The Friday after Thanksgiving we were all set to settle down into post holiday comas, to watch football (Scott), and to sit and patiently cuddle Emma while she suffered from post cousing withdrawal (me). But right before lunch a friend called and invited us over to help process an elk. With the offertory of free beer and a new experience we decided to go.
We ate lunch first. Then I showered, wondering why I was bothering if I was going to go handle large amounts of bloody meat. Picturing some controlled form of carnage I decided to wear black and bring an apron.
When we got to their house David ushered us into the garage, the animal hung from the rafters with a hook through it's back legs, and it's front hooves touched the ground. David showed us where it had been hit by a car and had broken it's leg. Apparently the game warden found it, and put it out of it's misery, like a horse.
Technically this was roadkill.
The head had been removed and David had already pulled the skin halfway down the body of the animal. David offered us beer, um yeah, I think I'll drink. Within moments Scott's hands were in the skin, forcing it down while David ran his uber sharp knife around the fold cutting the skin away from the meat. Janel and I retreated inside and sharpened knives, while I tried to convince Emma that playing with their daughter (who wanted very much to hold her) was a really good idea. Back out in the garage, with the skin a pile on the floor, Janel showed me the different muscles and cuts of meat.
Soon David had cut away the backstrap and rump roasts and Janel showed me how to clean it. We needed to cut away the fascia, a slippery iridescent transluscent skin that coats each muscle, and remove any parts of the meat that looked to damaged (read: black and bruised). I would flip each piece of meat over and over not really knowing where to start. I was pleasantly surprised at how non-carnagey the experience was, much like trimming a steak. The animal was partially frozen and it was a cold day, so there was no stink and not much blood. Except for the sheer volume what needed to be done it wasn't that terrible a task.
I liked this. After thinking through the fact that for roadkill this animal didn't look so bad, I was happy to help David and Janel feed their family with it and happy to recieve the cuts of meat that they sent home with us. Normally this animal would have just rotted in the forest, now it's feeding a family of six for the winter. I liked that I knew where it came from, free range and organic. Knowing that American meat often comes from sad farms in gross conditions it was reassuring to know that this was a good healthy animal. You know how much the final 125-150 lbs of elk meat cost? Free, and an afternoon of work. So what? You say. Why would I want elk, what's elk meat like anyway? Beef, people, beef. The most costly meat you can buy. Organic, free range, grass fed beef.
This experience also was a very real illustration of where meat comes from. What if every time you ate a turkey sandwich or eat a steak you had to kill and process the bird? That means plucking feathers...I am thinking that the amount of recent disgust that I have heard over pulling giblets out of a turkey if most American families had to cut apart an entire cow, there would be a lot more beans showing up in family dinners. Which might actually be a good thing, considering that all you need for protein is a piece of meat the size of the palm of your hand, and how many of us eat meat for two meals a day?
On Thursday night I will be making my first elk roast, so we will see how this experiment in eating roadkill ends...