The Day the Vegan Slaughtered a Hog

WARNING: Some readers may find the content and imagery in this post disturbing. Reader discretion is advised, especially for those who may be sensitive to the reality of how meat humanely enters the food supply chain. You will see blood below the fold.

We have all heard of Hawaiian Luau’s. Tiki torches, Polynesian music, maybe some hula dancing and a buffet. There are many worse ways to spend an evening, but we wanted to let you in on a little secret… Hawaiian families never celebrate in anyway that looks anything like what you probably have in your mind when you think of a Luau. That whole thing is largely made up to give tourists what they expect, and pass off a bunch of mediocre catering as an authentic experience.

In Hawaii, celebration is about friends, family, the beauty, joys and pains of life, and everything that comes with it. We celebrate when we are happy, and we celebrate when we are sad, and each time, we think of our community, our place within it, and those we love. When we celebrate in Hawaii, we have those we cherish most around us. This is the key, and the rest comes down to great great food, plenty to drink, and an all day affair that provides a platform for everyone to share and talk story.

Talking story is often the most memorable part of the whole celebration, and in that spirit, we want to share the story of our most recent celebration: an experience that strengthened our tribe by empowering us to experience the visceral reality, and contemplate the philosophical questions, associated with taking responsibility for the decisions we make with respect to our food supply chain. It affected each of us in different and powerful ways, but this story focuses on one that was more surprising.

On April 1st, 2017, the Kulaniapia family gathered to celebrate a momentous birthday for one of our dearest friends. Like all celebrations, we put a lot of thought into how best to honor the occasion, and bring our community together.

 With the most emotionally challenging steps complete, the real work begins.

With the most emotionally challenging steps complete, the real work begins.

We have roasted whole pigs in the past, but to be honest, it always felt a little strange going to the store and buying a slaughtered hog. There is a certain empty feeling that comes with observing an animal that clearly was, but you never knew. This feeling does not accompany a pork chop.

While you may generally pay others to take care of all of the “dirty” work of eating meat for you, the fact remains that doing so is a choice that is not free from responsibility. While most consumers are afforded the luxury of avoiding the hardest questions about whether they are truly comfortable with their decision, we wanted to take responsibility for ours. As such, we decided, that for this celebration we were going to take part in everything it entails, starting with a live hog, and ending with some entirely new perspectives on our food supply.

There are five major roles to fill in slaughtering a hog, and we decided each participant must take on at least one, as this simply is not a spectator sport. Where this story gets interesting is that except for the birthday boy, none of the friends that flew out knew this was on the agenda. Surprising or not, when we shared the premise, and the tasks in front of us, there were no shortage of volunteers to help us navigate this moral quandary.

The five major roles in humanely slaughtering a hog are:

 For the respectful: shaving the hog with hot water and a knife.

For the respectful: shaving the hog with hot water and a knife.

  1. For the compassionate: Preparing the last meal, and comforting the hog while preparations are being made.
  2. For the go-getter: Somebody has to pull the trigger. After some target practice, with close range, and a hog comfortably enjoying its last meal, this is more of an emotional process than a technically difficult one.
  3. For the bloodthirsty: As soon as the hog hits the ground, you need to bleed it out, or it will spoil the meat. This involves taking a knife to the beast’s throat, before the heart stops beating (but after the animal is braindead), and letting the blood from it’s throat on to the ground. Even though consciousness has passed at this point, this is often the most challenging task, as the nervous system is still active.
  4. For the respectful: Shaving and cleaning the hog is an honorable and relatively peaceful step of preparation. It is in this moment that you get to see every inch of the animal, and make sure they are presented in a manner that is worthy of the sacrifice they have made.
  5. For the curious: Gutting, disembowelment and cleaning. Extracting the internal organs without spoiling the meat is actually a very precise process that needs to be done with care. It may remind you of your high school biology class, and that’s OK.

With these steps performed, we brined the hog, placed in a cooler, and brought back to the property so we might share in the final preparation and celebration with the larger Kulaniapia community.

We promised this story would get interesting and it happens here. As mentioned, nobody except the go-getter knew of the activity in advance. As the others discussed which roles they could handle, we were a bit perplexed when a vegan who had not eaten meat in about 15 years volunteered for the bloodthirsty role.

 Explaining how it felt to realize just how fragile our bodies are.

Explaining how it felt to realize just how fragile our bodies are.

Under what theory can a vegan participate in slaughtering a hog? We don’t know or judge, but we were honored to be a part of this individual finding a more deeply personal relationship with their food supply. They shared with us that they came to vegetarianism and later veganism after growing up on a hobby farm, where they collected eggs from their own free-range chickens and neighbors would hunt deer and split a butchered cow – enough to last a full year. As a 14-year-old, then, being confronted with the cruelties of industrialized animal consumption was repellent. A general sense of environmental responsibility buffered the choice to eschew meat, but these motivations aren’t necessarily in line with that of more dogmatic vegans. Fundamental was their belief that if one were to eat meat, they ought to take ownership over the killing process. Consuming something you couldn’t bear to confront in its natural state seemed cognitively dissonant. This perspective, combined with a clinical curiosity and a general impulse to engage rather than withdraw from emotionally conflicted situations encouraged them to jump at volunteering for the bloodthirsty role. In the aftermath, they expressed that the act of slitting the hog’s throat while it was still warm and moving beneath them felt so natural and familiar that they had to call their mother to verify they had not, in fact, taken part in the killing of any creature in the past. They ate a token piece of meat that night for the first time in 15 years, unashamed, and went back to being comfortable with their choice not to eat meat the following day.

All of the adrenaline and celebration aside, we found this particular moment the most beautiful. Sharing with someone as they reconciled their past, present, and future, and realizing that for that one moment, they were connected enough with their food supply to fully participate was so powerful, we are still processing it.

Reactions from others ranged from confirmation of their ability to own the reality of their lifestyle choices, to concluding that eating less meat is better (one individual chose to limit meat to weekends), to appreciating how important it is to understand how your food is sourced and processed. We have rarely seen such powerful and thought provoking discussions play out over a weekend or a more genuine bonding experience.

Christophe Bisciglia