Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ngibalale inkhukhu

RMH - 7/9/2011

I have blood on my hands. Literally. As many of you know I have been a vegetarian for the past five years of my life. Some of you know the story as to why I made this decision like the back of your hand. I can recall your eyes rolling as I would re-hash it over and over again at parties, dinners and other social events in response to the inevitable question of why I became a vegetarian. The question of why I became a vegetarian is much less exciting than why I stopped being a vegetarian.

One of the reasons why I stopped being a vegetarian was completely logistical. I couldn’t imagine explaining to my host-family in my extremely limited SiSwati that in my country we have the luxury of choosing our diets and what soy/gluten based alternatives to use to supplement the existential longing of having a protein as part of a full and balanced diet. I just didn’t feel like full integration meant opting out of a very important part of Swazi culture. Seriously important, livestock is a direct expression of livelihood and status among Swazis.

The main philosophical/spiritual/political/environmental thrust behind the decision to eat meat comes from the fact that (I thought) eating meat in Swaziland would not come with the same philosophical/spiritual/political/environmental baggage that eating meat in the States brings with it. For the most part I was right, most of the meat is raised locally on the homestead, and if not on the homestead at least 200 or so miles from the purchase point.

I believe deeply that every creature on earth is a sentient being worthy of our acknowledgement and respect. The act of taking another life for your own sustenance has long been viewed as a one-to-one transferal from life to life that came along with the appropriate reverence and respect for that transaction. Most indigenous peoples have built communal and spiritual practices built on this reverence for life. My unique sect of Christianity teaches a similar doctrine, that every life is sacred and that meat should only be eaten in moderation (in times of famine or winter specifically, a sadly overlooked tenant) and with thanksgiving. With the advent of industrialized agriculture in Western culture, we have seen that one-for-one transference eroded to a commodity-based transaction where the life of an animal is reduced to how cheap you can get it at the super market. Not only does this harm our overall spiritual worldview, but also it has consolidated mass amounts of capitol in the hands of the few corporations whose only objective is to acquire more capitol. This drive for the bottom line has introduced horrendous, institutionalized and wholesale disregard for the life and well being of the animal as well as a mind-boggling amount of chemicals, steroids and antibiotics required to keep an animal alive in such squalid and hellish conditions. The environmental considerations of converting most of our pasturelands to feed lots, most of our nation’s corn harvest to feed and shipping meat from slaughterhouses in Ohio to Whole Foods in California are staggering to say the least.

This separation from the process of growing, feeding and slaughter to brightly wrapped, pink meat-product in your chain grocer’s “butcher” section allows us to eat meat without even considering the animal it came from (in some products like hot dogs this rings even more true). So, that is why I felt like I had to kill a chicken. If I am going to continue eating meat I needed to know what it felt like to take a life. And so I did.

MDuduzi and I selected a chicken that was old, no chicks and past egg laying age. He held it by its feet and wings. It lay prone and motionless. I said a little prayer of thanksgiving, audibly thanked the Chicken for its life and then took a knife to its trachea and with about 30 seconds of sawing I cut through its neck. It flapped its wings for a few seconds, and then with all its life expelled in a glinting flash of red, it was over.

It was over. I didn’t feel any sort of sorrow or regret. I was nervous, but that eventually gave way to focus on the task at hand. I really didn’t feel anything. Comfortably numb is a good way to describe it. If you have ever carved a turkey it is not much of a different experience.

Killing something (or witnessing something being killed) and then eating it is a necessary experience if you are comfortable making the decision to eat meat. If the process horrifies you, or fills you with an overwhelming amount of pathos, maybe you should reconsider your decision to eat meat. Industrialized agriculture is ubiquitously evil, but there is a better way. Look for ways to buy and eat locally from local farmers and ranchers. Farmers markets and food co-ops are great places to start. If these are not available to you, remember, you can always opt out entirely. It is incredibly easy.