Creamy pink skin, an upturned nose, those adorable floppy ears, and a straight – not curly – little pigtail. It would have made the perfect subject for one of my photos if it weren't dead. There it was, laid out over a cloth on the table in the entryway to Daniel's grandmother's house: today's lunch.
Tomás had purchased a lechón for our Sunday asado (barbecue) from someone who raises pigs out in the country. This little piggy, alive and kicking only a couple of hours earlier, lay motionless, awaiting its fate on the grill.
[I can imagine you all squealing "Eeeew!", but of course, no one bats an eyelash when that succulent, mouth-wateringly delicious pork is brought to the table. Well, maybe the vegetarians do, but they're few and far between around here.]
I think most Americans are extremely detached from the reality of what it means to raise one's own food, slaughter it, and process it. In the U.S., your meat comes to you nicely wrapped in plastic on a styrofoam dish with a little pad. There are few, if any, reminders of the fact that those boneless, skinless chicken breasts were once roaming around a farm somewhere (or more likely, crammed into a pen). There are no feathers, no hooves, no faces on the meat and poultry you buy. Frankly, plenty of people would completely freak out if they saw a head or a foot still attached.
It used to be that people felt an intimate connection to their food and where it came from. Daniel's grandmother and grandfather were farmers who lived out in the country, where raising and slaughtering animals was a way of life. Having chicken for dinner? Ok. Go out to the yard, pick out the one you like best, a few minutes behind the shed, then off to the kitchen with the bird. In two shakes of a lamb's tail (errr, a rooster's tailfeathers?) you'd be eating arroz con pollo. There were no fluorescently-lit supermarkets with aisle after aisle of convenience foods to choose from. You either killed that chicken with your own two hands or you went hungry; there wasn't much of a choice.
Sadly, that relationship and understanding of what the land provides continues to weaken in Argentina just as it already has in the U.S. Neither Daniel nor his mother have any inclination or know-how when it comes to animal husbandry or butchering, and I'm pretty sure they're happy to remain blissfully uninformed. Tomás tends to a veggie patch that yields a bounty of fresh vegetables, but many people are content with mushy, canned veggies, even at the height of summer. Convenience foods have yet to really take hold in Argentina, but their popularity is on the rise here.
Unfortunately, the more we consume processed foods, the more we distance ourselves from real food and everything entailed in producing it. Of course, it's simply not practical to expect everyone to start raising their own free-range chickens and growing organic produce in their backyards; however, I do think it's good once in a while to think about the story of your food, to understand its journey from the field to your table.
I listened to Tomás wax poetic about the farm where he bought the pig as I savored every morsel of lechón at lunch this afternoon. I thought about where that cute little piggy came from, and while I appreciated his seemingly excellent origins, I was grateful that I wasn't the one that had to do the dirty work.