When I was four years old I accidentally witnessed a pig being slaughtered. I lived in a very rural community where family farming was the norm. My family partook of a rather docile style of farming, namely raspberries and enough laying hens to supply my family of five with eggs. My father’s friend raised pigs, though, and when it came time to “meet their reward” my dad, like any good friend in our community, spent the day helping.
My brother and sister and I were playing in a field several hundred yards away, doing whatever it is that kids do at that age to entertain themselves. It was there that I heard the screams. I could see through the slatted fence boards a pool of blood that had gathered into a shallow puddle. I never actually saw a pig being killed – no pistol to the skull, no machete to the neck. But hearing it was enough and it affected me profoundly.
I chose to eat less meat at the dinner table, instead finishing off my vegetables first and simply picking at the cutlet on my plate – probably much to the delight of my mother who was otherwise occupied shoving broccoli florets down my siblings' throats. I found it difficult to walk by meat counters at the grocery store, knowing that it was a living being’s flesh neatly carved up and on display like some grotesque art project.
As I got older I could only eat meat if I didn’t think about it. Fried chicken was fried chicken – that is, until I started thinking about the pastel yellow, downy feathered chicks that pecked about our yard. I’d muddle through disassociated terms like “drumstick” and “rump roast” and remember that those were legs and butts and I was gnawing on something’s bones. I’d instantly become nauseous and be unable to finish my meal.
I didn’t want to give up meat entirely; it was delicious. I didn’t eat to live, I lived to eat and meat was a part of my life just as much as any other American’s. The smell of smoky bacon tickling my nostrils on a Saturday morning, chowing down on a pile of buffalo wings on Superbowl Sunday, or a fork-tender pot roast to chase the chill from my bones on a lazy winter evening.