Sometimes things don't go as planned – and those moments often make for the best stories. Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their wild adventures from the road.
'In honour of your visit, we're going to kill four pigs tomorrow," announces my host at a farm deep in the jungles of Belize. Without thinking clearly I ask, "Can I do one?"
Two days later, that's how I end up with a boning knife in my hand. It's the kind of knife I've used hundreds of times to take apart chickens, bone fish or score pork belly. Under the present circumstances, I'm both comforted and horrified by its presence.
I'm about to slaughter my first pig. I've built my career around food and eating and have always felt that carnivores should be willing to kill what they eat. This is not a particularly large pig, about 11 kilograms, but standing here holding this knife in my hand, things are getting very, very real.
I walk with Roberto, the farmer in charge, to a clearing where a fire burns and water is set to boil. There's a screened-in shed with a workbench and hose out front. About 90 metres away is a small pen containing four pigs munching on slop. The separation between the shed and the pen is to make sure the pigs don't see or hear the slaughter.
Oscar, another farm hand, climbs into the pen and the pigs squeal and run around. He scoops one up and we carry it back toward the bench. Roberto and Oscar lay the pig down on its side. I hold its back legs and we wash it, rubbing off any dirt. The pig struggles and squeals a bit. Roberto gently but firmly pulls its head back to expose the neck. The pig stops struggling.
"You hold the knife here," Roberto says, pointing the blade just above the trachea. "You go in about three inches [7.6 centimetres] and down. You want to sever the vein." I hold the animal while Roberto demonstrates.
Oscar returns with another pig and it's my turn.
I tighten my grip on the knife. "This is happening all over the world, to millions of pigs every day," I think. Also, "Don't mess this up." The knife plunges in smoothly, without resistance. There isn't much struggling and, to my immense relief, no squealing. I've made a clean cut. The pig dies. I'm left feeling very present and a bit raw. There's sadness, but also relief and gratitude – to the animal, to the farmers and simply because it went well.
We pour boiling water over the hides and scrape off the outer layer of skin and hair. We slice the carcass from snout to tail and take out the glistening innards, each an ingredient in a local delicacy. Nothing goes to waste.
My pig is brought back to the kitchen where it's marinated in orange juice, garlic, achiote paste and onions. The next day it's roasted and served as part of a feast. My host makes a toast and explains that this was the pig I killed. I stand and raise my glass: "To the pig!"
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