I don’t know if it was intentional, but every summer on my grandparents’ farm, my siblings and I learned A Lesson. Theirs was a working farm with all kinds of animals and fruits and vegetables grown right on the property. Pretty much everything we ate came from the area around the house with a few big exceptions like rice and pasta.
One year, we were all called down into a room on the ground floor of the house. Normally, this room was used for sorting and shucking corn that was going to be milled for animal feed in the electric grinder that took up about a fourth of the space. (When the machine was on, the whole house would vibrate which made it seem like we were living in a place that was alive.)
This time, one of the big hogs was in the room. What proceeded to happen was that some of the regular field hands and our housekeeper/cook butchered the pig right in front of us. Normally, I think the animals were taken to an abattoir for killing and then the pieces were brought back and stored in a room just around the corner from where we were now. But this time, we were definitely going to Learn.
What can I tell you about the experience that you can’t imagine yourself? The sound was pretty horrible, but any creature screaming is unpleasant*. The door to the room was closed tight to prevent the dogs from coming in, but they were howling and clawing, trying to get in and it was all so… feral. The air was thick with blood – that’s what I remember most about that day. It was almost like a crimson filter had been put over my eyes. Red. All shades of red. Everything tasted red.
No one threw up, but no one had fun either. It was something that we never talked about afterwards, amongst ourselves or with our parents or with our grandparents. It was just a thing that happened which we refer to sometimes. “God, do you remember that time in Spain with the pig?”
What’s interesting (to me) is how different people process the same experience. I was probably around six at the time and I wasn’t bothered by any moral questions vis-à-vis whether it was right to kill the pig. I knew that we ate pork and I knew that pork was pig and I knew that I fed the pigs all the organic waste from our kitchen and that was why they tasted good. And now I knew where all the cuts of pork came from on a pig. That was my Lesson, and I think it was a good one.
My sister reacted in the opposite way, by becoming a vegetarian for decades. She was disgusted by what she saw and thought it was cruel, both to kill the pig in such a manner and to make us kids watch. All the time she refused to eat meat I thought she was being foolish. Animals raised to be eaten are meant to be eaten. It’s not like, had it not been for my cruel grandparents, the pig would have had a long and glorious life filled with introspection and wonderment. He would have scavenged and shat in the woods instead of being hand delivered tasty morsels every day in a nice big pen all for him and his buddies. And it’s not like any of the animals were killed for sport; every part was eaten or used. Rural life is all about reduce, reuse, recycle.
I thought of The Pig Lesson recently when I heard (Internet) rumblings about a global bacon shortage. And that got me thinking of this video which has, over the months, weirdly become one of my favorite things. I say “Boom! PIG!” to myself all the time now and hope that by further disseminating it, I’ll prompt others to do so as well.
*The pig was “screaming” because he didn’t know what was going on, not because he was scared. I am certain of this because he’d make the same sound when he got his head stuck somewhere and couldn’t get out. The sound was probably a defense mechanism meant to warn off predators (“I am fierce, hear my cry!”) and had nothing to do with actual self-awareness.