August 14, 2008

Charred Mutton

Nathaniel Curley, a past student of mine from Dine' College (Tuba City, AZ), has volunteered to be the first guest writer for The Moody Kitchen! Nathaniel is not only a talented poet and fiction writer, but he also shares an intense respect and love for what he eats. In his short essay below, he takes time to reflect on mutton, a dish that connects him to both his family and Dine' culture.

At my grandmother’s home in Birdsprings, located 20 miles north of Winslow, Arizona, the best time for fresh mutton would be late spring, or early summer, but it’s not uncommon to get the meat at other times of the year. Most Navajos I know love to eat mutton, but mostly they just love to eat. I’m no exception. There is a sense of freshness when meat is directly processed in front of one’s own eyes. Since its inception into the Navajo culture, sheep has been greatly depended on as a natural food source.

Growing up on the Navajo Reservation, I have come to learn the value that these animals hold. They are a troublesome livestock to care for because of their constant need for more grass and water, which neither is abundant out here in the arid southwest. This habitual tending to the flock only makes the meat taste sweeter. There is an air of accomplishment when people comment on the thickness of fat on the ribs, or the tenderness of the meat melting into their willing mouths. As a kid, I didn’t give much thought as to how I contributed to the raising of the flocks, only that it was my job to know when to chase them in. In all that time of growing up, I observed that smiles were easier to make when the lips are lined with bits of mutton grease, or at any time when we ate.

My grandfather, Ashe K. Yazzie, as it is spelled on his Arizona ID, taught many of us grandchildren to butcher by letting us participate at a very young age. I have yet to master his level of slicing and dicing of the feeble sheep, but I don’t think I’d ever starve if I ever were to become stranded on deserted island where sheep flourished. Active participation in butchering carries with it a sense of pride that fills me with gratitude that I might, someday, be able to provide food for my family. Butchering has taught me that mankind has a powerful responsibility of respecting life, especially animal life, because we can easily take it. When we do make the decision to take the life of an animal, it has to be for the purpose of good like quenching hunger, and not for the mere intention of profit. I don’t mean to be preachy, but there is a difference when it comes to killing for the sake of feeding your family, and killing for a franchise chain, or for sport. There is a means of closure when a kill is done where every part of the animal is use for a different specific purpose. When my grandparents butcher, every part of the sheep is used, from the meat to the internal organs to the skin. I want to convey the purity or sacredness of killing an animal for human consumption, because not many things come close to cooking a fresh kill over an open flame.

***All photographs were taken by Nathaniel. Since I a still trying to figure out how to incorporate captions, I'll include Nathaniel's captions here:

Figure 1: Roasting mutton and Navajo tortillas
Figure 2: No caption
Figure 3: My grandmother's flock
Figure 4: My grandfather, Ashe K. Yazzie, roasting fresh butchered mutton

Thanks, Nathaniel, for contributing your writing and images to the Moody Kitchen!

1 comment:

Steve said...

This is cool!