Me(at) and the Pigs


aving almost finished all the butchery, processing, packaging, curing and freezing of our two pigs - Ray and Kevin - whom we home-slaughtered last Wednesday, I have become aware of several things.

1. I have seen a lot of ligaments, muscles, cartilage and organs from our two pigs over the past week. Every time I see these different parts I link it straight to my own body: "Does the heart/muscle/knee joint in my body look the same as this?". Invariably the answer will be yes, or it will be at least very similar in construction. Yes, the cartilage in my joints would be the same. Yes, my heart would be made up in a similar way. And yes, my lungs, intestines, liver are probably all nearly identical to those of the pigs. It is a humbling realisation. I am a mammal, and hence I have blood, muscle, and organs just like all other mammals. If I was butchered by some other species, I would look exactly the same. So, whilst I had the power to end our pigs' lives, I do not feel all-powerful as a result. In fact, I feel smaller and more like every other mammal.

Kevin, on the left, and Ray having breakfast.

Kevin, on the left, and Ray having breakfast.

2. The strong pang of sadness that I felt in the moment when we killed our first pigs last year, was not so strong this time. However, what I was left with was the guilt of having done it. The question running through my head: Is taking another animal's life justified so that I can eat meat?

3. The further from the time when we kill a lamb or a pig, and the further down the processing line the meat is, the less connected I am to that animal as I eat it. When I cook up carbonara with our dry-cured bacon (it takes several processes to get the meat to this state), I am not constantly thinking of Penny or Bernie. However, when I was skinning and boiling up Ray or Kevin's heads, all I could think of was the two of them. Their death was, almost literally, staring back at me.

4. And lastly, I am always shocked, in a practical sense, at how easy and quick it is to take life. It is over in seconds. In fact, it could probably be measured in tenths or thousandths of a second. Life and then death. Gone. This on/off distinction is so stark. There is no slow move from life to death. It really does feel like switching off a light.

People often say “Oh no, you don't name your animals for slaughter, do you?” But, for us the relationship with our animals is at the heart of this. I could do all this more easily if I was disconnected from the animals; if I didn't allow myself awareness of their personalities and quirks; if I didn't allow myself to get in touch with my feelings about them. But, for us this is a move closer to buying meat in a supermarket. We went into this to be more connected to the process of eating meat, not to find the easier way of doing it. That said, I wonder if my desire to eat meat will eventually wain, in favour of not having to kill another animal. The jury's still out on that one.