since about 1976. Maybe a sausage or two to bring to a barbecue, but nothing to eat at home.”

Boyt estimates that over the course of his 55-year road-kill-eating career, he’s consumed about 5,000 animals he’s found on the side of the road.

At first, Boyt only ate animals you’d find on a restaurant menu—pheasants, rabbits, hares. But eventually he moved on to more adventurous game. Today, he has a stand-alone freezer packed with pieces of animals he’s collected over the years: badger, otter, roe deer, pheasant, partridge, pigeon, rabbit, and even a little bit of cat. “I’ve eaten three dogs,” he told me matter-of-factly, emphasizing that he never kills animals himself. “Two greyhound mixes, and one Labrador retriever. Dog is one of the nicest-tasting meats I’ve ever had.”

And I was left wondering: Which is more awful—eating a dead animal off the road, or letting it go to waste?

As if on cue, a cat ran out in front of my car as I was driving home. I swerved, and missed it. I was relieved to be able to leave my questions at a theoretical level.

Today, Tom sent me another article about a chicken named Gertrude who briefly disappeared from her New York City backyard.

From Tom’s comments, I gathered that the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood is less than desirable. (Although it’s slowly being gentrified, it’s still occupied by guys with neck tattoos and nicknames like “Snake.”)

And yet, when Gertrude went missing, the neighborhood rallied:

… one of the corner guys promised to “put the word out” and, if he found out who did it, to “put the hurt on him.” Which was comforting. Kind of.

Gertrude came home unscathed.

Once again, the irony was inescapable: As I was reading the heartwarming story about one chicken, I was mindlessly eating another. Damn you, cafeteria chicken salad!

I suppose there’s no going back: Unless we revert to raising our own animals, killing them with our own hands, and then consuming them, most of us will never truly appreciate where our food comes from.

But at least Tom’s reading suggestions reminded me to be more mindful of my eating, and to remember that my food was once alive.

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