Free range but a lousy shot…
My friend has rented a cottage in the peak district and 4 of us travel up to spend a weekend in the idyllic country calm. We arrive armed with an air rifle borrowed off my uncle Roger and a homemade bazooka that shoots oranges and is powered by hairspray.
Our aim is to bring home a prize. A rabbit, pigeon, a squirrel, anything will do. None of us has much experience in hunting, in fact no experience at all. We are not a bloodthirsty lot; none of us would feel entirely comfortable in killing or harming any living creature. And this is just the point. Early in January I set a goal. To kill, cook and eat an animal. If I cannot bring myself to take care of the messy part of eating meat within a year I will become a vegetarian.
My love of meat is under constant pressure from a moral dilemma. As a nation, no, a civilization we have become inexcusably irresponsible in our production and consumption of food. From gm crops to factory hens our ethos is selfish and endangering.
So to meet self-righteous demands for my justification of eating meat here we are. Scrambling over valleys, crashing through the bracken and heather. Stealthily tripping over the landscape like flapping bin bags caught in the hedgerow. Using our entire city cunning against nature. Mike thinks he saw a squirrel. Tom missed a pheasant sat on a wall 2 feet away.
It was the coldest day recorded in March for 27 years and the rest of the animal kingdom were resolutely tucked away in warrens, nests, burrows, and silty riverbeds. Away from the cold winds, away from the snow blizzards; away from four city twats with a shotgun and an indescribable lack of hunting skill or understanding for the etiquette in the sport between man and the more logical creatures of the wild wood.
Deflated we retired to the valley behind our cottage to shoot discount oranges at each other. We miss and the rabbits, cowed, by our noise onto the steep embankment watch on with sympathy. Luckily Tom had invested in a top brand hairspray so we did manage to attain some pb’s in height and distance.
We will not go hungry though. The night before we found ourselves in a local pub and after three pints of thick, black stout we got talking to the locals about our venture. To avoid the blizzards the landlord offered us a lift home and stopped off at his coop to give us some eggs for morning an low and behold a rooster!
Burrowing through the dark, tunneling through the country lanes, sat clutching a three-year-old prize cock in the front seat of a Vauxhall Astra I began to wonder if my goal for this year was really worth it. Had I set myself up for a fall into vegetarianism? As I carried our dinner from the car to the cottage, tucked under my arm like the proverbial match ball, he was still none the wiser of his terrible fate.
We offer the landlord a whiskey for the road and once inside we all huddle in the kitchen. The landlord pulls out a metal kosh and gives me instructions to ‘come down hard ont’ back et ‘ed like’. I am drunk, delirious and limp wristed all at once. I tap Jeremy (I should never have named him) on the back of the shoulder like I was enquiring the time of the next bus. I apply just enough force to send him into a flapping frenzy. Feathers burst forth like shrapnel from a cannon and come wilting down all around us. The chances of us getting a deposit back for the cottage come wilting down all around us as the landlord grabs the bird from my shaking hands and wrings its neck like a wet flannel. Blood trickles deep red into the kitchen rug, our faces turn white and the 3 by 3 kitchen space becomes even more cramped with the incessant flapping of a dying bird and the shock and horror of four, drunken city twats. The next night we prepare the greatest coq au vin of our lives, using a full bottle of £15 rioja. We figure the old bird deserves a good drink.
This is ritualistic eating. We thank the landlord for his kind heart; we thank Jeremy for his life by using everything, wings, gizzards, offal, bones for stock. We revel in the treat of a hot meal and do not take for granted the life sacrificed for our comfort and nutrition.
Last year we as a country produced 1.6 million tonnes of poultry. With a little research staggering figures like this can be found for all meat production and they just go to show the unnecessary greed we have for meat. If we all were to cut out meat once a week it would dramatically change the state of the environment, the state of our health and the state of meat production.
And who knows if we can bring ourselves to source our meat a little more responsibly, cut down on our intake and question the ethics behind mass production we may even begin to get some of the excitement and gratitude back for sitting down to a succulent roast. As for me and my twisted logic, if by next year the kosh ‘arn’t come down reet ard’ it’ll be cabbage au vin.