“If you want to eat meat, I believe you should be present—or, better, a participant—in the death of at least one of the animals that you eat,” writes Michael Ruhlman on his blog. His post is about a French farm that raises ducks for foie gras, but it picks up on a theme Michael covers frequently. If you’re a foodie and you’re not reading Ruhlman.com regularly, get his blog into your reading diet.
As a Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Vanuatu, I was present at the death of two animals that I would soon eat. In fact, one was a pig named Mistersugar (yes, my nickname and Twitter handle). I held down the pig while a friend put it out of its misery. We split it eight ways, I shared out seven of the pieces with my adopted family and the village chiefs, and then I cooked myself a midnight meal within an hour of Mistersugar’s death. I wrote about that (pork in plum sauce) in my blog post, It’s a pigpen.
But before the pig, there was a cow.
My father — he had been a Peace Corps volunteer, too, and his stories had inspired me to join up — came to visit me and my wife, and fellow PCV, on Paama Island along with my stepmom and one of my four brothers. After a week of hiking the island and teaching in the school and enjoying kava (a narcotic) and laplap (baked manioc) and storian (talking story), we decided to thank the five villages that we served by buying a cow. We paid the equivalent of a couple hundred dollars, and Dad named the cow Lucky.
Lucky lost its life just a few feet from the placid South Pacific. I watched at its throat was slit and blood pumped out, as its belly was cut open and its guts scooped out, and as those guts were tossed into the ocean. Ah, I thought, now I know why there’s a history of fatal shark attacks off the black sand beach that looked so inviting. Later, I watched as Lucky was hacked into pieces to be shared with Tavie, Liro, Lironessa, Asuas and Voravor, and then as Liro’s portion was further cut down into bite-sized cubes for a curry and coconut-milk stew.
After farewell speeches and gifts showered upon my family, we joined the village under the mango tree and spread out on colorful pandanus mats. With the effervescent Milky Way a bright blanket overhead, we enjoyed that stew, and more storian. This, I thought, is what it means to be lucky.