Brooke Blackwell

Class of 2019

Facing It


JUNE 2017


Today I enjoyed a cold bowl of Peruvian chocolate ice cream and watched death with my own two eyes.

We started off the day bright and early with a 7:30 am breakfast and by 8 o’clock were on a bus that would take us an hour away to the children’s home we would be working at for the next week, Nino Del Sol. First we stopped at a beautiful hotel that is run by the same people who run Nino Del Sol where we enjoyed hot mint and horsetail tea and a fruit that tasted like, for lack of the Spanish name, juicy citrus pumpkin seeds. Here we met the children and teenagers we would be working alongside and spending time with for the next five days, both groups nervous with the knowledge that neither group spoke the language of the other very well.

After introductions and a ritual that involved connecting to our Pachamama (Mother Earth), we quickly separated into working groups, mine involving work scraping away and sanding a thin layer of paint on the walls of the hotel rooms so we could later in the week paint them. After a few hours of work, my group and one other headed over to the actual children’s home to meet the other groups and have a lunch of quinoa and noodle soup, salad, and stew with rice.

Henry and Timko prepare with Avishai

After lunch, Avishai, who helps run Nino Del Sol with his wife Vienna, announced that for an afternoon activity we could either explore the area surrounding Nino Del Sol or watch him harvest the three ducks we would be eating tomorrow for his birthday, performed as a traditional Jewish ceremony. I and a small handful of others volunteered to watch while the others went into town.

We gathered around a small pen-like area while a duck was brought out, and Avishai explained to us that the ducks and all animals here live a happy, healthy, and comfortable life, and that in Jewish culture, harvesting is done fast with a sharp knife, which in Jewish culture is named “change” in Hebrew, as to keep the death as painless and comfortable as possible. The duck is lied on its back, and although this may sound as though it would be uncomfortable for the animal, its breathing is easy and calm and the duck doesn’t struggle. The ducks eyes are covered, again according to Jewish kosher tradition, so it does not see the knife. Avishai finds a spot on its throat he has found makes the harvest as easy as possible, and gently plucks the feathers in this area so he has a clear line.

With clenched hands I forced myself to keep my eyes, though I will admit, a bit teary, glued to the duck as to watch the moment of the actual harvest. After the cut is made, the duck is turned upside down as to drip the blood back into the earth, where according to Jewish culture, it belongs. The duck was then taken over to the garden where the blood was dripped over the growing vegetation. After the second duck, Avishai offered up to us the opportunity to perform the actual ceremony itself on the third duck, which fellow volunteers Timko Blysniuk and Henry Smith readily but nervously jumped at.

I felt an obligation to be able to look my meal in the face, to feel the intensity of the moment, to understand the value of its life and then death as to have respect for not only the food, but for the animal.

Now if you’re wondering who in their right mind would possibly want to put themselves through that experience, I believe I speak for many when I say I felt an obligation to be able to look my meal in the face, to feel the intensity of the moment, to understand the value of its life and then death as to have respect for not only the food, but for the animal. I felt as though it would make me a hypocrite to be able to scarf down a bowl of duck soup, but not be able to be conscious of the previous life of the meal I was eating.

As we later plucked the feathers and prepped the ducks we had just harvested, we had ample opportunity for some absolutely incredible discourse, where our supervisor Steven Chisnell so nicely put it, to paraphrase, that there is as much responsibility in inaction and obliviousness as there is for action and consciousness. To have the ability to have the utmost respect for my food by truly experiencing the life of the animal I was to consume, I believe makes me a more ethical consumer. Also by appreciating the life of the animal and the intensity of its death, I think I gained enough perspective to from now on only take as much food as I need and to know where my food is coming from.

The face  of Inca Kola.

In the modern age and especially in the U.S, consumers have so far divorced themselves from the process from which the food is made. It is simply too easy to just not think about the conditions animals endure when harvested in mass amounts. Not thinking about it doesn’t mean it does not exist. And though the situation was hard to watch and made me emotional and made me squirm, I am beyond grateful that I was able to experience the morals I hold about food, specifically meat, established in an action. As our guide Juan put it, “We are what we eat, and we are what we think.”

As I sat on the bus ride back home watching a golden sun set behind tall mountains, buzzing with my newfound wisdom, I thought also, that we are what we do.


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