For turkeys, chickens and other animals raised for food - a glimpse of the “good old days” from More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality

In his book Animal Revolution, Richard Ryder (who coined the term “speciesism”) offers a glimpse of how animals were prepared for meals in the typical 18th-century English household during the Age of Enlightenment. Alexander Pope, the great English poet of the time, described “kitchens covered with blood and filled with the cries of creatures expiring in tortures.”

The whipping to death of pigs, in the mistaken belief that this improved the meat, was to continue in England until the following century. Turkeys were very slowly bled to death suspended upside down from the kitchen ceiling. Salmon were crimped (cut into collops while still alive), living eels skinned, and the orifices of chickens were sewn up, supposedly to fatten them. Geese repeatedly were plucked of their feathers while alive in order to provide writing quills, and many were nailed to boards for their entire lives, some with their eyes put out, while they were subjected to forced-feeding.

Meat was cheap in England at this time and its consumption continued to be gargantuan. Receipts for large houses indicate that it was ordered by the stone [a unit of weight equal to 14 pounds] rather than the pound, and include details of the typical contemporary menu – lambs’ tails for the first course for example, tongues and udders for the second, followed by ox palates with cheesecake for the third.
(Ryder, 67)

In The Rural Life of England, William Howitt describes how a 19th-century lady of his acquaintance dealt with the turkeys hanging upside down in her kitchen:

On passing the kitchen door at ten in the morning, I saw a turkey suspended by its heels, and bleeding from its bill, drop by drop. Supposing it was just in its last struggles from a recent death-wound, I passed on, and found the lady lying on her sofa overwhelmed in tears over a most touching story. I was charmed by her sensibility; and the very delightful conversation which I held with her, only heightened my opinion of the goodness of her heart. On accidentally passing by the same kitchen door in the afternoon, six hours afterwards, I beheld, to my astonishment, the same turkey suspended from the same nail, still bleeding, drop by drop, and still giving an occasional flutter with its wings! Hastening to the kitchen, I inquired of the cook, if she knew that the turkey was not dead. “O yes, sir,” she replied, “it won’t be dead, may-happen, these two hours. We always kill turkeys that way, it so improves their colour; they have a vein opened under the tongue, and only bleed a drop at a time!” “And does your mistress know of your mode of killing turkeys?” “O yes, bless you sir, it’s our regular way; missis often sees ‘em as she goes to the garden – and she says sometimes, ‘poor things! I don’t like to see ‘em, Betty; I wish you would hang them where I should not see ‘em!’ ” (Howitt, 45-46)

Cited in Karen Davis, PhD, “Our Token of Festival Joy,” More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality, pp. 57-59. Available from United Poultry Concerns $14.95

Delicate Lady
“Delicate” lady with dying turkey, by Sue Coe