During the years that I was traveling back and forth between South Dakota and France, I was especially enamored of the idea of animal husbandry. I had this notion that if you eat meat, it is the height of hypocrisy to not know how to raise animals, tend them, and slaughter them.
When I visited my parents in Vermillion, South Dakota, I would make a point of purchasing live fowl at a local farm. I enjoyed processing chickens, cutting their heads off, tipping them into a funnel to collect the blood (very good for sauces, especially Coq au Vin).
One Christmas, I drove with my mother to a local farm to purchase a goose. We walked into the farmyard, which was covered in frozen mud. Dozens of guinea hens strutted about and when we approached them, they suddenly flew into a leafless tree, where they literally became new leaves (black and white in coloration.) I had cooked lots of guinea hen in France. It has a red flesh reminiscent of pheasant and a gamy flavor.
But we weren’t there for guinea hens. Besides, the only way to capture them was to shoot them out of the tree. Instead, we bought a goose. The farmer put it in a gunny sack and we drove back home.
I asked my sister, Joanne, who was 7 at the time, to help me with the goose. She had no idea what was in the sack. We both knelt on the floor of the garage, I took a pair of scissors, cut a hole in the bag, and out popped the bird’s head. I promptly pushed it onto a block of wood and cut it off with a large, French knife.
My sister was utterly traumatized. She didn’t know what I was up to, and this sudden transition from life to death was very shocking. She has never forgotten that incident.