Sacred sacrifice: Upcoming workshop embraces conscious butchering practices

USING EVERYTHING: "If you're going to eat meat, I think it's really important to take responsibility for the suffering that goes into it [while] embracing the fact that we're omnivores and understanding the depth of that," says Natalie Bogwalker.
USING EVERYTHING: "If you're going to eat meat, I think it's really important to take responsibility for the suffering that goes into it [while] embracing the fact that we're omnivores and understanding the depth of that," says Natalie Bogwalker. Photo by Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt

Deep in Barnardsville, in a long, oval-shaped valley, Natalie Bogwalker sits among a dozen deer hides stacked like rugs in her outdoor kitchen. Munching on wild-foraged chestnuts from an iron skillet, she tells me that the deerskins were given to her by hunters, and that she’s dried and tanned each by hand. In the kitchen, garlic hangs from the ceiling in braids, and the counters are covered with Mason jars filled with freshly pressed cider and applesauce. Despite the cool morning breeze that flows in, the space is warm and rich with a sweet and nutty smell.

This is Wild Abundance, a place where Bogwalker hosts permaculture classes throughout the four seasons, cultivating her land in order to live off it as much as possible while teaching people how to sustain and create self-sufficiency in their own lives.

Natalie Bogwalker in Wild Abundance
“I think that humans evolved with a very strong connection to food, whether that came from the wild, a garden or an animal, and if we are disconnected from our food and where our sustenance comes from, it’s a very dangerous thing for humanity,” says Natalie Bogwalker of Wild Abundance.

On Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 7-8, Bogwalker will open her land and kitchen for a two-day workshop called The Cycles of Life: Humane Slaughtering and Butchering. The goal of the class is to teach people to “face the death and sacrifice that’s necessary to sustain us, while honoring the animal, using the whole animal and giving thanks to the animal.”

Slowly peeling a chestnut from its hull, Bogwalker looks into the misty mountains that surround her land and says, “If you’re going to eat meat, I think it’s really important to take responsibility for the suffering that goes into it [while] embracing the fact that we’re omnivores and understanding the depth of that.

“I think that humans evolved with a very strong connection to food, whether that came from the wild, a garden or an animal,” she continues, “and if we are disconnected from our food and where our sustenance comes from, it’s a very dangerous thing for humanity.”

Bogwalker was vegan for 17 years. Now, 12 years after switching to an omnivorous diet, Bogwalker has become the unofficial butcher for her rural neighborhood, processing animals that farmers are reluctant to slaughter themselves. “It’s hard to raise an animal and then be the one to kill it,” says Bogwalker. “You get really attached, so I can come in and almost be a midwife for the death for those animals.”

She does so with years of experience behind her. She started by experimenting with roadkill. With her former partner, an avid deer hunter, she learned to butcher, process and preserve meat. She learned to tan hides and turn bone into tools for scraping fresh hide. Nothing is wasted, and even deer fur finds its place as mulch in the garden beds. “They don’t come near my land,” she says, admiring her vibrant green garden, untouched by critters. “They can smell it, and they stay away.”

The act of butchering has become a deeply powerful practice for Bogwalker. “I’ve developed this very spiritual relationship with the animals that I take the lives of, and that’s something I encourage with the students in the class, to really understand the depth of what they’re doing, and that taking life [for our sustenance] is not necessarily wrong. Actively engaging with the repercussions of our choices is something that I’m really into. There is suffering that goes into meeting our needs, and [we should not] hide from that but rather feel a deep appreciation for the life that feeds us.”

The two-day workshop will begin by getting to know the animal, says Bogwalker. Then, “there is some ceremony around the death process.” Students will pray together before the sacrifice, and then the sheep is fed water, an offering for it to take into the next life.

Bogwalker will then take its life by slitting its throat. The sheep will be gutted and its organs placed on ice. The animal will be hung in the kitchen, where the group will gather to discuss knife sharpening.

Everyone present will help skin and quarter the animal. A leg of the sheep will be cured. Preservation techniques like making sausage and salami will be discussed, along with hide-tanning practices (there is a whole three-day workshop devoted just to hide-tanning Nov. 13-15). The sheep’s brain will be made into a tanning solution with olive oil or rendered fat and warm water, which will be used as a rub for the membrane side of the sheepskin.

Assisting Bogwalker is Josephine Bloomfield, a current apprentice at Wild Abundance. Bloomfield was a vegan for years and worked in San Francisco with an animal welfare nonprofit called Maddie’s Fund. She butchered her first sheep in June after joining Bogwalker in the valley. “Coming from my animal welfare background, it was a huge edge for me,” says Bloomfield. “You know, it’s difficult, and I think that if people had to butcher their own animals for food, a lot less people would eat meat, because it’s a big deal.”

Of eating meat in general, Bloomfield says, “It’s really easy to put blinders up about where our meat comes from, and factory farms are pretty terrible places.”

When she kills an animal herself, Bloomfield steps outside of a system she doesn’t believe in and faces the reality before her. “If I’m going to eat this animal, it means that this animal has to sacrifice its life for me. So the way I can honor this animal is by treating her kindly while I butcher her, using every part of her, respecting every part of her and then using the energy I’m getting from her to share with other people about respecting the land and animals.”

For Bogwalker, it’s also about empowering people to be self-sufficient in all ways. “I want everyone who leaves this class to feel capable of going through the process of slaughtering and butchering a small animal, a goat or a sheep or a deer themselves. For me, the process of taking life and using all parts of the animal has really given me a much deeper connection to being human. I am another animal in the web of life, rather than a cog in an industrial machine. Getting in touch with the death necessary to sustain us is helping to preserve our humanity.”

 

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About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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21 thoughts on “Sacred sacrifice: Upcoming workshop embraces conscious butchering practices

  1. NFB

    Wait. Let me guess. MX posted this and yesterday’s “ethical meat” article as an excuse to let the self righteous vegan police to have free rein to compare meat eaters to Nazis in the Holocaust. Why is it that articles like these come with a different standard for MX’s moderating policies?

    • Tracy Rose

      Hi, NFB. I am not aware of a different standard being in place. Can you point to a specific story or comments so I can take a look? Thanks.

      • NFB

        These types of stories typically result in comments in which meat eaters are equated, either directly or implied, with Nazis during the Holocaust. (See the other MX story about “ethical meat” for an example.) I’ve seen far less egregious comments over the years at MX result in a moderator admonishing posters to “criticize the ideas not the person” while the Nazi/Holocaust analogies are met with crickets.

          • mynameis

            And just as easily, are people reiterating the same point I did today. Like this one, for example:

            “It is exactly this attitude – that some lives are more important than others – that perpetuates most injustices. Violence is violence, whether inflicted on a human or non-human animal.”

          • mynameis

            Oh, and wow…. your last link… you mean the comment by _the Holocaust survivor_????

            ““As long as human beings go on shedding the blood of animals, there will never be any peace. There is only one little step from killing animals to creating gas chambers a la Hitler and concentration camps a la Stalin. There will be no justice as long as a man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is.”

            Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor

            Wow, NFB, you really know how to buttress an argument.

          • NFB

            No, that was not the quote I was referring to it and you know it, but nice effort to change the focus. In the mean time I quote Holocaust and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel who said of attempts to compare meat to the Holocaust.

            “I am not afraid of forgetfulness. I am afraid of banalization, of trivialization and this is part of it.”

          • mynameis

            Ok, people, let’s go to the review. NFB said:

            “Oh, and here’s an oldie but a goody in which meat eaters are compared to Hitler AND Stalin:

            http://mountainx.com/food/food-news/an_interview_with_anthony_bourdain/

            The only quote on that page, that refers to Hitler and Stalin, is from _a holocaust survivor_.

            Then NFB goes on to state “No, that was not the quote I was referring to it and you know it, but nice effort to change the focus.”

            That was _exactly_ the quote NFB was referring to. There is no other quote on that page that refers to Hitler and Stalin. Go look for yourself.

            NFB, you pointed at a quote from a holocaust survivor, to take offense on behalf of holocaust survivors, then tried to deny it. But please, try to weasel your way out of it. (And no, your use of Wiesel doesn’t help. Not one bit.)

        • Tracy Rose

          I think there is a difference between having a reasonable discussion about the ethics of eating meat and those conversations that deteriorate into personal name-calling (“you moron,” etc.). As a moderator, I usually step in when the conversation plummets to name-calling and personal attacks.

      • Big Al

        How about this?

        John Nation, “Killing to Eat is a Bloody Business”, Mountain Xpress commentary, August 23, 2015.

        “So when I read an article on “craft butchery” and “artisan meat cutting,” I think, “Well, this is Asheville, and Asheville is trendy.” Next, I suppose, we’ll get “craft concentration camps””.

        I wonder how Asheville’s Jews react when they find their slaughtered kin compared to a farmer’s cow? Or how local chefs feel when they are compared to Nazis.

        • mynameis

          My comment there stands. The one made in reply to NFB’s comment “Not nearly as much folly as pretending that a chicken is the moral equivalent of a human being”. (John Nation, “Killing to Eat is a Bloody Business”, Mountain Xpress commentary, August 23, 2015):

          You don’t get it. That’s what we ALREADY DO.

          We treat both people and animals as commodities/other, and that was his point. There seems to be a hard limit for many… shade difference in skin color, or distance on a map, of differing beliefs, beyond which the lives of people become utterly forfeit.

          Wholly independent of your moral equivalencies argument, his point is about opening up to the nature of those other than us (human and not). Nothing to do with rights, nothing to do with “equivalencies”, and everything to do with opening up to compassion, to recognizing another’s suffering as our own. Many who do that stop eating meat. Many who stop eating meat also start opening that compassion towards other humans as well.

  2. Stewart

    Webster’s New World Dictionary defines humane as “having what are considered the best qualities of human beings: kind, tender, merciful, sympathetic, etc.” Can robbing animals of their lives to satisfy a culinary preference to eat their corpses ever be called humane, or does using the phrase “humane meat” distort the very meaning of the word?

  3. Stewart

    RE: “Getting in touch with the death necessary to sustain us is helping to preserve our humanity.”
    Since she says she was a longtime vegan, I don’t understand how she can consider the death to be necessary. Killing is, in her situation, a choice, a preference.

    RE: praying before killing an animal, does anyone really think the animal cares if you pray or not? It is to make the killer feel better about taking the life, and has nothing to do with the animal.

    • Big Al

      So now you are saying that you are morally superior to those native Americans who harvested the bounty of nature while offering thanks to their spirits for the gifts they provided?

      Ironic coming from a white boy whose ancestors drove them from their land after addicting them to alcohol, bribed them with guns and powder to promote genocidal intertribal warfare, and infected them with smallpox infected blankets.

      Pale-face, you have a long way to go before you can stake out that kind of moral high ground.

      • mynameis

        Since we’re on the subject, enlighten us on how praying over the animal helps the animal. In any way.

        Or is what he said above a perfectly reasonable thing to say, despite your attempt to sensationalize it?

  4. Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt

    Thank so much for the comments, and I hope this conversation will continue. Stewart, yes eating animals is a choice, but how often do people truly face the reality of that choice? Most people who eat meat do so without confronting the consequence. That’s why this story is so interesting to me.

    • Stewart

      Aiyanna,

      I agree. If people decide to take a life, they should do it themselves. There would be a lot more vegetarians and vegans if doing the killing was a requirement of eating meat. But I just don’t understand why so many choose to take a life if they don’t need to. Someone nasty can muddle the conversation with talk about Native Americans, people who are staving, etc., but we are talking about people spending a significant amount of money to go to a workshop about killing. They certainly have many nonviolent options, but they make a choice to kill. Which says, to me, they believe that might makes right. And once you accept this, it sure is a slippery slope!

  5. Stewart

    Hey, NFB, here’s one I wrote in 2002 and am happy to share, since you raised the topic.
    Letter to the editor
    May 15, 2002 Mountain Xpress

    Comparing animal slaughter to Holocaust victims is fair

    Jane Carter’s letter [May 1] took Kayla Worden to task for her letter referring to animals being slaughtered while fully conscious (a common slaughterhouse occurrence) as modern-day holocaust victims. Ms. Carter asks that we watch a few interviews with survivors of the Holocaust, and then see if we “can compare the Holocaust to the plight of cramped chickens.”

    Believe me, Ms. Carter, I have not only seen interviews, I have lived among the survivors. As a Jew growing up in Chicago shortly after World War II, I had friends whose parents survived the death camps. Most memorable was my best friend’s mother – a woman with only one arm, a woman I never once remember smiling. Her other arm was apparently torn off in a tug of war by some drunken Nazi soldiers. But that was just the best guess gleaned from questions that mostly went unanswered; no one wanted to talk much about the atrocities. The memories were too fresh. People just wanted to put [the experiences] behind them, work hard, and dream of a better life for their children and for the family members that survived. Rarely was there a reference to the Nazis. The one exception I vividly remember was my grandmother spitting at my first Volkswagen Bug. She never would step inside that car.

    Between five and six million Jews (and millions of non-Jews) were killed by the Nazis. This was an egregious injustice, to say the least. More than 10 billion animals raised for food will lose their lives this year in America alone. They will suffer horrific mutilations and indignities from the day they are born until their throats are slit. Isn’t it counterproductive to waste time deciding who suffers more, which crime is greater?

    It is exactly this attitude – that some lives are more important than others – that perpetuates most injustices. Violence is violence, whether inflicted on a human or non-human animal. It is just plain common sense that if you truly believe in justice, you cannot treat animals unjustly simply because they are unable to defend themselves. If you work for social justice, I commend you and urge you to continue the fight. But try as you might, it is often difficult to influence world events. The one place you can have a positive, life-affirming effect every day is at the dinner table. Becoming a vegetarian – or better yet, a vegan – is an easy way to immediately reduce the suffering in the world.

    For an enlightening discussion of the comparisons between animal exploitation in the United States and Hitler’s Final Solution, I recommend reading Dr. Charles Patterson’s recently published book, Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust. The title of the book comes from a quote by Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, to whom the book is dedicated. Mr. Singer said, “In relation to them, all people are Nazis: for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.”

    When Ms. Worden refers to the suffering of animals as a holocaust, she is in good company.

    – Stewart David
    Asheville

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