"If you would take a man's life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die."Lord Eddard Stark
in A Game of Thrones
by George R. R. Martin
I feel compelled to warn anyone who have started reading this post of mine that it contains a series of rather disturbing photographs which may, depending on your constitution, either render you into a traumatised gibbering idiot or leave you feeling slightly bored, or anywhere in between the two - because I'm just nice that way.
While we were out trekking through the Thar desert during our brief 3 day stay in Jaisalmer, the question of vittles was one deserving of some concern because as everybody can imagine, food wasn't exactly freely available in some restaurant right behind the next dune in the middle of acres and acres of sandy nowhere. At the start of the journey, our camel guide presented us with the options of either a plain vegan meal of chapati and dhal, or a hearty dinner of also chapati and dhal but with the accompaniment of meat, glorious meat. There was no toss between the two. Mutton won, hands down.
Okay, a few of us objected to the majority opinion and choice though. Dhivya was on a strict vegetarian throughout the trip in mourning for her grandmother, so yeah - she wanted out. Two other girls followed suit but for entirely different reasons altogether.
You see, the star of our evening meal, a skinny black young goat, would be slaughtered on the spot for that purpose. I can imagine that carrying a haunch of meat on the back of a camel through the deadly Indian desert for hours on end could scarcely be beneficial for its freshness or flavour. I can imagine that the insta-kill bit could kind of cast a grim light on one's dinner plate for those in possession of delicate sensibilities.
That's the question; can you watch an animal being butchered before your eyes and then partake in the enjoyment of its flesh?
I have never in my life watched the killing of any animal I ate but I have always wished to - though not for some sick, sadistic reason, as some of you might already have started postulating. My want was birthed from my sense of responsibility. I felt as if I owe it to myself - and to the poor animals I've been devouring remorselessly all through my life - to see this through. I wanted to feel the impact of my dietary choices and witness the consequences of my preferred lifestyle. I wanted to see just how wrong it was. I wanted to see if it was wrong at all.
I am a Buddhist and I know that in Buddhism, all life is held sacred. There is no distinction between the value of a human life and that of other creatures, no matter how lowly we may think they are. The first Buddhist precept as clearly described by the Pali Canon is one in observation of the abstinence of taking life - any life at all. Eating meat quite directly causes the death of a living thing, and is an evident breach of that precept.
This is where things get dilemmatic for me. You see, I am quite the humanist as well, and I set great store by the dictations of my conscience and rationality.
The goat was held down while its neck was slit open with a rather tiny knife. It reminded me of those terrorist hostage videos. It was kicking quite violently.
Eating other animals is adherent to the natural order of things. I believe that humans are omnivorous, and I have very good reasons to think so.
One of it is that the versatility of our diet indirectly put us at the pinnacle of evolution. The success of our species depended us not being picky. Listen closely; we won't be the dominant species of this planet today had our cave ancestors been vegans. Follow the link to an old post of mine and read up.
Another reason why I consider it natural for us to eat meat is how our sense of taste is wired. Everyone knows the four primary taste sensations of sweet, salty sour and bitter but what a lot of people isn't aware of is the fifth taste which has been common knowledge in the scientific community for the past 100 years. It's known by the unlikely name of umami, the Japanese word which can be unwieldily described in English as "meatiness" or "savouriness". This is something I learnt in a Physiology lecture in my first year in medical school. Before then, I have never even heard of this word.
So get your facts straight. There's are FIVE basic flavours. And while I'm at it, spicy isn't a flavour, as generally opined. Try rubbing chili sauce on your skin and you can feel the spiciness there too.
Umami is the basically the taste of natural amino acids, glutamic acids and glutamates common in protein rich food such as meat, cheese, broth and stock, and it is the reason why these things taste so hearty, wholesome and satisfying. The invention of MSG, or monosodium glutamate (or Ajinomoto, for those seriously scientifically retarded) is based solely on this principle. That's why it's so addictive and popular. It made everything taste meaty.
Yes, we love the taste of meat. Our brain and tongue is hardwired to enjoy it.
From a moralistic point of view, I consider the consumption of meat to be divorced from ethics. It's food, quite simply put and we're programmed to like it. I applaud the initiative and commitment of vegetarians but I don't think eating animals to be wrong either. I'm only following our nature.
The only time the question of ethics even come into this at all, I think, is the treatment and slaughter of the animals we eat. I set myself vehemently against cruel practices like eating shark-fin soup (fuck barbaric New Year traditions). I saw footages of how the fishermen strung up sharks they caught, slicing their fins off and then dumping the poor creature back into the water to drown - yes, sharks drown if they can't swim. There's no way this practice can be justified in anyway. If I hear that stupid, lame-brained argument about how sharks also kill and eat human beings one more time, I swear I'll start poking holes in people with very sharp things. More sharks are killed every year either for their fins or accidentally from being trapped in fishing nets than there are fatal accidents involving sharks attack on humans.
Shit wait, cars kill waaay more humans per year than sharks. Start eating cars, dipshits.
I believe in a quick death with the animal subjected to as little pain as possible, and an efficient avoidance of wastage.
Call me unnecessarily judgmental but I consider the act of temporarily abstaining from meat just because one has to witness the slaughtering of the animal - while at other times, blissfully attacking meat like dinosaurs just because it came all cooked, garnished and unrecognisable - to have more than a shade of hypocrisy in it. What's the fucking difference? Did the beef patties that came with their Big Mac grew on burger trees? Do they think that the chicken meat from KFC was synthesised in factories?
I think people whose appetite can be affected by watching the animal being killed ought to just quit meat for good if they can't handle the consequences and responsibility of their own actions and choices.
Just a thought.
I sat through the entire process till the pitiful bleating of the goat stopped - which didn't take too long - and stayed till they have half-flayed the poor thing, carefully documenting each step of the process with my camera. I myself have personally helped to flay human bodies before in my first year in the dissection hall and I found that I am perfectly capable of rationalising that the cadavers I was working on were just hunks of meat (which is true, once you get down to it). That, however, was different because they were already dead to begin with.
The goat, on the other hand, was very recently alive and kicking, and kicking, and kicking...
I can tell you that after seeing myself through the ordeal, my view on meat changed subtly. I didn't develop an aversion to it, thankfully, but I believe that I became a little less ignorant. It's like I mastered my actions on a whole new level. I now know precisely what I'm doing every time I pop some animal's body part into my mouth. Some people just can't handle that.
One of our guides started us on an appetiser; unmarinated chopped liver dropped straight into the embers of our campfire. He let it roast for a bit while turning it intermittently with a stick so it would cook evenly. After that, he dipped his fingers straight into the heart of the fire and pulled the pieces of liver out one by one, dropping them into our hands and asking us to eat them. I really hated the taste of liver because of its texture but for some reason, the one I ate that evening seriously kicked ass. Maybe because since it was barbecued, it was felt firmer and did not have the liver-ness I abhor.
The mutton took a long time to stew and it was already very late by the time it was ready. I think that the camel guide guy didn't even add a single of grain of salt into it but in spite of that, it was actually quite good! The only catch was tat we have to eat it with our fingers. That wasn't a problem for me, though. I grew up in a governmental primary school and I eat as skillfully as any Indian or Malay with my hands.
So yeah, that's all. And I apologise to anyone (excepting shark-fin-eating-sadists) whom I have offended with this post. Given I'm not very sincere about it though but hey, at least I tried.
P.S. If you ever find yourself out there in the Thar and ordered mutton as well, don't go for barbecue or roast. Some of our classmates in another backpacking group had that and they unanimously decided that that sucked.
P.P.S. I know I damn city kid-lah. Don't laugh.
Enjoying what he eats,
k0k s3n w4i