Tasting the Animal Kingdom

In 2010, The Other Journal published The Spirit of Food: Thirty-Four Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God, a collection of essays and recipes that colorfully depict how our acts of eating echo the community of the church and the sacrament of communion.

One of these essays, “Tasting the Animal Kingdom,” which has been chosen as a feature for The Other Journal‘s Food Issue, shares SPU MFA Alumna Alissa Herbaly Coons’s journey from vegetarian to omnivore, from restraint to a humble, open appetite. You can read the beginning of her essay below, and the full piece here.

I have carried a deep ambivalence about my place in the food chain since the summer I raised a flock of chickens at age thirteen. I was a town child, my pre-chicken agricultural experience extending only to our backyard tomato plants in Kalispell, Montana. For a family science project, my mother brought home a dozen Araucana chicks, which we placed under a heat lamp in a box in the kitchen. They were the size of marshmallow Peeps, and they were warm and downy and tottered around their cardboard nest on delicate miniature feet. That first day, my sister and I named each chick, cupped their springy bodies in our palms, and let our hearts swell to the chorus of their cheeping. At dinnertime, when our mother pulled a bag of chicken breast out of the freezer, I underwent a crisis of faith.

In the Sunday school classes of my childhood, I learned of fruitarian Eden and of the sin that necessitated the Old Testament complications of blood sacrifice and dietary rule keeping. The church basement rooms where I learned these lessons were often filled with the scent of ham being warmed for a post-service potluck or traces of bacon grease left over from a communal breakfast—the legacy of the apparent free-for-all introduced by Peter’s New Testament vision. Acts 10 notes that Peter fell into a hunger-induced swoon, and “He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. The sheet contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’” Peter himself was perplexed by the vision, but we had it figured out: Jesus came, among other reasons, so we could eat ham for Easter.

These things occasionally sifted and shifted in my mind as I ate, but the chicks sharpened my focus. For as much character as they had, for as clean as we kept them, these chickens were filthy birds. I was unwilling to kill them, let alone eat them. Then it occurred to me that I could no longer eat anything that I was not willing to bear the responsibility of killing.

Continue reading…

Alissa Herbaly Coons is a recovering vegetarian currently feasting on farm-fresh goat in Waterloo, Ontario. A recent graduate of the Seattle Pacific University MFA program, she is working on a series of essays on migration and belonging in the context of her Hungarian heritage, including a celebration of savanyúság (“sour things”), such as the vat of sauerkraut fermenting in her kitchen. Her writing has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Montana Journalism Review, and Good Letters: The Image Blog.