Last Sunday we ate a duck for dinner, his name was 3.
I once had a duck named Lulu, 3’s mother. When her eggs hatched she promptly began killing her ducklings. I rescued 3 and his five brothers and sisters when their down was still wet and took over their mothering. It was wonderful, exhausting and heartbreaking to experience motherhood; it was as close as I am ever likely to come.
Poverty is the mother of invention, thus we have developed unusual methods of caring for animals in need. My little flock lived in our cooler, in the house with a heating pad until they were strong enough to go outside. It’s difficult to maintain small birds in the campo, there are many dangers, scorpion stings, and predators. Hawks, skunks, and chickens are brutal; the least sign of weakness inspires barbaric behavior in chickens. Twice I watched as hawks carried my babies away. I fell to the ground in tears, helpless. I gained a lot of respect for my hens that manage to bring even one chick to fruition under these conditions. Three’s original name was five, he was always the one on the outskirts, the one I could not find when I did a headcount, 1,2, 3… always ending with, where’s 5? As my flock dwindled his name changed until there were only 3.
After all of this care, you may be wondering how I could bring myself to eat 3. It was painful, but in relation to the flock, it was his purpose. We have a drake and not enough females to support another. He was superfluous, and though he was my favorite I could not allow myself to lose sight of why we have ducks. We raise them to eat. In our situation it requires fewer resources to raise a duck than a tomato, they use far less water, and we have so much land it’s not necessary to feed them. All of our poultry are free-range, and self-sufficient.
It is for me, the basis of my moral life to tell myself the truth about my actions. Meat is not something that comes in a styrofoam plate with no relationship to an animal, it’s easy and even desirable to forget this when our primary interaction with meat in a grocer’s case. In my experience raising animals, though I try not to anthropomorphize, they all have genuine lives, they like to play, they make eye contact and most like to be stroked. I make myself remember these things when I eat meat; I recognize the life that is nourishing me.
3 had a good life, a swift death and he served his purpose. He fed us six times, a total of twelve meals- I made two meals from his breast steaks, cassoulet with the confit of one leg and thigh, hash from the other. The liver I carefully seared in rendered duck fat, and served with a drizzle of red mole (the chocolate and chili are wonderful with duck liver), his carcass I used for stock and cooked lentils in it. We are still enjoying his rendered fat.
I cried when I butchered 3 and when I ate the first bite of this wonderful meal. Not tears of sorrow, or remorse, but honor.
Seared Duck Breast with Pink Grapefruit
1 duck breast, with or without skin rubbed with equal parts, sugar, salt, and ancho chili powder ( this will serve 2 people approx. a 4- oz. portion) we find that it is plenty
1 pd. dark greens, amaranth is my preference for this dish
1 grapefruit, imperial, reserve as much juice as possible, ½ cup ideally
1 clove sliced garlic
1 cup cooked black beans
Toasted sesame seeds
Ideally, at least four hours before cooking, rub the breast with the salt, chili, and sugar dry rub, refrigerate, bring up to room temp. before cooking.
Sauté garlic, add greens and beans when the garlic is fragrant, it’s handy if the greens are wet from washing, if not put in a bit of water cover and steam until tender, splash with soy sauce, stir and plate.
Raise the heat in the pan and add more oil, just before it smokes add the meat, sear approx. 3 mins. per side for med-rare, (if you have kept the skin start skin side down and add 1-2 min. until its crunchy), remove and rest the meat for five mins, add the grapefruit juice to the hot pan scraping up the crunchy bits, you may need additional juice or you can add white wine, reduce to a thin sauce, you may want to add a touch more oil if needed to emulsify, depending on whether you retain the skin
Thinly slice the breast, plate with greens, pour on sauce, and finish with sesame seeds
Did this post make you uncomfortable? Have you eaten an animal you cared for? I welcome your comments.
Uncomfortable? Yes. But in a wholly “I eat meat packaged in plastic and styrofoam” kind of way, so the discomfort was a good thing – makes me think, which I always appreciate.
I just discovered your blog tonight via a comment (and recommendation) from Mr. Prater. After reading several posts tonight, I reached this story of Three. While I raised pigs as a young teen for my family, and thought nothing of the subsequent meals (after they were hauled away for ‘processing’ out of our sight), this story was exceedingly painful to read. I commend you for your honesty and straightforward approach to the necessity, but I think I would rather compromise my nutrition than deal with things in this way. I foster rescue dogs (pre-adoption) for a local group these days, and that is emotionally trying enough for me.
I look forward to contributing to your efforts to support your lives there with your writing. Your style is wonderful, and I am so intrigued by the hints of what your lives are and have been like. I’ll watch for news of your book availability…
Dear Stan, Thank you for your thoughtful response. I have considered many times why I man not a vegetarian. My personal reasons are too complex for a comment here, but I do think that humanity will evolve out of eating flesh, and that I will as well when we can manage to create a successful vegetable garden. I love this quote from Walden “I have no doubt that it is part of the destiny of the human race, in it’s gradual improvement to leave of eating animals, as surley as the savage tribes have left off eating eachother when they came in contact with the more civilized.” Thoreau’s argument’s for a flesh free diet are convincing, and inspiring. But what does one do about milk, and all related foods? A cow must bare to give milk, and if the calf is male? not everybody get’s to be a stud. A vegan diet is far beyond my abilites at this point, and I feel that eating a lactose product and eating beef are morally the same.
I commend your work with dogs in need. I would find that very difficult.
Thank you for visiting vsvevg Stan, and for your compliments and support. paz, Abby
Disclaimer: i ramble on…So I read Joseph Campbell a lot in my teens, he was a wonderful mythologist and scholar who deconstructed the great mysteries of life. One of Joseph Cambell’s talks was about the cycle of the ceremonial hunt of our native ancestors. How their rituals and mythologies were a psychological salve used to come to terms with the knowledge that they killed and ate the flesh of their brothers and sisters, the animals. They had rituals to honor the ‘giveaway’ of one life passing on through another. Hands on. Like you with your animals. Life feeds on life. Even the hunt for peyote in the American southwest was a ritual, and the peyote button was tracked and speared with a little arrow before being gathered, in order to keep its spirit intact. Three’s spirit was intact. I like the sentence, “evolve out of eating flesh.” We have instead ‘evolved’ to having our food served to us in styrofoam, so steryl yet ironically, poisonous. Worse yet, a lie. And what of the spirit of these animals? We are so ignorant. And i ask myself, what is worse? Being poisoned slowly? Or like my human ancestors, accepting that I am a killer and getting on with it. I don’t have to kill my own food, and I cant say that I wouldnt turn vegetarian then and there if I did have to, but your post brings up this idea of Doing it well, being present. saying yes to Life. (JOe Campbell also said the mythology of the other JC, jesus christ, dying on the cross was the ultimate example of saying Yes to Life. To “participate joyfully in the sorrows of the World.”) Savor the taste of life. Honor every living being whether it has a face or not. I mean how dare we really? We discriminate and call it moral? Two different things is it not? Eat meat if you must. Eat it well. Don’t eat meat if you don’t want. But get on with the process of life. When you cut your vegetables, try not to bruise them. Don’t leave them to cry in a plastic bag in the fridge drawer. This is damaging to life, to the spirit of the plant. Slice that broccoli with a nice sharp knife. Do it with dispatch. Get her done. Life feeds on ITSELF. (( Weird juxtaposition: *I’m just at this moment seeing a show about giant squid. One squid just attacked another squid its same size by latching onto its face and slowly consumed it. Gnarly. Had no idea they were cannibals!)) So on this show, Joseph Campbell said all of this in an interview with Bill Moyers, that being a vegetarian (strictly for moral reasons) is an example of saying No to Life itself. Saying no to anything is just saying Yes to something else, in other words to realize that you are eating a plant, that is alive, and that you are just killing something that can’t run away. The plant too has a desire to exist, it has responses and is a part in the chain of life that is less important than the animal, how? Because you never heard a plant scream? How do you know it doesnt, silently? Yes we are truly ignorant cannibals, all of us. Abby, I’m vicariously living through how you put your time and your self into your part in the chain, and you have a right to the food you consume. You and Felipe are killers, and you do it with such grace and humility and tenderness, and dispatch. Walking the walk. Sharing life. Throw some yummy sauce on there! Abby, your recipe sounds delicious. Three sounds delicious, and I’m so glad I got to meet him! And take his foto! Hee hee !! Big hugs Abby, I truly admire and learn from you. You are a wonderful writer. Thank you for sharing your reminiscences of these friends. ❤
Wow, Well first I have to say, I laughed and smiled much while reading this comment Kate. I too have read Mr. Campbell and have based some of my personal philosophy on his work. Its funny, I left Chicago in part to escape, got tired of all the sad people I couldn’t help. Course I knew that wasn’t possible, but I think I needed to imagine it was to get myself to take on the life I would have here. I defiantly agree that we embrace life, and that death is very much a part of that, just check out all the posts with Death in their tags 🙂 Perhaps it has been my greatest lesson living here. And if you have learned something through my bumbling and scribbling, it all the more worth it. Love you Kate, a
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