How to harvest a turkey.

Update: Seems I ruffled some feathers over on the VegPage.com (free vegan community) web site.

A person called “Adam” posted this along with a link back to this article:

Wow, “bbum”, you really know how to overpower turkeys. What a man! The ladies must truly envy your potential.
I came across this “man,” bbum who has a webpage for instructing others how to kill turkeys with some lovely photos.

He also posted this in the comments of this post:

The negro answers to the racist
The battered wife answers to the sexist
The animal answers to man

A racist is a sexist is an omnivore

Your soul will suffer too–enjoy your turkey.

Adam — if you are going to call me names on your weblog, have the balls to allow comments. Since you don’t, I’ll respond here.

Your claim that I somehow harvested this turkey as a means of proving or improving my manhood is just complete jackassery. If you had actually read this post you would have seen this quote: Personally, I find it hypocritical to both eat a food and be unwilling to acknowledge how said food is produced.

That turkey died for exactly one purpose; to put food on my table. I decided to slaughter the thanksgiving bird myself because I feel it is damned important to be willing to harvest whatever I consume.

Taking a couple of photos and quotes out of context for your weblog, preceding it by false claims about the character of an individual you have never met, not allowing anyone to respond directly on your site, and then following it with an invitation to post drivel over here “in the name of the cause” is just flat out cowardly and, frankly, rude.

Worse, it does nothing good for your “cause”. Your actions leave me with the impression that your site is just another hate-based organization. Too many of those in the world, no need for another.

(Thank you to JonBen for providing evidence that not all of the VegPage community are self-righteous jackasses.)

Original post below.


Turkey's Hanging Until Harvest

Mmm…. Turkey. Yum. See that big dude on the right with the snood hanging down?

That would be our thanksgiving dinner this year. I reserved a turkey with a rather awesome local poultry farmer, Paul Hain, earlier in the season. He raised the turkeys in his walnut orchard. Completely organic.

The turkey needed to be picked up at farm on the weekend before thanksgiving and Paul invited us to come down, tour the farm and participate in the turkey harvest, if we wanted.

Ben and I jumped at the chance. To play a role in the harvest of the turkey — to actually know what happens between “bird eating bugs & grain” to “me eating the bird” — is something that we both feel is important knowledge.

Personally, I find it hypocritical to both eat a food and be unwilling to acknowledge how said food is produced.

Enough of the PC BS. If you don’t want to read about animal slaughter, see pictures of blood, or know how a turkey goes from walking around to ready to cook, don’t click through to the full story.

Turkey bleeding out

The first step is to catch and kill the turkey. Catching the turkeys is relatively easy. They called relatively large pens home. This protects them from predators at night and the pens are portable.

So, it is just a matter of hopping in the pen and grabbing a bird. A thirty five pound bird that really isn’t into the whole being grabbed thing. But once you have a leg, it is a matter of grabbing the other leg and getting a hold of both legs in one hand. Then you roll the bird over and get an arm around the wings, cradling the bird upside down. At this time, the bird stops struggling and will typically not put up a fuss until the final few beats of its heart.

The next step is to stick the bird’s head into a bucket with a hole cut in the side/bottom. The head sticks out said hole. Stretch the neck out and cut the neck artery. (A couple of folks asked exactly where the cut is made, so here is a better picture.) The key is to cut the artery and not the windpipe as doing so will cause undue stress upon the bird.

The bird will then bleed out with the assistance of both gravity and the beating of the heart. The turkey is remarkably calm through the entire process, including the cutting of the artery, until the very end of its life. When the heart starts pumping air, the turkey finally seems to realize that something is amiss.

Dinner!

A slight aside: Turkeys are really heavy. In this photo, I’m holding a 35 lbs bird prior to cleaning. I am out of shape (and fat, jeez!) but, yes, they are heavy birds!

Prepping to Pluck

Once the bird is dead, it is time to remove the feathers.

The first step is to dip the carcass in slightly soapy, 140 degree, water. The heat loosens the feathers and the soap cuts the oils a bit.

The bird is dipped repeatedly for a couple of minutes. What little weight was lost as the bird was bled out is quickly regained in becoming water logged. Combined with relatively extreme heat of the water makes for quite a bit of exercise keeping your hands out of the water!

Plucking the Turkey

Now that the bird has been thoroughly dipped, it is taken to the plucking machine. It is a rather simple device that consists of a rotating drum upon which 2.5″ long serrated rubber rods are attached. By simply brushing the carcass up against the rods, the feathers are quickly removed. The drum is not particular powerful, quickly stopping if a wing or the neck gets too entangled.

The machine does a rather thorough job of removing most of the feathers.

Final Plucking

But it doesn’t remove all of the feathers.

The wing and tail feathers have to be removed by hand. As well, the carcass is given a fairly close once-over to ensure that no other features are left behind. Quite a few little bits of feather here and there have to be removed.

Gutting the Turkey

Once de-feathered, it is on to the actual butchering process. First, the head is removed. Then the neck. These are removed separately because the neck is saved. The lower portion of the legs are also removed.

A bit of a cut is made in the belly of the bird and the entrails are removed. Nothing delicate about this process. It is a matter of reaching into the bird and ripping out the guts as a hole. You need to be very careful to not burst certain organs — gall bladder, stomach, etc.. — inside the bird as they will release some fairly nasty digestive juices.

The lungs need to be scraped out as they are well attached.

Ready for Cooking!

Once fully cleaned, the carcass is placed into a tank of cold water to chill. From there, it is packed on ice and sent home with the customer.

Next up? I’ll brine the turkey tomorrow or Wednesday. It will then be smoked on the Big Green Egg for upwards of 12 hours. Should be delicious.




55 Responses to “How to harvest a turkey.”

  1. leeg says:

    Excellent stuff. I’ve long believed that if you’re not prepared to kill something you shouldn’t be prepared to eat it – a good subject to avoid raising with any billionaire fruitarians in your vicinity though ;-)

  2. Chris Ridd says:

    I was going to ask how long the entire process took, but then I figured I’d look at the EXIF data in each photo and find out…

    So how come the first photo of the living bird was taken at 10:43, and the next photo of the dead bird was taken at 10:36? :-)

  3. Jim Correia says:

    What kind of smoke wood are you planning to use?

  4. bbum says:

    Heh — when we showed up, that particular bird was already in the bucket. I wandered out to the pen to catch the next bird after, hence the order of photos.

    Full cooking description will go up when I cook it. But I expect to smoke over maple chips that have soaked in red wine over night.

  5. John C. Randolph says:

    Yum!

    -jcr

  6. Killing and Prepping a Turkey, with Pictures at Dethroner says:

    […] How to harvest a turkey [Friday] […]

  7. vranghel says:

    Seeing this i remember one time in my home country(romania), me and my sister (we were like 15 and she was 18) had purchased a live turkey from a farmer’s market. We had to kill it, but we were both scared and inexperienced(usually my dad does the killing- from a veal down to pigs and chickens, he’s the expert), so we went out of the house and asked a guy on the street to help us cut it. He helped it, and from there to the pan was but a short time.

    It’s interesting that in N. America people are not too used to killing their own poultry. In Europe (especially eastern part) people appreciate meat that comes from an organic farm and wich they cut and prepare themselves.

  8. Giblet says:

    Excellent piece. Thanks.

    There are many ways to kill a bird. Most would simply lop the head off and hang them to drain while prepping other birds. Bleeding them, as above, is popular too.

    If you don’t feed the birds for 12 hours before processing them, you’re less likely to suffer from odor problems.

    Setting up a 3-person assembly line; kill+drain/pluck/clean+chill can result in amazing processing times.

  9. bbum says:

    Yeah — I certainly don’t mean to imply this is the One True Way to kill a bird. Paul indicated that simply lopping the head off doesn’t fully drain the bird and it takes longer to drain what does drain.

    During normal Chicken processing operations, Paul and Andy do a two person assembly line that is quite productive. The operation is optimized for chicken processing. Turkeys are a once-a-year event.

  10. GGGary Minus says:

    is there any way you can go into more detail regarding the removal of the innards? where to cut, etc. would be a good place for me to start. since it’s a more delicate process, i just wanna be sure.

    thanks a lot for your time in this post/process!

    pz,
    gaaary

  11. Shannon says:

    Wow. This is really interesting. Although the second picture was a little much for me, I should know how it is done if I am going to eat something that has been killed. Next time I eat a turkey; which will be tomorrow, I will remember this and think about how it was done. As a kid I always wondered how the turkey I ate was drained cooked and of course killed. Thank you for providing this for me to read and finally find out!!!!!!!!!:):):):P:P:P:P

    ~~SHANNON~~

  12. Anne Trembley says:

    We were broke with 2 small kids and 2 acres on the edge of a small Oregon town. Big garden, chickens and one year 2 turkeys to make more little turkeys to eat in the future. Turned out we had the wrong breed, they could fly, and we could not keep them off the back porch, and they figured out how to get the trashcan lid off the dog food can. They laid huge turds everywhere, attacked the kids, and were constantly into the dogfood. Day before Thanksgiving husband said if I would kill one, he would clean it when he got home from work. I managed to trap Big Tom on porch, ductaped legs together, then wrapped it around body. Put 2 nails in a log out back, and a nail up on a post to hold the corpse. Took biggest knife I had expecting one good chop would take head off. Mad kids come to help me. One held legs back, I held head between nails and gave it a huge CHOP! It just nicked his neck, he broke free and I had to chase him down, dragged him back to the block while the kids screamed, made one hold legs while I chopped again, then wing tape came loose and it tried to fly, I chased him down, dragged him back and sliced head off. The body flapped away, the kids wailed, I stood there with a bloody knife in one hand, turkey head in the other, and heard clapping and cheering in the distance. I looked around and discovered that down below our property, the 2 story old victorian farmhouse was being reroofed. The second story rose above the trees and the roofers were all sitting in a row along the peak clapping and waving. **SIGH** I did learn THIS, use a 5 lb. meat cleaver. AND if you immediately start plucking minutes after death, the feathers practically fall out. He was the most delicious turkey I have ever eaten. And the next one was killed in about 5 seconds, from grab to head removel.

  13. Paul says:

    Poor turkey :(

  14. bbum says:

    Very Very yummy turkey.

  15. Juanito ElWicarto says:

    Facinante!

  16. bbum’s weblog-o-mat » Blog Archive » A Smoked Turkey With An IP Address… says:

    […] After going through the effort of harvesting a Turkey for the first time, I wasn’t going to just throw the damned thing in an oven! […]

  17. Lise says:

    You should give a little more info about taking out the guts – how to open up the fibrous sac the gizzard comes in so that you can save it for gravy, cutting the bile sac out of the liver, removing the crop, etc.

    I should say that in my year of giving chicken-butchering classes, I’m surprised that nobody’s puked yet.

  18. Paul Hain says:

    Bill,
    Great piece! You asked about the cut in the abdomen and it is below the breast bone and long enough to get a hand in. The guts will come out as a unit and a U shaped cut will remove the vent from the bird.
    Thanks for sharing your experience!
    Paul

  19. Kent says:

    Good post. Bad luck for the turkey that it tastes so good.

  20. Yamato-Soft Blog » Blog Archive » Thanksgiving meat says:

    […] Bill explains how to turn Turkeys into meat. But then, aren’t we all made out of meat? […]

  21. pulanet » Blog Archive » Thanksgiving meat says:

    […] explains how to turn Turkeys into meat. But then, aren’t we all made out of […]

  22. joan says:

    hi…i am trying to find a better way to remove feathers from dead birds which i use to make art. i have a couple of large birds that have been frozen since this winter 2007. in the past i hve pulled the feathers out by hand which is not easy and is time consuming. if there is a better way would you inform me.i want to keep the feathers in the best shape i can. many thanks joan.

  23. hey says:

    You’re making art from the feathers or the dead birds? Anyhow, seems wrong to me to kill birds to make art. Just my personal opinion.

  24. ED says:

    I kill an dress my turkey the way the photos show me. And it came out good.
    But the only thing I didnt do was put it on ice to chil it.And we put it in the oven
    the same hour.But the meat came out very tough.Did I make a mistake by
    not chiling it ?PS CAN ANYONE TELL ME

  25. bbum says:

    How long did you cook it, how, and at what temperature? Sounds more like the bird may have been overcooked or dried out in the cooking process.

  26. ED says:

    well the oven was at 350 for 4 1/2 hours.I think I got the bird scared.
    well i hope the next three bird come out tender . I make one for thanks giving.
    ps thanks for writing back

  27. bbum says:

    Maybe so, maybe not. I know that trauma can cause tough meat, but not that tough or dry. Try brining your bird and otherwise following a proven recipe.

    I would recommend: http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,,FOOD_9936_8389,00.html

    Can’t go wrong with Alton Brown. At least, I haven’t so far!

    The bird I cooked was brined for 12+ hours.

  28. Asta Helgason says:

    As far as a tough bird, the bird should be allowed to rest a couple of day for the rigor to relax, we had 25 chickens processed and I cooked one (actually cut it up and used breast meat, etc) same day… I knew to let them rest, but I couldn’t wait…. it was tough, the one I roasted three days later melted in my mouth. Letting the bird rest in the fridge is the trick.
    Our turkeys will be done the Saturday before T-Day to assure a tender bird.

  29. oscar says:

    very informative & clean, many of us dont have the big water drum or rubber feather buster, though being a bit creative this shouldnt be a problem just boil some water(dip, dip pluk) thanks for the helpfull pictures. O.T

  30. Michele says:

    How do you remove the neck??

  31. kay jenkins says:

    I was just looking up information about Thanksgiving and ran across your site. My grandparents had a very small farm in Powell Valley Tn. Your site reminded me of watching my grandparents prepare one of their chickens for dinner. My grandfather would usually take one of his chickens to the smokehouse and use an axe to cut their heads off. He would usually laugh while I ( sometimes cousins) would scream and run around watching the chicken run around with no head. I remember my grandmother pouring hot water over the chicken and plucking it. I remember her gutting the chicken and also holding it over a fire outside. Then she would take it inside and cut it up, wash it, roll it in flour and seasoning,and fry it. I cannot fry chicken today as good as hers was! So, I bet a fresh live turkey prepared is alot better than what I buy frozen at the store. Happy Thanksgiving!

  32. JASEN says:

    DOES ANYONE KNOW OF A GOOD WEBSITE THAT SHOWS YOU HOW TO BUTCHER A TURKEY STEP BY STEP?

  33. HEIDI says:

    http://SITEUPGRADE.COM/POULTRY/BUTCHERINGPOULTRYFINAL.HTML

    THIS SITE HAS STEP BY STEP PICTURES FOR CHICKENS, TURKEYS

  34. Mike says:

    Thank you for this post. My father in law raised 2 Turkeys over the past season and had hopes of harvesting them. He lost the nerve to kill the birds but said that if I would kill them we could have them for Christmas. Your post has given me the nerve to harvest for Christmas. Even though I have never done it before I feel that I could give it a try now. Thanks.

  35. Jonny says:

    You should try ‘tofurkey’ or quorn logs.

    It’s still pretty nice stuff, but you won’t have to catch it, or make it bleed out.
    Just negates the whole slaughtering animals thing.

  36. bbum says:

    Had both. Judged as a food independent of all other foods, they were both just fine. Versatile. Lots of cooking options. I’ll eat ‘em again.

    However, comparing them to meat — to fresh harvested, free range, organic, turkey — is ludicrous.

  37. Michele says:

    Still waiting for an answer to my question, how do you remove the neck from the turkey? do you cut it out? I tried pulling it out and had a heck of a time, there has to be an easier way.

    thank you

  38. bbum says:

    Hack it out. A cleaver works well from what I observed.

  39. Adam says:

    The negro answers to the racist
    The battered wife answers to the sexist
    The animal answers to man

    A racist is a sexist is an omnivore

    Your soul will suffer too–enjoy your turkey.

  40. bbum says:

    I think you just called me racist and sexist. That seems a bit rude, given that you have never met me.

    However, I am an omnivore and an optimist. Thus, my optimism will leave me to conclude that your comment is merely nonsense and, thus, no offense taken.

  41. Ben Holt says:

    Adam: in my own omnivorous endeavors I assure you I am neither racist nor sexist: I’ll gladly eat either gender of any breed of turkey…

  42. Luke Burton says:

    @Adam … Maybe your time would be better spent on the African savannah, explaining to lions that they should stop tearing the flesh from still-living wildebeest and instead subsist on a diet of nuts and twigs.

    Have a nice day, and enjoy your lentils and fruit. Don’t forget to throw down some vitamins to compensate for your unnaturally unbalanced way of living. Don’t forget the electricity that brought you your internet connection is powered by burning a animal by-product: fossil fuels. I’d appreciate it if you stuck to your beliefs and immediately terminated your electricity account.

  43. JonBen says:

    I hate it when an obvious clash of ideologies are forced to intersect on web sites devoted to (or derived from) one of those ideologies. Adam’s comment comes across as being completely out of left field, disjoint, vague, and slightly rude, or at least inciting. I’m pleased to see it didn’t degenerate immediately into some sort of flame war, and I certainly don’t want to start one. I do however want to say something in response to Luke, just to offer a different point of view and to dispel a couple of myths he presented as fact. Basically since the response was so reasonable I feel that you deserve a reasoned response.

    It’s true that animals eat each other, however animals do many things I would not, and quite a few I find immoral so that is hardly reason for me to mimic their behavior.

    I don’t eat any animal products at all, and I don’t take a single vitamin, they are not needed. Some people (omnivore or not) do take vitamins, they are a convenient way to get nutrients that may be difficult to include in one’s diet, this is not an indication that either diet is naturally devoid of essential nutrients. No competent dietitian will dispute that a vegan diet is healthier than that of an omnivore, and it certainly is not an unbalanced way to eat. You can argue that it’s unnatural, there is lots of debate over our ancestor’s dietary habits and I’m not an expert on that. Though I would point out that our ancestor’s also had no problem with human slavery something we eventually came to realize is immoral. No one would claim that slavery is okay because we used to do it, so saying that exploiting animals is okay because we used to do it (and of course still do) isn’t a valid argument in favor of exploiting animals.

    As for fossil fuels, they really don’t present any moral issue for a vegan. Those animals lived their lives and died long ago, humans did not exploit those animals. The reason animal products are eschewed by vegans is because we humans have assumed that their lives are meaningless (at least compared to our own) and that we need not recognize that they have any interest in not being owned, controlled, exploited, and killed. Eating them afterwards is just insult added to injury as far as I’m concerned. So the fact that animals have contributed to fossil fuels does not make petrol non-vegan. Veganism isn’t a blind devotion to some mantra, it’s a logical and well reasoned stance against treating animals as resources and denying them their right to live free of human control (and all that it entails).

  44. bbum says:

    JonBen — thank you for the well spoken response. I may not agree with you, but I certainly respect your intellectual presentation upon this subject.

    It’s true that animals eat each other, however animals do many things I would not, and quite a few I find immoral so that is hardly reason for me to mimic their behavior.

    This seems to lie at the heart of many a vegan’s personal decision. That strikes me as exceedingly arrogant — as if, somehow, the human race has achieved some higher state than “animals”. It ignores the very harsh and undeniable reality that humans are animals — mammals — primates just like a bazillion other organisms on the planet.

    To accuse me, as a meat eater, of somehow thinking that an animal’s life is meaningless simply because I will eat its flesh is both completely incorrect and, in a way, somewhat arrogant. Exactly the opposite. It is exceedingly important to me that animals are treated well in this world, regardless of whether they are companion, destined for the table, or run wild.

    It was exceedingly important to me that the turkey I killed, cleaned, butchered, prepared, cooked, and then served to my family had an excellent life, by turkey standards. In particular, said bird was treated with kindness, respect, and lived a life about as close to wild as its semi-domesticated lineage would allow.

    I fully agree that there are far too many animals in the world being controlled and exploited in ways that are unnatural, uncomfortable, disrespectful and — ultimately — unhealthy for both the animal and any consumers of said animal. Which is exactly why I avoid crap like McDonald’s, meats pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, and prefer — whenever possible — to obtain my meats within the same generally local radius as I obtain most of my veggies.

    Eat vegan if you want — I did so for a little over a year at one point. Eat vegan for supposed health reasons, though be prepared to be challenged on that one — certainly, far too many people, myself included, eat too much meat and, myself not included, not enough veggies.

    But this “I eat vegan because I am so how better / more evolved / enlightened beyond animals” thing really just doesn’t make a whole heck of a lot of sense….

  45. Daniel Jalkut says:

    I’m a vegetarian and confess I was a bit squeamish about bbum’s description of the turkey-killing here (when I first read it – a couple years ago!).

    Bill and I have dramatically different dietary plans, but the vegetarians who are trying to make a target out of Bill are just embarrassing the rest of us. Here’s a man who takes responsibility for every aspect of his relationship with the food. I can tell that he deeply respects animals, even if his world view allows that they should be killed for eating. It’s a lot more than I can say for most meat eaters, who refuse to be reminded that their meals came from anything but a cellophane or styrofoam wrapper.

    I think the most offensive aspect of meat consumption is that, as with many other industries, consumers don’t often appreciate the impact their choices are having on the world. For vegetarians who are concerned and want to make a difference, they should pick more appropriate battles than this blog. Here we have one guy who killed a turkey and blogged about it. It was evidently a pretty humanely raised turkey. Compare that to the millions of animals that are raised and killed inhumanely. If your bone to pick is animal cruelty, you’ve got bigger fish to fry (SO TO SPEAK! :) ).

    Minds are changed through kindness, not by petty attempts to inflict public shame. If you want to make a real difference, just invite bbum over to vegan dinner. I’m sure he’d enjoy and respect your world view, even if you don’t respect his.

  46. John C. Randolph says:

    Adam,

    It’s up to you of course, but you might want to consider growing up and getting a life. People will eat meat if they choose to, and your approval is neither sought nor required.

    -jcr

  47. bbum’s weblog-o-mat » Blog Archive » Ruffled Feathers. says:

    […] Seems I ruffled a few feathers in a particular vegan community after they discovered my post about harvesting a turkey. […]

  48. bbum’s weblog-o-mat » Blog Archive » How to harvest a turkey. says:

    […] also posted this in the comments of this post: The negro answers to the racist The battered wife answers to the sexist The animal answers to […]

  49. JonBen says:

    bbum — I had intended no follow up, but you raise a very interesting point, and since we seem to share a desire for civility I’ll indulge myself in a reply. We of course do not agree, we were destined not to, but perhaps there is something of interest to salvage from this.

    Most often when I engage in discussions with others about exploiting animals we arrive at a stage of the debate where they are not willing to concede that we are just like the animals, that we are one in the same in so many ways. People often assume that humans are more important than animals, there are various frameworks for this reasoning, but the conclusion is that our use of animals is justified by virtue of being human and therefore better than animals. This is of course a contradiction to the line of reasoning that defends our use of animals by virtue of us being nothing more than animals, the “lion on the savanna” defense. I’m sure many a vegan has tried to spring that trap on an unsuspecting omnivore that has hazarded a conversation :)

    So, to hear your response is very interesting to me, and I’m happy to say I have no scripted response. We humans do have a sense of morality, it isn’t clear to me that animals don’t share some form of what we call morality, but then again it isn’t really clear to me what defines human morality. I certainly don’t think I am above animals, in fact, it is my feeling of kinship and empathy for them that lead to my becoming vegan. And although we may be on the same page when it comes to the mistreatment of animals in intensive animal agriculture, I feel obligated to extend more to animals than a life of captivity and a premature, though minimally painful, death.

    It isn’t that I am enlightened beyond animals, it’s that I realize that I am but an animal, I feel pain, I know fear and happiness and I am certain that many animals share these emotions with me. I can’t bring myself to harm another animal knowing that they –like me– want not to be harmed.

    I only accused you of considering animal life meaningless compared to human life. Which is quite obviously true, but you also consider their lives expendable for the pleasure of eating them. It is not necessary, you do not need to eat animals, you have decided that their life is less important than the taste of their carcass. Astonishingly, this isn’t even a lie! Most people have not eaten vegan for a day, let alone a year, so you certainly are aware that eating meat isn’t needed and have made a conscious decision to kill animals for pleasure.

    In any event, I did find this via that community blog, and was not exactly happy with the tone of the post there, I’m glad this thread didn’t degenerate into insults and the like… of course I suppose it started with insults so I’m happy it didn’t continue that way. You (and Daniel) are quite right in pointing out that blog entries like the one on vegpage and the ensuing comment by Adam do not do an once of good if one is trying to have an honest and respectful conversation, which should be desired if any sort of communication and exchange of ideas is going to take place.

  50. Joe Goh says:

    This Wikipedia article has a great summary on many of the issues behind the ethics of eating meat: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics_of_eating_meat

  51. John C. Randolph says:

    JonBen,

    I would guess that most people can name one or two habits of others that they would like to see come to an end. I would love it if everyone quit smoking. There are others who would love it if everyone subscribed to their religion. You and Adam are entirely within your rights to express your disapproval of my desire to enjoy a nice cut of veal when I feel like it, and if you remain civil about it, then we’ll just agree to disagree.

    Where I do draw the line, is when someone either descends into vitriol (as Adam did), or goes as far as to demand action by the state to interfere with the liberty of private individuals (as happened recently in California when a pack of busybodies got the legislature to ban the gavage of geese and ducks to make foie gras.)

    As for the moral considerations, there are none. We’re top predators, and that’s life in the food chain. Whether you raise your own animals to eat or buy them from a vendor, the principle’s the same. It’s highly convenient that I can buy meat in a grocery store already butchered, but if I had to discharge a shotgun shell between the eyes of a cow myself for the pleasure of a cheeseburger, I’d do it.

    If you want to convince others to go veggie, you would be well advised to talk about the alleged benefits of the vegan diet to those who adhere to it. Following Adam’s tactics of making a show of indignation is only going to harden your opposition. For my part, whenever anyone gets in my face about eating meat, I make a point of having a nice juicy lamb kabob that day.

    -jcr

  52. Luke Burton says:

    Here are my top three objections to veganism as a principle.

    1. Veganism is the fundamentalism of the food world. It does not believe in shades of gray: the baby is thrown out with the bath water, as foods like honey and milk are also rejected as somehow unethical. This is despite it being possible to harvest those products without the slightest detectible harm to the animals. Everyday people voting with their dollars, by buying organic and free range eggs, will be a thousand times more likely to ensure good treatment of birds than a handful of vegans abstaining from eggs entirely.

    2. Vegans do nothing to reduce the consumption of animal by-products, because animal by-products are considered by the vast majority of humans to be tasty and useful. Just as a fundamentalist Christian who believes pre-marital sex is a sin are fighting an un-winnable battle, because sex feels great. Meat is tasty, and leather is useful – these two facts will never change. Vegans could achieve the same ethical effect by continuing to be omnivores, but vigorously campaigning for the ethical treatment of animals. Most people who eat meat also care about the ethnical treatment of animals, but aren’t exposed to its realities. Instead of abstaining from eating eggs, why not spend your time working on exposés of animal cruelty and publicizing them? Do something that actually makes a difference.

    3. Vegans must be very careful with their diets to ensure they get the right balance of vitamins and minerals. Vegan mothers nursing infants run the real risk of malnourishing their children, since breast milk (an animal by-product) contains precisely the right blend of nutrients the infant needs to survive. In this case, eschewing an animal by-product is doing more harm than good, and runs contrary to the very course of nature vegans claim to be so in touch with.

    Now let’s just be clear: if someone wants to be a vegan, or a fruitarian, that is their prerogative. However, to go around lambasting bbum – which is what kicked this whole thing off – is where I would draw the line. Your lifestyle as a vegan does not put you on some moral high ground from which you can accuse anyone with a different lifestyle choice of being inferior.

    *Especially* when your ostensibly superior lifestyle choice is not the most efficient way of encouraging a world that is less dependent on animal products. It is a form of masochism that makes the practitioner feel as if they are making a sacrifice for the greater good, when in fact they are simply marginalizing themselves from the wider community. Most people find the idea of abstaining from produce like eggs or milk to be unthinkably bizarre. You have to accept that fact and work around it, not spit in people’s faces.

    Nobody who is sane would condone the unethical treatment of animals. Unfortunately, humans have a special ability to selectively ignore painful facts if the tradeoff is very positive. I might acknowledge that the production of my meat may have involved cruelty, but my brain overrides that concern because the meat is extremely satisfying to me. The challenge for supporters of animal rights is to get people to think about where their meat comes from. Which is exactly what bbum’s blog post is doing, and exactly what the average vegan’s lifestyle is not doing.

    By the way, if you subscribe to the theory that fish have feelings, or chickens get sad when their eggs are taken, then all bets are off. You are living in an alternative reality based on unfalsifiable hypothesis, and – like creationists or moon landing conspiracy theorists – you will not be swayed by logical argument.

  53. John C. Randolph says:

    By the way, Adam’s comment wasn’t merely “slightly rude”, it was thoroughly snotty, smug, and obnoxious (not to mention rather cowardly, coming from someone who doesn’t allow comments on his own blog where he attacked Bill.)

    I suspect that Adam is a vegan not because of any ethical principles or health concerns, but rather because he enjoys making a display of indignation so that he can pretend to feel superior for a little while. It’s the kind of personality that you would often find in the churches that subscribe to the “Ha, ha! God’s going to kick your ass!” school of theology.

    Adam, for the record: Bill is a better person than you are.

    -jcr

  54. JonBen says:

    I think you two should calm down a little, we have all admitted that Adam’s post was not nice, assaulting his character is putting you on the same level as the person you are criticizing…

    JCR — If the decision to exploit animals only affected you and I (or humans in general) than I would agree that trying to convince others one way or the other would be equivalent to convincing someone to side with you on any number of personal choices. However in this case it isn’t for your or my benefit that I would like to extol vegan ideals, it’s because those animals have an interest as well, and they ought not to be exploited by humans for any of our self-centered whims (culinary or otherwise).

    There are clear moral issues, as I’ve already presented above. You can of course not agree that animals deserve moral consideration, but the argument for doing so is clear and logical. Saying that we are on the top of some supposed food chain (an idea that is extremely out of date, modern parlance is of food webs and interconnectivity) is just another way of saying that might-makes-right and that because humans assume they are better than animals, it justifies our actions. A human who assumed it was right to use animals put us on the top of that ‘chain’, so using it to defend relationship with animals is nonsense.

    This is not a question of democratic voting, when the rights of a group are being violated we do not vote on whether or not we should continue. For example human slavery was economically beneficial for many people, and if there had been a vote to abolish it would not have succeeded, at least not in the South. It was abolished because the minority of people, who recognized it was wrong, could not in good conscious allow it to occur.

    Luke — Veganism isn’t about treating animals well, it is about respecting their right not be owned or exploited by humans at all. That their skin, tissues, or excrements are useful or tasty to us is irrelevant, because that is not justification to harm another being who feels pain and has in interest in not being harmed. In no case is the use of animals necessary!

    There are huge differences between animal welfare, and the abolition of animal exploitation. The former acknowledges that humans have a right to use animals as they see fit as long as those animals do not experience ‘too much pain’ (whatever that means), the latter rejects the notion that humans have this right and insists that animals have a right to be free of our needless exploitation.

    To imply that breast milk isn’t vegan is silly, that coupled with your continued insistence that there are nutritional deficiencies in a vegan diet lead me to believe that you are not very well acquainted with any facts about veganism. Breast milk is the product of a human and they have every right to feed it to their child, there is absolutely no moral issue here, this is clear from how I’ve described veganism in this and previous posts. There are also ZERO health risks associated with being vegan, as a child, as an adult, as a pregnant mother, etc… There is plenty of information about eating a balanced vegan diet, just as there is information about any dietary habit.

    People are understandably unfamiliar with a vegan diet and where different nutrients come from, of course people are also typically equally ignorant about their own diet, so attacking the vegan diet just because it’s different is not really fair. Everyone should be aware of what they are eating and what they need at different stages of their lives, ALL pregnant women should see a nutritionist to ensure that their specific nutritional requirements are met! An omnivore will eat different things than a vegan and both will have equally beautiful and healthy babies.

    The reason I posted here was to avoid anyone “lambasting bbum” and I don’t feel that I’ve “spit in people’s faces”, it’s clear that we don’t agree, and that this conversation had an unfortunate start… I hope that I’ve helped teach you a bit about what it means to be vegan, you have –understandably– many misconceptions and if I’ve given you greater insight into why vegans choose to live the way they do, then I feel this has been productive. This is the last place I would look to change anyone’s mind, but since we had this chance encounter at least we have had friendly conversation.

    I don’t know if chickens get sad when their eggs are taken… but I do know that chickens are capable of feeling. Through abuse they often exhibit symptoms of psychological damage, showing that –at least in some way– their minds are not very different from our own. A mother cow and her calf scream out when they are separated shortly after the calf’s birth, which I believe to be a clear indication that they are not pleased with the situation and would take great comfort in being together. Do I know what these feelings are like for them? Of course not, but I don’t know what your feelings are like for you either. I believe that their feelings are as important to them as yours are to you, and I would not act to cause either of you bodily harm or emotional torment… at least not intentionally.

    For your own information, there was a recent study describing that fish exhibit personalities, that is, some are shy, some are risk takers, etc… It’s also clear from several studies that fish feel pain, I won’t conjecture as to the complexity of fish emotions… but it isn’t outside of the realm of reality to suppose that they have them. We are very similar to so many animals to assume that we alone have emotions is completely illogical, it would seem much more likely that animals have a capacity for emotions from which our own evolved.

  55. bbum says:

    WordPress, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to duplicate this article when I attempted to update it to respond to Adam’s silliness.

    Go here for the new-and-improved article: http://www.friday.com/bbum/2008/03/03/how-to-harvest-a-turkey-2/#comments

    I’m going to close comments on this one. Take it up over there, please.

    (And — again — I thank JonBen for responding with patience and civility. I may disagree with the content, but I appreciate the presentation greatly!)