Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Special: Hard Time Killin' Cone Blues

BROOKLYN, New York -- Alaska Governor Sarah Palin can't seem to catch a break. After a vice-presidential campaign that all but the Bible-thumping-est of the GOP would rather forget, she was part of a gruesome and comical scene back in her hometown of Wasilla on Friday.

Palin came to the Triple D Farm & Hatchery to take part in an annual Thanksgiving turkey pardoning ceremony. Unfortunately, local TV station KTUU filmed an interview with her in which birds were being butchered rather unceremoniously in the background.

This latest piece of political theater got me to thinking - how exactly do you kill a turkey? The man in the background was doing his best to be discrete about the grisly deed he was engaged in, apparently unsure if he was actually being captured in the frame (though he was so confident that he wasn't, after dispatching the first fowl, he came back with a second while the interview was still going on), so I thought I would investigate the business of turkey slaughtering.

Killing a turkey is a simple process. In this case, the turkeys were being slaughtered with the aid of a device called a "killing cone," which holds the birds in place as their throats are cut. The cone prevents the turkeys from thrashing around (though as you can see, they still tend to move quite a bit) and allows the blood to drain cleanly into the receptacle beneath.

Blue Oak Ranch, an organic poultry farm in Santa Barbara, California that raises "heritage poultry" - traditional varieties of birds that have not been genetically modified - describes their "hand processing" by means of a killing cone:
A bird is placed in the cone headfirst to restrain it during the killing process. I find the killing cones especially useful for the larger turkeys. My cone is a modified road cone - I find it a better size for processing large framed birds like turkeys than the smaller metal cones available commercially. All but the largest toms can fit in a generously sized road cone! Killing cones also restrain the bird better and prevent bruising of the carcass as the bird convulses. Simply chopping their heads off is messy - blood goes everywhere and can be aspirated back into the lungs. It also makes it hard to restrain the birds, and it flopping around can bruise the meat and even break wing and leg bones in the process, leaving an unappetizing appearance.
Many companies manufacture commercial killing cones, though a traffic cone with the end cut off will get the job done just fine. For a mature turkey, a cone 20" deep and 12" across is recommended.

Before birds can be slaughtered, by law they must be stunned - supposedly a more humane killing method - either by use of an electric shock or by a swift stab to the brain. In large commercial operations, birds have their throats cut along a conveyor belt and are suspended upside down by leg shackles. They then pass through what is called a "killing" or "bleeding tunnel," which is a large metal cabinet where most of the blood is drained from the body.

Back to the Palin fiasco, the cameraman responsible for the footage claims that he asked the governor if she wanted to move so the killing cone was out of the shot, to which she responded, "No worries," and the interview went forward from the same spot.

It appears as if most of the reporting on this story is actually being done by the evening entertainment news programs. Entertainment Tonight reported that the Palin camp is denying that the cameraman asked if the governor would like to move so the butchery was not in the shot, claiming they had no idea what was going on in the background. Even the television audience can clearly hear the bird struggling in the stainless steel death chute, so Palin and her staff must have been struck by an electric stunning knife (another implement used to kill poultry) if they couldn't hear that racket.

Another of America's favorite infotainment television nightmares, Inside Edition, managed to snap up an exclusive interview with the farmhand immortally captured on Youtube, Brian Tomes. He described his valiant efforts: "I thought they had panned in on her face…I did try and block the process," adding the nonsequitur, "Don't mess with my governor!" I didn't manage to catch this program, though I usually like to catch up on my celebrity rehab stories after Jeopardy! I will venture a guess that this segment lasted approximately 11 seconds. Great reporting, as always, IE!

Of course, the American people will fall into two camps over this story. Either they will believe that Sarah Palin is again the victim of a vast liberal media conspiracy to wreck her public image, or they will believe that she is blood-thirsty imbecile who revels in watching animals twitch in the throes of death. I think she just needs to be a bit more aware of her surroundings, and she should probably fire her entire incompetent staff.

Finally, for your listening pleasure, Skip James performing "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues."

Happy Thanksgiving, America! Eat turkey and stuffing until you pass out while watching football - my game of choice this week will definitely be the Egg Bowl, Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State in Oxford.

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