Most Dutch meat eaters (and not just them!) would become instant vegetarians, had they have to do the killing personally. I try not to be too much of a hypocrite. That is why I only eat what I can kill myself.
The headless fowl kept twitching for what seemed to be at least ten minutes. As I was holding the brown chicken’s wings all kinds of thoughts ran though my head. How warm the animal I had just killed still was. How the blood did not gush as generously as I had expected. Also I noticed the trousers and t-shirt I was wearing had the colour of dried blood. All the time I was holding the chicken to the ground in the hole my friend just dug to bury its blood in. Finally the bird’s carcass stopped jerking. This Saturday at 1600 hours I saw maybe the biggest transformation this new country of mine has brought onto me. After not having had meat since I was nineteen, I killed, prepared and ate a chicken. I am a fishtarian no longer.
In a country of fervent carnivores like Nigeria, where suya is comfort food number one and even vegetable stews usually contain at least some shreds of meat or fish, vegetarianism is a hard phenomenon to explain. You can try, but soon enough eyes will glaze over as the listener sinks his teeth into a juicy chicken drumstick or a piece of roasted ram’s meat. At worst you will get the dismissive ‘another one of those silly oyinbo frivolities’-look.
It is true that being able to choose what you eat or do not eat, is a luxury. Lots of people don’t have a choice but to be happy there is food at all. I also understand that to many Nigerians, in a context of systematic daily violations of human rights, animal rights activism is utterly incomprehensible.
But that is no reason to take for granted what ends up on your plate.
I am not against killing animals for food. It is the natural order. But how many people these days would be actually capable of killing for their hamburgers themselves? In Western supermarkets, meat comes in neat pink squares in green boxes covered with cellophane. No blood, no fur, no paws. It looks like a little present and does not refer in any way to the creature that has been slaughtered for it. Most Dutch meat eaters (and not just them!) would become instant vegetarians, had they have to do the killing personally. I try not to be too much of a hypocrite. That is why I only eat what I can kill myself.
Up till Saturday 1600 hours, all I had slaughtered in my life were fish. Never a cow or a goat, or a chicken. Did not have the guts, the opportunity or the need for it. But after three Nigerian months filled with fish pepper soup, fish stew, roasted fish, catfish and chips (and moinmoin), I started craving for something else on the menu. And as you trip over a chicken any way you turn in Nigeria, I figured this would be my wisest choice. After all: how hard can it be to kill a chicken?
When my Nigerian friend brought in the healthy looking chicken from the market, I did not have second thoughts. My friend immediately started giving the bird names like Pearl and Asabe, but I resisted that reflex – even if I have a habit of naming things up till my car and my little generator. I did not plan this fowl to be part of my household and join Wilma and Jenny, I planned to devour it.
I was almost going for the jugular, when it started to rain. As I joked about her postponed execution, we retreated into my friend’s tiny kitchen to cut the onions and pepper for the pepper soup that was to be the chicken’s destiny. The bird sat quietly at my feet on the kitchen floor, her paws bound by a piece of cloth. Still, no second thoughts.
Until the beast hid her head in the right leg of my trousers, as if she were skulking. That is when I remembered Liesje, the chicken a classmate of mine in high school owned. Liesje walked around in the garden and would always come and say hello when you arrived. She dropped her eggs in the most inconvenient places, making for many an amusing family story. Liesje’s feathers were the same brown as the ones of this chicken trying to conceal herself in my pants’ cuffs.
After the rain had stopped and I stepped out of the kitchen, the fowl moved to the side a bit. There it was, beside two fresh droppings. A big white egg. As if she were saying: look, I have more use for you alive than dead. Liesje had made her last death row appeal.
When my friend explained how to hold the chicken’s neck to cut it, he asked me, thrice: ‘Are you sure you can do this?’
‘I have to’, I responded, although somehow I did not feel so bold anymore.
The chicken pepper soup tasted delicious that evening. But the meat was chewy, to say the least. Liesje had been around the block a few times. As my teeth bounced back from her leathery flesh, I smiled. At least my chicken had made sure she lasted, even after death. That is when I realised I had never bonded with my food as I did with this bowl of pepper soup. Emotionally straining.
It is not hard to kill a chicken. Just be careful not to name it first.
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