“For the last two and a half years, I’ve been able to declare, without hesitation and with only a modest sense of theater, that the most delicious thing I’ve eaten in a long time was a bowl of warm pig’s blood.”
So begins Bill Buford’s tale for the New York Times Magazine of one of the tastiest meals and most aware moments of his life … a tale of his slaughtering of a living being so he might drink her blood. The tale ends with an exhilarated Buford sheepishly sporting a blood moustache.
The blood was of a pig, an animal more intelligent, and often more socially complex, than any nonhuman primate. Pigs can play video games and they can remember abstract ideas years after an event. It’s recognized by most animal behaviorists that pigs are, “as intelligent as a three year old child.“
We all know, of course, that it would be wrong to kill a three-year-old child. Right? But here’s a thought. If a three-year-old child and a pig are equally aware, equally cognizant, equally alive … then is there really all that much difference between killing the child and killing the pig? Arguably, there’s a difference in their value to us. Under most circumstances, any human child is going to be more valuable than a pig would be to another human being. But to each of them, is there really any difference in their experience of dying? Of being killed? Would a pig experience the event of having a knife stuck in his throat in a significantly different way than would a human child of equal awareness? And if they would each experience the event in the same way, wouldn’t killing them be equally wrong?
What disturbs so many of us when we hear of a young child being injured or killed is we imagine what must have happened to the child and what she must have felt while it happened. Someone like Caylee Anthony, the little girl in the Florida case that transfixed the nation for months, was just weeks away from her third birthday. Whatever the cause of her death, she would have been cognizant enough to know something horrible was happening, but not so cognizant as to understand why. That she didn’t understand why it was happening makes her last moments, whatever they were, perhaps even more horrible to contemplate. Certainly, we all understand she was capable of pain and fear and terror; given her nearly three-year-old level of cognition she was capable of suffering.
” … the most delicious thing I’ve eaten in a long time was a bowl of warm blood pig’s blood. I had it on a cold day in February 2009, in a gravel-and-straw courtyard, on a farm, in the hills above the Rhone River, in France.”
Buford’s romanticized tale becomes a screaming nightmare if you reread it replacing the word pig with human child. Yet any three-year-old child, compared with any member of any species of pig, would possess roughly the same skill at playing video games, and have about the same memory for abstract events. They would each be fascinated by and able to use mirrors. They would also have similar central nervous systems and a similar ability to feel physical pain and emotional terror. In other words, in all the ways that matter to the one who is being killed, their experience would be the same.
“Two friends slaughtered the pig that morning, following an old-fashioned approach. I had wanted to witness it, mainly to see how the deed was done but also to learn what the effect on me might be.”
Mr. Buford was curious about what it looked and felt and smelled like to kill a living being, one who had the cognizance of a three-year-old child, and because we have no laws preventing such things, he was able to indulge that curiosity. Being the arbiter of life and death, especially over a being so similar to humans, must be a powerful feeling. Indeed, Ted Bundy had this to say about his victims: “You feel the last bit of breath leaving their body. You’re looking into their eyes. A person in that situation is God!”
Bill Buford continued:
“It was strong — it took four of us to pin it down — and had an abundance of character and a withering self-awareness: it knew it was going to die … “
After killing three year old Breeann Rodriguez, Shawn Morgan stated to the police that it “felt like it took an hour for the girl to die.”
During the actual experience of being killed, there really isn’t all that much difference between one being who has the awareness of a three-year-old child and another being who has the awareness of a three-year-old child, even if one of them is a pig. So what does that say about their killers?
What does that say about us? I can’t argue with Mr. Buford when he says, “Every meat eater participates indirectly in an animal’s death, normally at a very far remove.” Because he’s correct.
At any given moment, there are 65 million pigs in American factory farms. Each year, in the United States alone, we will cut the throats of more than 112 million pigs … 213 every minute; 112 million living beings who possess the same (or higher) level of cognition and awareness as Caylee Anthony, or Breeann Rodriquez, or any other three-year-old child.
Of those 112 million beings capable of rudimentary video game playing, with bodies and minds so very similar to our own, many of them will arrive at the scald tank alive, conscious, and exquisitely aware of what’s happening to them. What they won’t understand is why it’s happening. And neither will I.