Easter Ham and the Ancient World.
When a dining companion offers you a bite of their steak so that you may “see what you’re missing” are you ever tempted to tell them that their “food” is as appealing to you as road kill? That they are eating a carcass, and the only thing you’re going to miss is having an increased risk cancer, heart disease and diabetes in the long term and suffering from indigestion and constipation in the short term. Do you want to say that eating corpses only leads to becoming one sooner yourself? Or that if you were going to choose to eat dead bodies that you would prefer to find one that died naturally so that you weren’t complicit in the slaughter of a living individual.
Okay, it’s not very diplomatic and most of us would never say those things, but you are not alone in thinking them. Almost 2000 years ago Plutarch was thinking something similar. On being asked why the Pythagoreans ate no meat he wrote:
Can you really ask what reason Pythagoras had for abstaining from flesh? For my part I rather wonder both by what accident and in what state of soul or mind the first man did so, touched his mouth to gore and brought his lips to the flesh of a dead creature, he who set forth tables of dead, stale bodies and ventured to call food and nourishment the parts that had a little before bellowed and cried, moved and lived. How could his eyes endure the slaughter when throats were slit and hides flayed and limbs torn from limb? How could his nose endure the stench? How was it that the pollution did not turn away his taste, which made contact with the sores of others and sucked juices and serums from mortal wounds?
My grandparents raised pigs and cattle. The old way. I remember getting in the pen with the pigs and visiting with them. They were quite social. But I grew up eating pork chops. It was a disconnect. Once I saw the connection the veil fell away and today I would no sooner eat bacon than I would this. Easter eggs are suffering chickens confined to battery cages (and balls of cholesterol filled with infectious bacteria) to me now, and ham is an animal that can outsmart my dog and save a young boy from drowning. As my cousin’s 4H pig did just a month before he was slaughtered.
The dogs were swimming with my cousin in the pond and panicked in the deep water. They started pawing him under. The pig saw this, figured out what was happening and swam out into the pond. He got between the dogs and my cousin, and swam to shore with my cousin holding on to him. A month later my cousin was forced to kill him because that’s how it is in the country. My cousin has never been the same since. He became a dark and brooding man and has had a difficult life.
Agribusiness giants ended up putting my grandparents and most other small pig farmers out of business years ago, but just because we don’t see them doesn’t mean that they aren’t intelligent, sensitive animals capable of heroic acts given the right opportunity. It just means we let strangers do the dirty work. Plutarch saw it coming nearly 2000 years ago.
Easter may symbolize something beautiful but it hides something very ugly.
Happy Easter? Not for the pigs and chickens.