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Take the Family › Catching, Killing and Cooking Dinner: Dea Birkett's Eating with Kids

Catching, Killing and Cooking Dinner: Dea Birkett's Eating with Kids

I want my kids to kill something. Not something small and insignificant, but large and breathing. I want them to have to whack it until it dies, throttle it, or pull it to pieces. I want them to know that most of what they eat was once walking, scuttling or swimming around. And that’s why I’ve taken them on board Captain Shane’s boat. The kill will happen here.

And it will happen in an eerily beautiful place. We’re weaving around Caper Island at the southern end of a 60-mile stretch of undeveloped barrier islands, which separates South Carolina from the Atlantic. We see only two colours – the lime green of vast marshy low land and the brown, broad stretches of muddy water. The sullen water is still until disturbed by our wake or the dance of the dolphin alongside us. The sky, heavy with humidity, is almost the same colour as the soupy water. This strange no-man’s land, which neither the ocean nor the continent has claimed, is the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline on the American east coast.

Captain Shane pulls up a big square wire-mesh crab net, and shows us how to hold a blue crab without getting nipped. He breaks an oyster from its cluster. We are holding live food, something urban children like mine hardly ever do. Everything they touch, then eat, has usually left this world long ago.

I remember, when I was small, visiting my grandparents in the countryside. We used to walk up the road to a neighbour who had chickens and pick one out from the half dozen scurrying around. Then, right in front of us, he would strangle it. I doubt any child sees that today.

I wish they did. I think it’s important for them to know that chickens aren’t born wrapped in cellophane and ready plucked. I also think witnessing the kill tells my kids so much more than how meat and fish is reared. It can make them think about the very big questions – life, death and our place within the world.

So as we sit down to the evening at The Boathouse at Breach Inlet just outside Charleston, one of the many ‘New South’ restaurants, eating the clams (in garlic saffron broth) Shane had shown us, we don’t only know where they came from, we know what it took to get them here.

I think it’s fine to kill for food. What I don’t want my kids to do is think that everything arrives dead, just waiting to be devoured.

Dea Birkett
February 2009

The Birkett family travelled to the Carolinas with America As You Like It. (

See Take the Family's family destination guide to USA.

By Dea Birkett

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