The day I first heard the anguished squeals of a terrified pig slaughtered in the backyard of my then-fiancé’s provincial home in the Philippines, my reaction was typically American: Oh my God, I thought, Muslim terrorists are cutting off heads!
Years later, I recalled the event in a column entitled ‘Cruelly Tortured Pigs.’ “It’s difficult to explain the impact of such a sight on the tender psyche of someone for whom it is new,” I wrote. “Difficult to explain, that is, to those who literally spend their lives within earshot of the final death squeals of cruelly tortured pigs. For a delicate soul like mine, though, the experience is akin to waking up, as a character in The Godfather once did, with a bloody severed horse’s head next to him in bed.”
Years of living in Mindanao eventually tempered that reaction; I became accustomed to the not-uncommon sight of crisp, full-bodied pigs laid out on tables as traditional Filipino lechon. “The only thing missing,” I noted in the same column, “was the apple in its mouth.”
Ah, but now that typical Western reaction may be changing; cruelly tortured pigs, it seems, are coming to America. That, according to a recent article describing the first-ever Modern Homesteading Conference attended by 4,500 Americans last month in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. “At a time when obesity in the U.S. is at an all-time high,” Olivia Reingold reports in The Free Press, “these homesteaders are bucking the convenience of cheap processed foods to grow their own produce in their backyards.”
The best-attended demonstration at the two-day event: the do-it-yourself skinning and scalding of a whole pig destined for the dinner table. “A trailer yanks a hog carcass out of a bath of scalding water,” the article relates. “Yellowjackets swarm the swine, now hanging by its hooves from the raised shovel of a trailer, as a man dressed in rubber overalls reaches for his knife.”
Holy moly, is this really happening? In America, no less? My God, will wonders never cease?
If this sort of thing catches on in the country of my birth, of course, millions of Americans will have to undergo the same radical attitudinal adjustment I experienced years ago in the Philippines. For me, it culminated on my 70th birthday, which, once again, began with the gut-wrenching squeals of a doomed little piggy being carried in a sack up our driveway to its slaughter. Try as I might, I couldn’t resist following the jiggling bag all the way to the backyard where, as I watched fascinated, two neighbors unceremoniously dumped its contents onto an elevated board upon which the unfortunate animal’s screeching throat was, even less ceremoniously, slit with a large gleaming knife. There was blood flowing every which way.
And that’s when I noticed my remarkable calm.
It wasn’t exactly the calm that emanates from deep within, the kind that finds its strength in a firm belief that the universe is good and all things ultimately stem from some divine and everlasting core. No, this calm merely said, “this too shall pass, and you shall survive.” Unlike, I might add, that miserable pig. The calm that whispers a somewhat comforting message to the effect, more-or-less, that everything happens for a reason and it’s all part of life’s flow.
Here’s the main takeaway; that there’s actually some truth to our platitudes regarding life on this planet, specifically that living things are born and then they die. Pigs just do it sooner and in a more hideous fashion. And too, one might conclude, their lives—unlike ours—almost invariably serve an immediate and obvious purpose.
Now, if only my fellow Americans can get all that…
David Haldane’s latest book, A Tooth in My Popsicle, is available on Amazon and Lazada. An award-winning journalist, author, and radio broadcaster, Haldane is a former Los Angeles Times staff writer with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Gold Star Daily.