There’s a conversation I’ve been wanting to have with my wife, I didn’t know how to start it until I watched Anthony Bourdain’s episode on Columbia. His show included shots of markets with livestock roaming around in pens. Yes, these are markets where you can buy live animals, have them slaughtered or take them home to do the deed yourself.
As the family cook, I receive great joy in working with fresh wholesome ingredients. Last night I served the best butternut squash I’ve ever tasted, the first one harvested from our garden this season. The more of our food we grow, the more cooking becomes about what it should be about: me getting out of the way of the ingredients. When you’re cooking fresh, organic food from your own garden, less is almost always more.
Like most people passionate about cooking, I have a love affair with my ingredients. Its not objectification, it is not the dispassionate eye of a food scientist. Its deep adoration for the life that I am about to harvest and transform into something tasty to nourish my beloveds. I would like to raise as much of our own meat as possible, but my wife doesn’t think she could cope with me slaughtering animals that may become to her, well, family.
“I don’t know if I could kill a pig or a rabbit.”
“You won’t have to, I will.”
“I don’t know if I could let you kill a pig or a rabbit.”
The image of me sneaking out at night to do the deed flits through my mind, but does not appeal. I mean to bring my shamanic skills to this work, I mean to do it in the light of day.
Bourdain joined a rooftoop party of young people who’s lives were (until recently) completely overshadowed by the violence of drug cartels. A young chef, who escaped the short life of a drug runner by learning to cook, fed a chicken a shot of liquor and said a prayer before killing, cleaning and adding it to a witch sized cauldron of bubbling Sancocho.
“The spine of the pig must be severed at the brain before used for cooking so that the soul of the animal is in the stew,” he continued as ingredients flowed through his hands into the steaming banquet.
You could see in his eyes genuine love and appreciation for the animals he was harvesting to feed his community. The love of community, the love of ingredients, they seemed to be all wrapped up in one larger feeling. His Sancocho came from that feeling.
I know that feeling, feeding those you love something you know is not only incredibly fresh and wholesome, but transcendently sacred. You are participating in life, you are participating in spirit. You are honored to be doing such sacred work.
I want to raise our own livestock for slaughter because of my devotion to my family, my community, and the animals themselves. I want us all to have good lives. I want all of our spirits to be honored. I want to feel as good about feeding my family pork loin, as I do about feeding them butternut squash.
So here’s how my conversation needs to start:
“OK, so here’s the scoop, I need raise animals for meat so that I know what I’m cooking with has been raised with deep love and respect. I need to harvest them so that I know their deaths were good and their spirits were cared for, you know I will make sure this happens.
I need to do this not just because I want to develop a homestead that supports us all, but because I’m a cook and I have that much reverence for the mouths I feed and the lives that make it possible. Finally, this is part of my work in life, part of my desire to make the world a little bit better.”
Wish me luck and, mmmmmm Sancocho!