Many people say that the best way to pay homage to an animal that you plan to consume is to understand and appreciate its life cycle (from birth to free grazing farm to supermarket). There is a prevalent belief that those of us eating meat without a full understanding of where it originated is not only ignorant, but sacrilege. Some even go so far as to assert that one must be a participant in the slaughtering of the animal to truly honor the life of the animal that they are about to eat. I can’t say that I ever paid much attention to any of these concepts and probably made more of an effort to avoid having this knowledge for the majority of my life. Now, living in Nicaragua, this concept is much more real. More often than not, the meat we eat is no longer from Arkansas (Tyson), but is from our neighbor’s front yard…literally.
The other day, I came home from Managua on a sunny afternoon to find a slaughtered baby pig hanging from a tree in our driveway. This was no religious sacrifice, but preparation for a party to be hosted by my landlord later in the week. I had the train-wreck syndrome; I was equally horrified and curious and couldn’t decide whether to stay and stare or run into the house. I chose the latter only to be confronted by Wilbur at the party a few days later. That evening, Justin feasted on the piglet, while I stuck to the homemade bread and marmalade. Ironically, I also ate some bacon wrapped dates, but somehow, this felt less abusive than eating the pig direct from the carcass. A 4 year old at the party grilled the host on why he had killed the pig. To placate the poor girl, he described an elaborate story in which he came upon a suffering pig along the side of the road and after a failed attempt to revive the pig with CPR, it passed away peacefully – then he cooked it. She walked away semi-content with the reponse. The 32 year old inside me felt a little better, too.
More and more, I have struggled with the concept of dining on the chickens that I valiantly try to avoid hitting with my car as I drive home each evening. I am mildly excited when someone on our sailing trip catches a fish, but the moment it is reeled in, I move to the other end of the boat. I can’t handle being the metaphorical fish out of water. Try watching the real thing. It’s difficult having items from my grocery list as neighbors.
So, am I making the natural transition to vegetarianism? Is this how it all begins? Eating meat directly off the bone has always made me feel a bit cannibalistic. But more recently, I have found myself hesitating with chicken breasts, fish filets, and hamburgers. Perhaps it has something to do with the winding pastoral landscapes complete with grazing cows and lamb (chops). The first trimester of my pregnancy didn’t help, as a slight discomfort with certain meat turned into an all out chicken aversion for three months. For whatever hormonal reason, the very thought of eating chicken could make me gag.
I attempted vegetarianism once in my life. After a summer away at sleepover camp, I came home to my parents and proudly proclaimed my new vegetarian status. My parents smiled and commended my efforts and promptly turned their backs to share a questioning glance that asked, “how long will THIS phase last?” Not long. I struggled to justify my new-found vegetarianism to friends and neighbors and most importantly, to myself. Had I really adopted this new diet for reasons beyond the fact that it’s what the cool kids were doing? Two weeks later, I was sinking my teeth into juicy burgers at the neighborhood party.
As a “mature” adult, I’m still not so sure that I’m ready for the vegetarian commitment. It’s an even more difficult feat to achieve here in Nicaragua. Though the country is poor and the diet subsists primarily on rice and beans, Nicaragua is still a meat country at heart. Just count the number of fritangas (chicken ladies) in the street every evening around supper time, cooking up chicken, pork, and beef on their outdoor grills for a few cordobas.
An Irishman, Justin has meat and potatoes in his genetic makeup. He would never make the transition with me. And, if we ever moved back to the States and I had a little distance between myself and the local farm, will the plight of Bessie and Nemo become but distant memories?
For now, with a baby on the way in need of a well-balanced diet (which I don’t have the knowledge to provide sans meat), I won’t make any drastic changes. But rest assured, it’s only going to get harder.