Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Getting Bacon in Rural Peru
Vegetarianism is a strange thing. To be honest, when I decided, at 17, to become a vegetarian, I had no real good reason. Because of a best friend, Maya, I had experimented with periods of no-meat (month long resolutions or challenges often broken when faced with a restricting menu or delicious looking meal), but the final decision, spring of 2004, was a spontaneous decision, while out for a run one afternoon. I informed my mom upon my arrival home, when she told me that she had already cooked dinner, spaghetti with meat sauce, and that I could start my new lifestyle the next day.
In the years since, I have gathered different good reasons for vegetarianism: personal health, negative environmental impact of meat production, a preference for veggies built up, but none truly explain my non-meat preference. They are arguments, not lifestyles. Living in a highland region with a culture of sustainable low cholesterol meat production, I could argue almost more eloquently for meat-eating. So I´ll own up to my real reason for vegetarianism, which has much more to do with sentiments than intellectual reasoning. Let me explain with a story.
A few months ago, I made bread with my friend Lidia. An essential ingredient in Musho Day of the Dead bread is lard, from a pig. Lard is such a bizarre substance; I wondered how one would go about collecting it, whether all fat would look like it (thinking about the fat stealing in Fight Club), and if it just gathered in pockets in the pig, ready to spurt out like blood. Seeing my confusion, Lidia invited me to help her out in the future when she killed her pig. For that uncertain date, I was happy to accept. Last week, she informed me that this Monday she would be killing her pig, and that I should come and bring my camera and knife.
Here they are, catching the blood in a bucket. And here I am, several feet away, watching.
Pig-killing is not pretty. It´s nothing like the sleek kills of people or animals on tv or even the slightly shocking slitting of guinea pig or chicken throats that come before any fiesta. It is violent and disgusting. Pigs scream in an eerily human voice, despite the fact that we wrapped it´s snout three times with rope, and fight for minutes and minutes, not like the clean throat slitting in spy movies where people gurgle once and die. I watched two pigs die this morning, held down and roped by five people, with a huge knife (thankfully not mine) and a bucket to catch the blood.
Then we shaved the pigs, using sharp knives and lots of boiling water, a laborious 2 hour process that made me feel a bit green and long for the sterile strangeness of a supermarket. When we finishing, the courtyard was filled with bloody mud and black hairs. Only after about 6 hours of being present, carrying water, getting herbs ready for the sausage and generally sending thanks to every divinity ever for my US upbringing, I escaped, explaining that I was nauseated and could not possibly join the family for lunch.
Here we are, skinning the pig.
So I´m a vegetarian, and, I suppose, a bit of a hypocrite. For the next year, I will encourage every Mushino to feed their kids meat whenever possible, but I have no intention of ever participating in a butchering again. When I return to the US, I think that my experience will have broadened my mind in a lot of ways, and I am very thankful for that. However, I don´t think I will even be able to look at pork chops without imagining that violence. It´s wussy. It´s squeamish. It´s illogical. However, as a first world citizen, I can and will embrace that squeamishness for the rest of my life.