After what felt like an eternity the thermometer in the scalder eventually reached the proper temperature and it was “go time.” I was tasked with grabbing the birds from the car and putting them into the kill cones. I probably would have preferred a post-mortem job but scalding and plucking were extremely fast and I was the least versed in the evisceration process, so I grabbed my first bird, put it into the cone and watched as John completed the maiden incisions.
The warmth of the birds took me aback as I carried them from the car to the tent. As someone who has cared for laying hens I have picked up many chickens in the past, but I never experienced such radiant, visceral warmth. People hold living creatures in their hands all the time—be it a pet or a loved one—but the realization of impending death especially attunes one to the presence of life.
Whether by luck or by design, it took awhile for the birds in the back of the cab to realize the danger they were in. The first fifteen or so were easy to get a hold of and barely cawed until they were being held upside-down—which supposedly disorients the birds, although if anything it disoriented me as holding them by the legs allowed their wings to flourish.
I admit I was dismayed by how easily my nervousness dissipated once we got past the first few birds. As the initial shock subsided the process became routine, and before long grimaces turned to grins as we became more complacent with our roles in the food system.
With the back of John’s van empty and the cooler full, I exited the blood soaked tent and returned to the serenity of the backwoods of Sunset Beach Farm. As my mind drifted back to the world outside of the tent, ironically, all I could hear was the soft chirping of songbirds. I envisioned what the East End foodshed must have looked like before the advent of modern agriculture, before man had conceived such systemic ways of acquiring animal protein. I pictured the Shinnecock and Montaukett Indians pursuing waterfowl and turkey, and the early Bonackers hunting and trapping small game and deer. As my thoughts wandered my senses brought me back to the present. I could smell the coals under the grill smoldering and I knew that I was about to enjoy a truly special feast.
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