My first editor, Steven, once told me he'd killed a chicken. He said he'd done some soul searching and had decided that if he was going to eat chicken flesh, he should have the huevos to actually kill one. So I guess he went to a farm and killed a chicken. Yeah, Steven has an extreme side to him.
But he also has a point. The first time I went elk hunting with Ed in Jackson I wasn't prepared to actually kill an elk myself, but I knew I liked to eat elk meat and I knew Ed was an ethical hunter. So when Ed shot an elk the next day (I'd opted out of the hunt that day), I decided I'd help him pack it out.
We hiked into the forest, where Ed had field-dressed the beautiful animal. I was afraid to go near it at first; I could smell the blood, see the insides of the elk, and I just really didn't know how to handle it.
I finally walked over to the elk, I bent down, and I pet the soft fur on its cheek. Of course tears ran into my eyes, but I also had an immense feeling of gratitude toward this animal. Maybe it sounds hokey, but I made a promise to myself that I would eat every last piece of meat that the elk provided. I don't think I understood that there's an unspoken agreement between predator and prey until it hit me like a ton of bricks: If you take an animal to eat, you are obligated to waste nothing.
And then I packed an 80lb hind quarter out of the woods, which was hard as all hell.
It sounds like Elise Bauer, the author of my favorite recipe site, Simply Recipes, had a similarly powerful experience recently, when she traveled all the way to Iowa for no other reason than to visit a pig farm. Read about her amazing trip hanging out with the piglets (and seeing what pork looks like before it's bacon) here.