Let’s be honest…this is where it starts.
This is the back end of a small horse trailer where a pig spent its last night. It was separated from its herd, driven to a distant part of the farm, and left overnight. The next morning it was given some stale bread—a favorite pig treat—and shot in the head before it could finish. Twelve hours later its blood still stained the trailer and the ground where it had fallen and begun to bleed out.
In the meantime, not twenty feet away, a crowd of people were having a party, and the pig was the guest of honor.
While we waited for the roasted pig to be unveiled and broken down, I pointed out to some of my companions the oddness of this juxtaposition. Even the most well-informed farm-supporting members of the group told me “You’re not supposed to think about that now.”
I beg to differ. I think that’s exactly what we need to be thinking about. Maybe not in such melodramatic terms, but to be an honest eater of meat, we need to accept that our meals require death.
There’s nothing wrong with death; even though it frightens us, it is a natural part of existence. In our modern society, though, we have wrapped ourselves in the luxury of being separated from death. Wars take place far away and on tv, and we can avoid the details without too much effort. Farm animals are slaughtered behind locked gates and closed doors. In spite of rising concerns about the conditions and methods on the killing floor, “processing facilities” resist transparency, and the public seems just as happy about that. The only transparency most Americans want is in the plastic film covering their neatly excised proteins in the grocery store.
As deaths go, this pig had a good one. The reason it was transported to the killing area the night before was to allow it time to adjust to its surroundings, so it could be approached without sending it into a panic. Granted, this was in part to minimize the stress hormones that would flood its system and alter the taste of its flesh, but it also allowed it to enjoy its last meal. The pig was treated respectfully, standing in an open trailer with breakfast, and not kicked and shoved down a shit-smeared chute toward a concrete building filled with the smells and sounds of routine death. The killing shot was delivered expertly, a nearly instantaneous transition from alive to dead. Finally, when the pig was hung to bleed out, there were no doubts that it was dead, no chance of a live animal squealing out its last minutes on the hooks.
Does this offend, shock or disgust you? Would you rather turn your eyes from the blood and try to avoid forming a mental image of this pig’s last minutes? Then you are being dishonest about the meat you put in your mouth, whether it came from a pig, chicken, cow, rabbit or camel. I am not trying to convince you to become a vegetarian, I am writing to urge you to make your food choices more considered and deliberate.
This was a lucky pig. It was not packed in side-by-side on a hard concrete pad for its entire short life, given steroids to make it grow faster, antibiotics to make up for an unnatural diet, and its tail cut off to prevent cannibalization by other stressed pigs. That is the fate of the millions of pigs raised on the factory farms that allow your local grocer to advertise “Sale! Pork loin roast $3.97/lb, this week only!” Subtext: “Eat all you want, we’ll grow more, no matter the effects on pig, economy or environment.”
No,that was not the fate of this pig. This pig roamed a forest on the South Carolina coast, rooting for grubs, small animals and nuts dropped by the overarching live oak trees. This pig grew up next to its mother, part of a pack, pushing its strong pliable snout through the dirt the way it was meant to, running for the dinner bell with nothing but food on its mind.
Yes, this pig was raised by humans specifically to be killed young and eaten. On the other hand, it was also given the space and opportunity to explore its world and live free of fear. And that is why I had no problem with gathering around in celebration and stuffing its rich flesh into my mouth while gazing at the damp patch of blood that marked its final moments of life. Its purpose was to provide food, and the worst disrespect we might have shown was if we had treated it poorly, caused it fear, or slaughtered more than was needed and thrown the meat away.
Cultures around the world offer up prayers on the occasion of a meal, some of them thanking the spirit of the animal for providing sustenance. I’m not a believer of the Great Porker in the sky, but after this pig was carried from the pit to the table where it would be broken down, I did step up to it, gaze down at its shiny, caramelized snout, and say out loud, “Thank you, pig.”
And I meant it.