How we lost touch with animals, life and death, and learned to find butchery repulsive while eating more meat than ever

Amanda Giracca in Aeon:

ScreenHunter_1170 May. 02 21.29The skin did not come off like a sweater, as I’d been told it would. I’d looked at how to do it in the classic Joy of Cooking, figuring the directions for squirrel couldn’t be much different from rabbit: hook it through the heels, yank the skin down to its paws. I didn’t have a hook, but even the falconer, Chris Davis, who had given me this squirrel, made it seem so simple – use scissors, he’d said, and snip horizontally into each side from the gaping hole where he’d gutted it, grab the corners of the soft fluffy pelt and pull up. Pull down. Voilà.

Sitting out by the fire pit in my back yard on a late November evening, my fingers grew stiff and numb as I pulled at layers of epithelial tissue I could not see so much as sense, subcutaneous membranes of iridescent silver visible only when I shone my headlamp just right. I could see places where the talons of the hawk that had caught the squirrel had punctured into the muscle, bruising it. Little by little, I worked the rich gray pelt down and away from the purple muscles, snipped away the durable membranes, and turned the small mammal from one piece into two.

I snipped off the head and feet with a pair of shears and buried them in my compost pile. Yesterday, when Chris had given me the squirrel, the eyes had been wide-open and filmy white. I was grateful that they’d shrunk to nearly closed overnight. I’d hardly noticed the face as I skinned, but I might have if it still had the demon-ish pale glare. The task was engrossing, a science project, or dinner preparation, a little of each I suppose.

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