Well, not directly, but I ordered its death. Actually, my interpreter did. I’m like the Pol Pot in this equation; not murdering anyone myself but sending the orders down the ranks to do it. Joey McClatchie comes to terms with her meat habit.
I am the distanced dictator, the mafia bigwig, the subcontracting corporation.
I went to the local market (no Tesco here! Am in smalltown India) where there is a cage full of mangy-looking chickens and asked to buy one. No problem. The man behind the dirty wooden counter swatted away a hoard of flies and reached into the cage, grabbing an unfortunate chicken by the throat. A machete appeared (where did that come from?) and the chicken’s head was deftly removed in one fowl swoop (sorry). There was then the most peculiar and protracted awkwardness while we both stood and waited for the chicken to die.
I stood there, morbidly mesmerized, as the headless chicken wriggled and writhed around on the counter in front of us, its feathers gradually staining crimson with the blood. The feet-hacking came next, and the chicken was expertly removed from its skin in one aggressive motion, like pulling a sticky wet glove off a too-big hand. The guts were pulled out from the inside of the bird in a torrent of slimy, viscous, liquidy awfulness. At this point the chicken man looked at me and laughed. He must have seen the look on my face. I forced myself to watch the whole thing; I figured it was only fair if I was going to eat the chicken to see the process that goes into making it ready for consumption.
I have been a meat-eater almost all my life (save for a few unsuccessful and short-lived stints with vegetarianism in my hippie days) and I love eating meat. But I had never before seen a live animal turned into ‘meat’ in front of me. I felt slightly ill heading back to my apartment, more so when I realized the chicken I now carried in a plastic bag was still warm. A world away from the cold hard chickens in the fridges of Dunnes Stores.
I cooked the chicken at home in a combination of butter and apologies (‘sorry little fella, it’s nothing personal, sure your Da would be proud’). I was hungry enough to be excited about the prospect of eating meat after a month of lentils and rice. Unfortunately, between the poor quality of the meat and the resurrecting queasiness in my stomach, I couldn’t eat it. The meat itself was very stringy and chewy (chewy chicken?!) and my instinct was to feel awfully guilty for causing poultry murder and then not even eating the meat. I wondered was the chicken actually better off this way, rather than going slowly mad and bald in that packed cage. I can’t answer that question.
This is not a preachy tale. The lesson learned is not that eating meat is bad or that chickens shouldn’t be used as food. The lesson is that if you are living in a small town in a poor country then don’t expect good quality meat from the local chicken man. While it is good to know where your meat comes from, it is not necessarily a good idea to get a front row seat. I will be henceforth vegetarian when cooking at home during my time here. Luckily I love dahl and vegetables and am getting quite good at making the local flatbreads. When the meat cravings hit (and they will), I will take myself to one of the fancy hotels in the town and satisfy my meat lust there, keeping a large and safe distance between me and the slaughterhouse.