On Killing Animals, Insects & Plants
In the past couple of weeks I killed my first mammals. One, a rat I trapped without watching die, which felt strange and distant. For a deeper understanding of killing, I killed a rabbit at a rabbit slaughtering and butchering class this last week. I’ve often written about how I don’t see a difference in the killing of plants or animals. That both deserve equal respect. However, killing these mammals both changed and solidified my emotional experience and logical interpretation of killing.
A vegan once argued with me that plants do not struggle to live and cannot fight back and therefore, we shouldn’t feel bad about killing and eating them. Some vegans want to believe that plants do not have nervous systems or an electrical impulse system relative to the nervous system of humans. If this held true, plants would not have evolved thorns and toxic properties. Plants do not want to get eaten any more than animals. If we go small enough, everything has the same building blocks: atoms held together with electric impulses. To me, all things have this life and deserve respect. Even sticks and stones.
Using this logic I can say that killing animals and plants does not differ. But from an emotional point, things change quite a bit. The spiritual hierarchy that I have said vegans generally believe in comes from the iconic similarities to those things we eat. Mammals must not die. Then fish. Then bugs. Then plants. Plants have no eyes, no voice and no blood. While they have just as must life and just as much right to life as any living creature, it becomes harder for some to see themselves inside the other living things. I can’t look into a plants eyes when it dies from my hand. I can’t watch its soul leave its body. I can’t feel its blood stop coursing, its warm, still beating dead heart fading in my hand.
I can look into an insects eyes. The larger ones anyway. But I can’t hear them scream and they have no blood. I can look into a fishes eyes, see their blood, but can’t hear them scream. Mammals change everything. A sensory overload of all too familiar sounds and sights. Like a mirror we must literally face the mammals we kill. This can make it a hard experience for those who have not grown up accustomed killing their food face to face.
So the other day I killed a couple domestic rabbits. I know, I’ve called myself a hunter-gatherer wannabe for years now and still have never hunted and killed an animal, face to face. While I plan to go hunting this fall, I wanted to feel connected to the food that I eat. I wanted the experience, the rite of passage, of understanding the most deepest connection, deepest way of relating, deepest responsibility of life; killing a mammal to eat. I have friends who run a rabbit farm in which they run workshops showing people how to slaughter and kill rabbits. I took the class with three of my friends. While I don’t believe animals should ever live in captivity, I also don’t act like a fundamentalist about this belief. I do after all, still buy most of my food from the store, which means everything I eat (plants included) grew up in various intensities of captivity.
You can kill a rabbit in many ways. But most people I know choose between three different methods. Beating it on the head with a stick and slitting its throat. Holding it down and slitting its throat. And the “Broomstick method”. Beating it on the head has many complications. While it has an iconic primal attraction (the caveman with a club) it can really make the death traumatic for the animal. While no death happens without pain, some can cause much more than others. The club can do this very easily. So can holding it down and slitting its throat. It takes several moments for the animal to bleed out. The broomstick method appears the quickest way, with minimal complications. It involves the breaking of the neck in less than three seconds when done properly.
The emotional intensity of killing feels impossible to describe. I didn’t cry. Instead my adrenaline rushed so fast I thought I might throw up or faint. I had to focus on breathing. The adrenaline really kicks in when you see the rabbit squirm a bit and think, “Oh right. The rabbit will struggle for its life.” Most urban people forget this. Most urban people have never seen it happen. Most urban people have never done it themselves. Vegans have a point in this regard: you can’t hear a plant scream, it can’t run or squirm. It makes killing plants very easy and it makes killing animals much more difficult, both emotionally and physically.
Although, killing the animal felt easy and efficient. Everything building up to the killing felt intense. I realized after cutting the head off and draining the blood into a bucket, that I had never really seen the beautiful radiance of fresh blood. Fresh blood glows almost like a it has a phosphorescence. Seeing the blood triggered a sort of primal feeling of satisfaction in my mind as well. Again, I can’t explain it. Within seconds the animal died. Within minutes I skinned and gutted and butchered it. The whole process looked beautiful and I felt more alive by participating in the process.
The transformation from life, to death, to a meal for another, happens so quickly it made me feel rather comforted by death. A sort of sense of fear that I have had of death for a long time has seemed to have vanished, at least for the moment. By taking this responsibility and ending so cute and so closely another animal to myself, I have seen death up close and personal. I felt the life leave the rabbit. For some reason, this has made death seem less scary to me.
I couldn’t believe how much the muscles continued to twitch after we killed it. As I gutted it, the intestines fell into the pan below and continued to contract for several minutes. Outside the body. 10 minutes after death I pulled the heart out and it still beat, just slightly. Moving parts after death make me wonder how much of the nervous system really controls functions outside of the brain. This has all kinds of spiritual implications as well.
I believe that while the experience of killing a mammal may look closer to killing our own selves, and therefore scare people away from doing it (i.e. vegans) a person can extend the feeling of empathy beyond the boring five senses and iconic animals that share similar facial features to our own. While it felt harder for me to kill a cute little bunny rabbit than an annoying mosquito or a fresh dandelion green, spiritually and ecologically I still see no difference. But I do feel the emotional difference. But it didn’t make a vegan. If anything, it strengthened my connection to killing animals. It seems that killing this rabbit has actually connected me with a deeper spiritual connection to death in general. Most of those emotions came and went and now I just feel gratitude to the animal whose life I took to feed my own. And it tasted great! Seriously, have you ever had rabbit before?!?