That’s the opening line to Charlotte’s Web, one of my favorite books growing up. It’s a good lesson on friendship, grief, growing up and letting go, and is frankly the best example of teaching children about the philosophy of life and death. Read it again if you haven’t in a while.
I mention this because today I helped slaughter a pig. We try to be minimal-waste here at this station, so all our food scraps are fed to pigs. Nothing gets wasted. The pigs turn what would otherwise become poor compost (we do compost things like rinds and peels, but table scraps don’t decompose well) into more food. But there has to be a reaping.
Our pigs are massive, bloated animals. They have been bred and selected for the compulsion to eat continuously, beyond satiation. They gain over 100 kilograms in three months. They are obese. This morning, we selected the fattest one, and led her out of the corral with a little trail of cornmeal. While she was eating, one man got out the axe while two others stood by with knives.
The axe came down blunt-end first on the pig’s forehead with a crack. Instantly, the pig stiffened and toppled over, twitching. Then one man stabbed a knife deep into its neck, just under the jowls. He made a slight cut, then withdrew it to a gush of dark blood. Then he let the farm intern try as well. However, she must have cut the trachea, because the blood coming out of the wound started frothing, turned black, and the pig started gasping. It took almost an entire minute for it to stop moving entirely. That was a long minute. I know that everything after the blow to the head was involuntary, reflex caused by blood entering the lungs and that the pig was–technically–dead or stunned, but it was still hard to watch and hear.
Everything after that was just surgery. We cleaned off the bristles and butchered the carcass, the men removing the best cuts and organs delicately. I’m not sure how much meat we got off it in total, but it’s enough for the entire station to eat off for several weeks.
Now I’m not going into such graphic detail because I relish the gore. I’m not trying to shock anybody. And I’m certainly not trying to argue against eating meat. I am not a vegetarian. But over time, I have developed a strict philosophy regarding killing. And it’s important enough to me that I’m going to include it in a blog usually reserved for talking about snakes and griping about insects.
Killing things is wrong. I know it is wrong because doing so changes people. Mentally. Psychologically. Almost every person I’ve met who was regularly exposed to the deaths of animals—people included—developed a kind of gallows humor, a twisted attitude to make light of what they were seeing. To rationalize it. And that is fucked up. But I have seen other people look away and refuse to acknowledge the deaths that are cause by their lifestyle and diet. And this, to me, is even more fucked up.
If you choose to eat meat, you must face that animals are dying for you. End of story. If you cannot respect this, you do not deserve to eat meat. There is nothing wrong with this choice, but there is something wrong with the denial. Killing things is wrong, but carnivory is a natural process. But it is not something to be taken lightly.
I do not eat meat all the time. And whenever I get the chance, I like to be witness to the process of creating it. But I do so soberly. I take responsibility for my choice, and try to help out. If anyone is going to be preparing my meat, let it be me. Personally watching the killing and butchering—or doing it myself—helps to reinforce the truth that meat is animal. It is not an easy privilege. But it is something I feel obliged to do.
So watching a living, breathing animal with a genetically induced eating disorder turned into a weeks’ worth of food product after a morning of blood, squeals, and sharp knives, all I can say is this: