A big thank you to everyone who responded to our survey asking whether we should run our How to Skin a Rabbit session. The replies have been very interesting, and are printed below in the order they were received, to encourage more thought and reflection about the issue:
NB click these links to read part 1 and part 2 of this story, which explain how the survey came about.
"As a meat eater, I think it is important to acknowledge where my food comes from”
"At some point I would like to learn this as I think if you eat meat you should be able to also kill animals and handle the preparing of the meat. It should be ensured that the animals were raised and killed humanely and respectfully.”
"As a non-meat eater I would not do it. I think the session should also be how to skin and cook a rabbit, I think the workshop is only ok if the rabbit is actually eaten at the end of it by the participants. I think if people eat meat then they should 'do the dirty work themselves' so to speak and if you can't do that like me, then don't eat meat. People should face up to the realities of where their food comes from and if they are too squeamish to kill an animal themselves then maybe they shouldn't expect others to do it for them. I don't have a problem with the workshop as long as the rabbit is eaten and not wasted but I would never do it because I don't eat meat.”
“I was actually going to sign up this week and would love to join. I totally agree with your reasoning.”
"I think it is important for meat eaters to be more connected to the whole process, out of respect for the animal.”
"Personally, I think that if you're willing to eat meat, you should be willing to prepare it. To not be willing shows a lack of respect for the life that has been given and a lack of appreciation for what it means to eat it.”
"There are good reasons for not eating meat nowadays - cruel farming practices, the impact on the environment, the number of humans on planet now - but feeling it is cruel or wrong that to kill and eat an animal is a strange modern narrative - that, to me is actually ‘unnatural’. It would be the height of illogicality for a human to say it was wrong to kill a rabbit if we were still daily being killed and eaten ourselves by big cats, bears, crocodiles. It is our dislocation from nature that creates this perception rather than being close to it. Nature is not cruel when it kills, it just ‘is'. For two million years we have killed other creatures - but we did it seeing them as equal to us (and not dominating them) and we did it with ritual and gratitude - knowing that we ourselves would one day be eaten, dead or alive.”
“Squirrels are vermin and killed and THROWN away - what a waste. Tasty too, so think about that as well.”
“I think if you eat meat this is an honest thing to do and I particularly engage with the notion of gratitude and ritual around time and space to thank the creature for the nourishment it’s given. If one is vegetarian or vegan I can fully appreciate this would not resonate. We are too disconnected from the food we eat. Thanks for starting the debate.“
"We as a race are losing our basic survival skills, honed by experimentation over the generations and it's needed to be taught for survival situations. Old saying, if you don't use it you lose it!! And without it, what is the point of learning how to build a shelter, make fire and gather water and expend all that effort and not be shown how to skin rabbits. So long as it's not wasted and gratitude is paid to the animal I see no issue.”
"I try to consider carefully what I eat and try to grow and forage for food where I can. Of course, being a meat eater, I often eat meat that I would prefer not to because I do not know how it has spent its life. I believe that if we are going to eat meat, we should consider this and preferably I would eat meat from the wild so that we can guarantee that it has been delivered as it should have been, and its death hopefully swift. By having to prepare the animal to eat ourselves we will be more inclined to consider its life and the sacrifice of it in order to enable our lives, therefore we would be more moved to eat it with respect. I have eaten pigeon and wild rabbit before, I have plucked and prepared the pigeons myself but I have never skinned a rabbit and I would like to learn how to do this.”
"I strongly agree with what you said about giving thanks to the animal and strongly agree that few people take the time to think about how their meal got to their plate.”
"I already learned how to skin a rabbit when I lived in France. I think the session is worthwhile for all the reasons you made in your email. I believe that if a person eats meat (which I do) they should be prepared to engage with every aspect of meat eating, which includes raising animal/birds, slaughtering/hunting and butchering them (which includes skinning a rabbit), and being prepared to use every part of the carcass, not just eating the juicy bits sold wrapped in plastic in the supermarket. And of course, honouring the animal is at the heart of this. However, I do understand why you have had the negative response as a lot of the people who would be attracted to School of the Wild would not be prepared to eat meat and many are very strident in their opinion that nobody else should eat meat either.”
“Was thinking about doing the course but live in London and it's going to be difficult to get to Sussex. How about cooking a squirrel?”
“I believe distancing ourselves from understanding where our food comes from increases practices of cruelty towards animals.”
"I have already done similar through an Animal Husbandry course at Oathall School. Meat eaters should be prepared to accept they are eating dead animals and preparing them, especially if wild and ‘free’. It is hypocritical to only eat supermarket wrapped portions and then be squeamish about the facts. Surely vegetarians need to allow others the choice to eat meat and a course such as yours will make meat eaters more ‘mindful’.”
"'Genuine respect and gratitude to the animal' to the rabbit is not to kill and then eat it. That is not respectful or gracious. The only way to truly and actually respect another living creature is to be veggie/vegan. I have wanted to join one of your courses but this I'm afraid has put me off entirely.
"‘I remember what he said: he gave thanks to the rabbit for giving its life so that we could live.' The rabbit has not knowingly, consciously or willing given its life to a human and we know that we do not need to eat animal flesh to live or survive. The way that the rabbits will be purchased for the course is far from natural, wild or foraged either. It is human intervention, following on from hunting to extinction the rabbits' actual natural predators to begin with.“
"I think most people have become totally detached from nature, the life and death cycle and the realities of how our food gets to the table. The rabbits are not being killed just for the workshop, presumably they are going to be cooked and eaten so nothing will go to waste and if this is all done in a respectful way with gratitude for the animal I can't see the problem. Not everybody is designed to be a vegetarian. Interesting that people can get so upset about rabbit skinning but keep quiet about the massive damage we are doing to the planet and our environment/nature as a whole."
“I agree that as a meat eater I am very far removed from the process of butchering the meat and I have always felt uncomfortable with that.”
“People should accept personal responsibility for the food they eat.”
“I think that anyone who eats meat ought to be prepared to get involved in a direct way with the reality of how that piece of meat has ended up on their plate. I took part in a foraging session which involved preparing wood pigeon. It does give you a good insight into the fact that any meat we eat will have been slaughtered and skinned etc by someone.”
"Some people are triggered by things such as these and do not think of the bigger picture. This is an outdoor skill as vital as any and something people have done for over 10,000 years.”
"I just wanted to add my support in you running this workshop: 'Unless Whiteman learns the dreaming of the Countryside, the plants, and animals he uses or eats, he will become sick and insane and destroy himself.’ The Aboriginal elder will cause less harm in his life time than any modern vegan will, to lose that connection with nature is the crime, not skinning one rabbit!”
"I'm a vegetarian, and if you're going to eat meat, I think that it's far better to do what you had planned to do - ie honour the animal, and deal with it 'up close and personal': but if you're getting negative reactions, it can turn people away from your other courses as well. When people came on your courses you can ask their opinion face to face, and in that way they can consider it without prejudice, and it can be discussed as a group. Will Lord does it successfully, and he uses every part of the animal (usually a deer I think), but if you're not sure yourself, then perhaps it's not right for you at present.”
"I won't be joining this, but I have to say that as a vegetarian of over 20 years I think all meat-eaters should have a go. (If you can't deal with what you're eating maybe you shouldn't be eating it!) I think the idea of showing genuine gratitude and respect to the animal is honourable. I am more comfortable with this than I am with factory farming.”
"As someone who doesn't eat meat, I have no need to, nor feel any future need to, be able to skin a rabbit. I have also never eaten rabbit even when I ate meat. I understand where you are coming from in as much that if you are a meat eater it's important to have a connection with and appreciate what has been killed. One of the reasons I don't eat meat is that I do not want to be responsible for an animals death - I am not prepared to kill it, therefore I am not going to eat it. But that's just my personal opinion and believe that it's up to everyone to make their own choice.”
"We have plenty of evidence showing that animal protein is overall bad for our health, with worldwide epidemics of diseases shown to be largely due to the consumption of animal-based food. In my lifetime, human population has tripled whilst wildlife population has dropped by well over three quarters. I feel exasperated by many in the movement to reconnect with nature - very laudable overall - who glorify and romanticise the killing and consumption of wildlife as a return or move to a simpler life.
"In 2017 we have absolutely no need to consume meat and I feel we should revere and protect all wildlife. A more valuable right of passage for a human with awareness and heart would be to observe rabbits and bond with them - not kill them. For now, let fellow animals who can chase and kill rabbits purely with their body - not with tools, as we require them - eat rabbits. This could include our dogs and cats, whilst some of us still keep them. And other animals still considered 'pests', such as foxes, or that we have already exterminated, such as wolves and others, which I would love to see reintroduced. That I have resisted joining any School of the Wild session so far because of this emphasis on meat as 'noble'. “
"I eat rabbit, and to learn the art of skinning one brings us closer to our food. Who knows it might even make me go veggie.”
“I am ok with this. I think it is important to know where our food comes from and what is involved to get it from live animal to food ready to eat.”
"I'm a vegetarian but I believe if you eat meat you should have a connection with your food. I think if I ate meat this would be a more honest way of appreciating the animal about to provide me with nutrition. If you dislike the process or concept, should you be eating meat at all? Also I think it preferable to eat meat from nature rather than our horrendous factory farming and mass slaughtering. As the saying goes if abattoirs had glass walls most people probably wouldn't eat meat. Supermarket packaged meat has disconnected people from the reality of their food.”
"I get quite irritated with people's squeamishness about this kind of thing and people feeling that they have the right to feel outraged. For people who eat meat, there should be absolutely nothing wrong with seeing and learning how meat is prepared and I would think that skinning a rabbit is a good way to do this. It connects people with the reality of where our food comes from which I think no-one who chooses to eat meat should shy away from. I think it can be very empowering to be involved with any aspect of food production, whether that involves learning to grow vegetables, catching fish, or skinning an animal.”
"My view is that, if people eat meat, then they shouldn't turn a blind eye to how it's processed. Game and wild food are really interesting to me, I've been looking for such courses but struggled to find anything that I could attend. I think it's a great idea!!”
"I always find the topics and activities covered in the meetups and workshops well thought through and appealing. I think it is right to address these quite ancient ways of living and existing within nature. I saw a play at the RSC quite a few years ago where the opening scene was one actor on the stage busily skinning a rabbit whilst the audience got settled and seated. Just before the first lines were read and the main characters entered the stage, the actor tore off the fur in one loud rip. Some members of the audience gasped. It was certainly a talking point. I felt more connected to the proceedings that followed after that moment - we were all transported back to a time when this was a commonplace activity.”
"I'd be there if I wasn't so busy. Keep up the good work.“
“I think this is a very interesting issue. I can understand why people get upset about it, especially if they’re vegetarians/vegans and so against the killing of animals full stop. However, my impression from the bushcraft course I did, where we foraged for plant foods but not animals, was that in the UK it would be impossible to survive for long on only foraged foods. We ended up coating primrose leaves in batter & frying them, & making salads & frying pig nuts & lesser celandine roots (all of which entailed having flour, oil, etc with us anyway), but there’s very little carbohydrate available year-round, and certainly not if you’re going to rely on sustainable harvesting of the roots of wild flowers (Countryside Act aside). So if your aim is to live wild off the land, if only for a few days, it seems to me you’re going to need to kill some meat, just to get enough calories.
“I agree with much of what you wrote about responsible meat eating & that we are generally screened from the reality of death when we eat meat. So a course like this is a good thing in terms of that responsibility and gratitude towards the life that was taken for the table and that connection with nature – that is often visceral and violent & not the least bit romantic.
“I’ve been a vegetarian but at the moment I’m somewhat backslidden/lapsed. I wonder if part of connecting with nature is connecting with our own nature, which includes our omnivorous teeth & digestive systems.”
How to Skin a Wild Rabbit is on October 29th 2017, more information and tickets available here.
Author & Curator
Nigel Berman is the founder of School of the Wild.