Friday, April 19, 2013

My Thoughts on Killing

I was watching some TV with my Jupiter Angel and caught one of the shows we both like to watch. I like it because it reminds me of my own upbringing with immigrant parents and the personalities in my ex-husband's family. In the show, a redneck was cutting off the heads of and skinning several live bull frogs that he and his family had just caught. The redneck, a grandfather of a self-made "millionaire" family, was trying to impart the values to his rich grandson of living off the land. The frogs were caught by hand.

As he cut each bullfrog head off, the animal made a guttural screech and you could hear the gases in the animal evacuate as the grandfather pulled off the frog's head and skin in one swoop. The whole endeavour was done skillfully and quickly and each frog took all of maybe 5 seconds to kill and skin. I expected to see a whole lot more blood than I actually saw. The grandfather skinned at least 10 while I was watching. The scene wasn't grizzly, bloody or graphic, like a Tarantino was actually quite natural. It didn't have the gratuitous splatters of blood and guts like one would see in a game on the Xbox. The end of the show showed the large family of rednecks eating their feasts of the land and water and the meal started with a prayer.

When I was a little girl, our family used to butcher a pig for an annual feast. The whole family was involved in the excursion. My dad liked for us to be involved, because like the redneck grandfather, he wanted to impart the values of his culture. We were told to put on nice clothes (not Sunday best, but clean and neat) and we drove the 40 minutes in our family station wagon to a local farm. Since I was the youngest, I got the seat in the very back that faced the opposite direction. My dad picked the best he could buy and my brothers got to chase it and catch it. My father showed each brother how to kill it quickly, safely and with respect. I was told I was too little to learn how to kill the pig because the beast would probably hurt me in the process of trying to survive. I did not complain. The pig would always scream beforehand and his death would usually be following by the evacuation of some urine or feces. There were no whoops or hollers after we killed the pig, the whole family would just kind of solemnly leave the farm... tired from the trip and very much wanting a shower. Though I didn't do the killing, I shared my backwards facing seat with the dead pig.

My dad, like the redneck grandpa, skillfully cut up the animal using knives he painstakingly sharpened to surgical precision. He roasted the entire body on a deep pit barbecue he made himself in the backyard. The pig was roasted with herbs and vegetables from our garden. I remember making this structure with him with bricks and mortar and the experience is one of the reasons why I always liked building stuff and became an engineer. My dad always encouraged me to do non-girly stuff and though he had only a third grade education, the lessons were very much a way he could teach me stuff, spend time with me and enrich my experiences. Roast pig tastes differently when you flavor it with your own home grown veggies/spices, in a barbecue made by yourself and by a means that have been done passed on for generations.. All of your own intent is put into the meal and all was done with great respect and reverence for the sacrifice that was made.

Life should not be a waste. The Life and Work put into taking a Life are offerings.

My family was taught never to waste a single part of the pig and we ate parts that most people see as gross. We used all parts out of respect to the pig, the effort it took to kill it, cook it and the money it cost to procure it. My gentile mom's favorite was always the knuckles, she like the soft meat between the grisly crunchy parts and she would delicately suck out all of the marrow from the bones. We even used the blood for a stew that my dad would meticulously collect. My dad always told me that the blood will make me strong and to this day, I still enjoy the blood stew dish when I am feeling weak and missing my dad. My family was not overweight as a result of our eating habits because the same amount of calories that was consumed were the same as the amount of calories required to procure and cook it.

As an aside, the neighborhood kids were always hesitant about coming over to play at my house. Even decades ago, the neighborhood felt our annual ritual killing was strange, barbaric and slightly "witchy" or "head-hunter"-ish. I found out that many of the little kids were afraid of my very quiet father and were afraid he would come after them with a machete and hide their dead bodies in our garden. This rumor was not a very good one to have when I was a dating teenager.

When I was married, my ex-husband liked to fish... A LOT... He loved to fish so much, I allowed him a fishing excursion in the waters north of the San Francisco Bay (Bolimas) as part of our honeymoon. Though my dad never taught me to fish (he was legally blind by the time I was eight), I realized I had quite a talent for it. I used to piss my ex off all of the time because my bucket would always be filled and his would be paltry.

My first experience with gutting a fish was not with the same respect and reverence my family used to observe in our ritual pig killing. It was done at the side of the canal upon the dirt road. My ex husband screamed at me to do it with a heavy smell of whiskey on his breath. I resisted since it did not seem right to kill the fish in such a disrespectful manner and the most unclean situation. He said to me, "that's part of being a fisherman, you gotta get the blood and dirt on you". He laughed at me and the fish the whole time while I struggled with its slippery and gyrating body with an un-sharpened knife. The blood of the fish was gushing and spilling all over the ground. He was still very much alive though his entrails were hanging out. He refused to show me the proper manner to gut a fish. I pleaded with my ex that the animal was suffering because I could not kill it swiftly and skillfully enough. After about 10 minutes of observing the fish and my pain, my ex took his bowie knife and stabbed it in the head and threw it back in the canal. I cried the whole way home that someone would be so cruel.

When I was married, we also raised rabbits for a short while. My ex husband made a hutch that was too small for the amount of rabbits he wanted to raise. Though I protested, he did it anyway. In my experience, I realized what happens to animals if you don't raise them in the best conditions, they become a little crazy about survival in general. I stopped raising the rabbits shortly after I realized the mama bunny was eating her young, not the entire body, just their heads. She would escape, pull her babies out of the hutch, kill them and leave a trail of blood and bodies all the way back to the hutch. It was extremely horrifying. My ex killed the rabbit the night of my discovery and he said it was the most scrawny and worse piece of rabbit he ever had. He got sick shortly thereafter from the meal.

I was lucky to have these experiences. It gave me a respect for Life that few people in our modern technological world have. Meat in the modern world comes from the supermarket and the meat comes neatly packaged and tidy. No skill, no sweat, no toil, very little blood, and no trauma for the consumer. Sometimes that meat is entirely unidentifiable and comes in a 6,12 or 24 pack from a long five minute wait in the drive-through with a choice of 10 types of pre-packaged sauces.... Tastes like chicken?

My point of this post is that sacrifice and spilling blood should start with the process of knowing, understanding and seeing what is involved. Then, the sacrifice should be done in a respectful and skillful manner so as to minimize the pain and suffering. I am uncertain whether most people in our modern world are adept at being able to do this or have access to people who know how.


HilbertAstronaut said...

I regret i never had a chance to do just that, even though we raised hogs and cattle when i was growing up. I am glad at least that i got to see and participate in the whole process.

PhoenixAngel said...

I agree HilbertAstronaut, very much so. I think when we raise animals, we understand our duties and responsibility to our Mother Earth and to an extent, the experience brings out our humanity