In an earlier post I conveyed my conflicted thoughts on eating meat, and on eating meat from certain animals so I won’t go into that fully in this post. If you think ill of me because I choose to eat meat, or in particular to eat rabbit please read that post before commenting. We need to eat in order to stay alive but I am compassionate in my food choices and assume full responsibility for them.
After learning more about how much food it takes to bring a pig to market weight I have to question how sustainable eating pork is. It’s not something I’m likely to give up given how tasty the meat is, but we will eat it in moderation going forward. We also are reducing the amount of chicken we eat since I am also conflicted about supporting the Cornish Cross breed and don’t want meat that has been fed corn or soy, which makes it too expensive to eat frequently. This leaves us with local grass fed beef and lamb, sustainably caught (and sustainably transported) wild fish, local cheeses and legumes. And local, sustainably raised rabbit.
The more I learn about rabbit the more convinced I am that it’s the ultimate sustainable meat. Also achingly cute, soft and cuddly. Rabbits are highly efficient converters of food to meat, requiring little in the way of space or special processing equipment. It’s possible to have a responsible breeding operation with just 3 cages – one for the buck, one for a nesting doe and one for the current litter. You can choose how frequently to breed your rabbits and keep on hand only enough to satisfy your meat needs. Processing is easy and quick and can be done on an as-needed basis so as not to require an extra freezer. And processing can be done in such a humane way that the rabbits have no idea what is happening and suffer no emotional or physical trauma.
In short, it meets all my criteria so I arranged a rabbit processing class with a local farmer. The rabbits are from Abundant Acres Farm in Toledo, Washington but could easily be from your back yard. There were 7 of us in total who wanted to learn more about how to process rabbits, many of us middle aged women like myself, parents of children of all ages or owners of dogs who eat raw meat. Whatever our reasons for wanting to learn, each of us approached it with dread.
In Washington state small farmers can only sell live animals without special certification and permits – either you need to do the killing or hire someone from a butcher to do it for you. I’m not intimately familiar with the entire law or it’s intent but I do know that it prohibitis small farmers from processing their own meat, which would help keep local meat prices down. It prevents the majority of people who want to purchase meat already processed from being able to do so at the farm and in so doing it helps separate us from the source of our food. However many good things it may also do in the name of public health, it also prevents us as consumers from connecting that live animal in the field with the bundle of meat we purchase for dinner.
Thus, in order to retain that connection, we had to slaughter our own rabbits. Every one of us questioned whether we could actually go through with it when confronted with the sight of fluffy bunnies. In the end we each chose to try.
The farmer explained to us how to do it, showed us how to carry the rabbits so that they would not become frightened and gave us a demonstration. He watched and answered questions but ultimately it was up to us to complete the task.
The technique is very simple – set the rabbit down on the ground while stroking to keep them calm, place a broomstick handle across the back of the neck, step down solidly on each end of the handle, firmly grasp the rabbit’s feet and pull straight up on the hind legs until the neck is dislocated. The rabbit goes from calmly sitting to dead in the blink of an eye with no apparent emotional reaction. There are steps following but this is the emotional part.
I take that back – for me the emotional part was physically removing the rabbit from the cage. When I went up to get my future bacon I chose to have someone in my group shoot the pig and slit the jugular while the pig was still stunned. Pigs are large and I have no experience with firearms. The opportunity to botch either part of the process is immense and if done improperly the pig will certainly be under emotional or physical duress. I joined the process after the pig had been slain but I was complicit in that I wanted the meat and to that end was willing to process it.
This time it was my hand from start to finish. It’s one thing to eat meat – it’s another altogether to be the one that decides the future of this animal. Are you a killer because you eat meat even if you don’t do the killing? There is no question now that I am solely responsible for the death of this rabbit.
I hesitantly grasped it by the scruff of the neck and it immediately hopped to the other end of cage. Twice. I finally decided that I was tormenting the rabbit simply by chasing it around the cage so I managed to summon up the courage to get it out. It requires virtually no strength to broomstick a rabbit and I was easily able to pull the legs up until I heard that familiar snap, crackle and pop that I hear when I visit my favorite chiropractor. The rabbits eyes changed immediately, signifying that it was dead.
I took my kitchen shears, removed the head at the point of dislocation and held it up to bleed out for a few minutes. The next step is shockingly easy. You simply cut a small opening around the navel, insert both thumbs and separate. The rabbit skin and fur rips off the body, leaving you with a suddenly naked rabbit. You very carefully pinch the stomach to lift the skin up and away from the organs and cut a small opening, then widen it down the length of the abdomen and remove the organs. We cut the feet off using dog toe nail clippers, gave the rabbit a quick rinse and in a matter of minutes we had rabbits dressed for dinner.
Once we each overcame our emotional difficulties and began processing, the job was relatively easy. Even Jess, who did not think she would be able to complete this task, came to terms with the process and agreed this was the most humane and responsible way to eat meat.
I personally feel that at some point in the future, once my family is emotionally ready for this, we will have a meat rabbit operation in our backyard. It’s the most sustainable way for us to eat meat, and as I’ve said before, it meets all my ethical, nutritional, and environmental criteria.
What saddens me is that I know that my Foster Farms-eating neighbors may consider me inhumane for this. It will be perhaps the final rift between me and many that I care about. I conduct a fair number of garden tours and we constantly have kids over here playing. Most people would not understand my reasons for raising my own meat yet they would never question me wanting to raise my own vegetables. I know I may be painted as a brute, or at the very least, as radical – a bunny killer.
In reality that could not be further from the truth but most people are not ready for the truth – that they are complicit in creating distress, terror, and pain, that they are responsible for more adverse impacts on the environment, and that they are feeding their family sick animals.
It’s sad that something so right on so many fronts is culturally so wrong on so many others. This is a part of trying to live sustainably as possible in the city. It’s radical.