Killing Animals for Food: Glimpsing the Wild Within

Coming to grips with the sacred violence of eating.

| Fall 2015

A goat sacrifice in India

Tinted lantern slide showing a group of men and women gathered around the sacrifice of a goat in India, circa 1906.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s Note: This article contains graphic imagery involving animal slaughter and butchering.

“People say that what we’re seeking is a meaning for life ... I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

My hands, red with blood, are immersed in the still-warm flesh of the sow. With a knife sharp enough to take life swiftly, I cut through fat and muscle, trying to separate her head from the rest of her lifeless body. I’m struggling. With so much fat around her jowls, I cannot feel where to cut between the vertebrae. In my impatience, I resort to a saw, and with full-bodied strokes, push and pull the blade over the bone. It’s neither elegant nor effective. But I need a way to ground myself—I’m in a state of exalted reverence.

We have just killed Willamena, a 4-year-old sow we affectionately called “Willy.” I helped raise Willy from a piglet, fed her nearly every day, and helped midwife her through three pregnancies. I learned from Willy new meanings of persistence, service, and love. I learned from her how far mothers will go to ensure the healthy survival of their strongest offspring. Willy inspired in me love, respect, and appreciation that created a powerful bond between us.