At the edge of a tradition (1)

‘It’s perfect weather for a killing.’ Not quite the words I expected to hear over a pre-dawn breakfast before we braved the -12 degree cold at the edge of a forest outside of Budapest on a Tuesday morning.

PigHawaiians have their pig roasts; Hungarians (and others in this part of the world) have their pig killings (disznó vágás). And an invitation to one has been high on my list of things to do for the last number of years. Given that I’m liable to faint at the sight of blood and have trouble sitting at a table with a rare steak, I was a little surprised at how fast I’ve held onto this particular bucket-list entry. So when the invitation came, I jumped at it.

The title of Damon Galgut’s memorable book The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs came to mind  unbidden, as I imagined all sorts of guts and gore and vomit-inducing antics. I was prepared for the worst. I struggled with the rights and wrongs of the tradition on the drive down and hadn’t reached any conclusions by the time we arrived. Once there, I didn’t have time to think about anything.

It was a family affair we were gatecrashing. The pig was an annual Christmas present for a couple, married for 37 years. They’d graciously agreed to let us watch.  So I parked my reservations and my righteousness and resolved to make up my mind later – when I had experienced it all first-hand.

pig2Shortly after we arrived, introductions having been made all round, and my foreignness (is that even a word?) noted with amusement, we went to kill the pig. It was all a tad surreal. Naked trees and frost-coated fences glinted pinkishly as the sun rose above the horizon. It could well have been sleep deprivation that had me fancying that the whole of nature was paying tribute to the soon-to-be-slaughtered animal but I swear the colours were strangely porcine.

Caught by the snout with a wire hoop on a handle, the pig was quickly wrestled to the ground and zapped unconscious. The squeals were pig squeals – the same I’d heard for years when filling the troughs in the piggery on my grandfather’s farm. Normal pig squeals. And then nothing. Over in a second. Throat slit, blood drained, pig dead.  Not quite what I’d imagined.

I spent a lot of my childhood playing around a slaughterhouse and while I never saw an animal being put down, I was often knee-deep in the aftermath. I remember playing hide-and-seek in the carcasses of dead cows, blowing up their bladders for footballs, and playing marbles with sheeps’ eyes. Gross. And if that didn’t turn me vegetarian, nothing will.

I don’t agree with the wanton killing of animals for fun – I can’t abide that sort of hunting; but for food, without waste, I can live with. And do live with. Does that mean that I query the origins and mode of death of every pig, cow, lamb, chicken, duck, or goose that I might enjoy? No. My conscious mind doesn’t go there. Perhaps it should. But it doesn’t. I’d like to think that they go quickly and painlessly into the good night but truth be told, I don’t even think that. I simply don’t think. And haven’t thought. Until now.