At the beginning of block four, about twelve of us began a class titled “Meat” without any idea of what we were actually getting into. On the first day questions were raised about the purpose or intentions of the class: “Is this course going to make me a vegetarian?”, “Is this class going to make Meat eaters feel guilty?”, “Are we going to eat meat in this class?”, etc. Whether it be relevant or not, only two students in the class were vegetarian. Throughout the first few lessons we talked a lot about our own experience with meat, views on meat within religion, morals and ethics around meat, the meat industry, and meat generally. We also began talking about the meat around us at Green School. We learned about the animals we have available to us on campus, focusing closely on one in particular.
At the time, Green School had seven pigs living down by the river. We were told that one could belong to our class. We were also told that in the coming week we would witness and take part in the slaughter and preparation of this pig. We chose the smaller pig because we did not want any meat to go to waste. The pig was six months old, which is a minimum age for the slaughter of pigs.
It was interesting to watch the individual students reactions to the idea of slaughtering the pig. As we sat in class discussing what would soon unfold, the response ranged from silence, to over confident behaviour. A few people in the class, including myself, had witnessed the slaughter of an animal before, however, many had not. It is again interesting to notice how different people responded when we were discussing what would unfold, possibly concealing fear or discomfort around the idea of witnessing death.
So the day finally came, and we all assembled at 8:15 on Friday around the kitchen area at school. As I approached the kitchen I noticed that the small pig had already been tied up, prepared for slaughter. I don’t think many of us had really thought about how we would feel when actually confronted with death. The past experience I had with slaughter did not ease the discomfort. I noticed that only men surrounded the pig, while Ibu Kadek explained the process. We learned that the slaughter process is traditionally carried out by the men, and the women then take on the job of preparing and cooking the meat. As the men prepared for the slaughter, we were told that the pig had been tied up since four in the afternoon the day before. Sixteen hours the poor young pig had been carrying the discomfort and fear of it’s fate. I couldn’t help but imagine the intensity of such fear, the slaughter of animals began to feel so wrong, so horrible.
Just when I was beginning to criticise my own consumption of meat and the unethical qualities of slaughter itself, Ibu Kadek began to chant the prayer. We all chanted together to pay respect to the pig. She then explained how the spirit would take the form of a much higher being or existence after slaughter. The Balinese culture view slaughter as a blessing in this sense. The pig became higher than the human. Similarly, when I witnessed the slaughter of cows in a local factory in Gianyar, a priest blessed each cow with holy water to release it’s spirit from the physical body; they then weren’t really killing the cows, just the bodies that held them.
In the western world society sticks to a hierarchy in which animals are always lower. When it comes to slaughter, the animal is viewed as meat, not a living thing, making the process more excusable. Movie’s like Food Inc really made me realise how the meat industry in the western world is so much about power and money. Pure corruption. In Bali, the whole animal is utilised. The bones for seasoning, the blood for Lawak (Balinese vegetable stew), the organs to eat and for medicine, etc.
The slaughter itself was much slower than any of us had expected. Pak Ketut pierced the the jugular of the pig and slowly let it bleed out. He would ease the knife into it’s throat to release more and more blood. He said he moved slow in order to allow the heart to pump blood around the whole body so that the majority could drain out. Pak Wayan was also stroking the pig while the slaughter was carried out. You could see the appreciation and respect they had for the animal, completely antithetical to the approach the western world takes.
I began to think about my view on meat: why I eat it, why I wouldn’t eat it, if eating meat was good or bad. The treatment of animals in certain meat industries around the world is a reason for me to stop eating meat. The treatment of animals here in Bali made me appreciate meat. I feel that it is not about eating or not eating meat. Instead the focus should be on where and how the meat is produced, to then make the greater decision.
It was amazing to see everyone help skin, butcher, prepare, and cook the pig. We had witnessed its life and it’s death, and we recognised that through the entire process. This animal had a life. This animal is now dead. I believe that the intimacy we experienced throughout the slaughter was the reason every non-vegetarian in the class was able to sit down together and eat the pig in the end.
I feel that the experience we all had developed our individual views on the meat industry, while also opening our minds to the larger experience and reality of life and death.