Saturday, September 24, 2011

Eating Meat

One of the things about living in rural China is that you are constantly aware of what exactly the meat that you eat is. You see pigs being taken to market, you see the raw cuts of meat on the side of the street, today I saw a rabbit being skinned, and it's a part of everyday conversation. I got invited over to dinner at a friend's house, and he told me that he was going to kill a chicken for me. It was a tasty chicken, but there's a certain lack of separation that I'm used to in the states.

Today I had lunch with two of my students, and we were eating in this courtyard staring straight at the pig pen (that was also in the courtyard). It was an odd experience looking at the animal whose fellow you're currently eating playing in its pen and knowing that pretty soon it'll get eaten too. My friend, a vegetarian, was walking around her school, and made friends with a donkey. A few hours later, she saw the donkey's head sitting in the refuse pile.

Graphic story time. Seriously. Do not high-light this if you want to remain happy for the rest of your day. Some of the second year fellows were walking along when they saw a cute little puppy, so they stopped to play with it. One of them decided that this puppy was so cute that she wanted to take it home with her and keep it as a pet. So, they told the owner of this dog that they wanted it. The owner says OK, and says, "just wait a sec." He then heads inside. They assume he's going to grab dog food or a leash or something. He comes out about 5 minutes later with a platter of raw meat. They decide not to pay him for the puppy. 

Another fellow, also a vegetarian, ran into a field because she saw a cow and wanted to go say hi and get a closer look. She gets close, and the cow gets its throat cut. She freaks out, starts screaming, sobbing, and puking everywhere. So there's blood, vomit, tears, and a crowd of very bemused Chinese people wondering what the crazy foreign lady is going on about. 

Anyways, all this tends to make you much more aware of where the food you're eating is coming from, which while disconcerting, I think is in general a good thing, and something that people tend to forget when just buying a hunk of meat at the grocery store or biting into a hamburger at a restaurant.


  1. On cigarette smoking in China:

    Here's an article on how smoking is more prevalent in Yunnan (where I'm stationed) because of the tobacco industry.

    Here's another interesting article. If you're at a school and have access to a database, take a look at this:
    Tobacco as a Social Currency: Cigarette Gifting and Sharing in China
    Zachary C. Rich, A.B. and Shuiyuan Xiao, M.D., Ph.D.

    1. Hi Will, I have been enjoying your blog this year and living vicariously through it. When I saw this article came out it reminded me of your interest in smoking in China before. Happy Spring Festival!

      Cigarette Sharing and Gifting in Rural China: A Focus Group Study
      Mi Hu, Zachary C. Rich, Dan Luo, and Shuiyuan Xiao.

  2. It's tricky not being a vegetarian when there's an option, since we all have empathy. To eat meat, I rely on the nonsense of Taboo. My taboos include: animals I've met; animals with a personal name; my pets and the relatives of same; plus, always, horses. Which would include the donkey your friend was petting. Anything Equus is sacred, and to eat one would make you have to do some rite to get rid of the sin. On the other hand, necessity is the mother of not starving to death.

  3. Is there a hunting culture in Yunnan at all, or does all of the meat come from domesticated animals?

  4. it's all domesticated animals. well, people go frog hunting. and there's eel hunting further south (you go out into a rice field with an electrified stick hooked up to a car battery and shock them) but I don't know if you would really consider that hunting.

  5. and I've already had a lot of donkey. it's a pretty common meat around here, but I also had it in beijing.

    one of my friends just ate dog the other day, and he said it was actually pretty good.

  6. Not saying anything about dogs or donkeys or what the Chinese or the French eat. Except that Donut and all the little round Morgans down the street, especially our Shadow, are OFF THE TABLE.

    Your great-grandmother used to go Frog Gigging, as I understand it.

  7. Just read the tobacco article. Interesting!