Ever since I was little, I would help my mom feed the goats their grain and I’d throw chicken feed to the chickens. For the pigs, we’d mix up ‘slop’ in a big bucket with water from the hose and we’d dump that in their trough. Then we’d dump in the other bucket full of table scraps we’d collected. We fed the dogs their dog food, the cats their cat food. I knew what our animals ate, and each type of animal had their designated food, meal after meal, day after day.
Later on, I learned there are many animals that eat other animals. Birds eat seeds but they also eat worms and bugs, snakes eat mice, coyotes eat chickens, wolves eat deer, etc. At some point, I learned the food we eat, which we call “meat”, is the muscle of animals. Dead animals. Animals people killed.
Despite living in a small rural homestead, it took an amazingly long time for me to get the animal/meat connection. Chicken and fish were no-brainers. I went fishing and caught more than my dad did. My dad would scrape the guts out of the fish and my mom would fry them up. I saw the chicken running around the yard with its head cut off one time and finally understood what my mom meant when she said she felt like one. I watched my mom prepare the headless chicken, cook it up, and everything.
It took awhile to figure out beef was cow and pork was pig, however. Until I made the connection between our pigs, Zelda and Merlin–who were there grunting and pushing each other for slop one day and “taken to slaughter” the next (and I didn’t know what that meant)–and the pork chops and bacon my mother brought home, wrapped in white paper, labeled, and piled into the freezer. Cows always made milk, but eventually I learned they became hamburger and steak, too.
I often wondered why people didn’t just have bags of “people food”, like dogs have dog food. I wondered why all people don’t eat the same things like all chickens eat the same things. Then I wondered, if people don’t all eat the same things, maybe not all people eat pigs or cows or chickens.
I observed the contours of my dog’s lean body and thought, maybe some people eat dogs. I saw the pieces of corn in my poop in the toilet, which smelled and looked gross to me but I thought maybe there are some people who eat poop. I overheard my dad and his friend talking in the barn one night, and I thought maybe some people eat people.
They didn’t know I was listening, but my dad’s friend, Doug, was talking about his new girlfriend and my dad asked, “So did you eat her yet?”
Doug laughed, “Hell yeah! Mmm-mmm. She was finger lickin’ good, too. Just like KFC, man!”
Then my dad said, “So when ya bringing her over so I can have a taste?” and Doug jabbed him in the gut, still laughing, then said he didn’t really want to share but maybe tomorrow he would.
I was confused at first. But then I realized, he would probably show up with a box of white packages for mom to put in the freezer.
I was really confused the next day when he actually showed up with her. I must have been staring with a weird look on my face. She looked worried, which was understandable.
“Wait, so…” I tried to piece it all together as my eyes darted back and forth between her and Doug, “you’re a real live woman?”
My dad burst out laughing. Doug jabbed him in the gut like always. My mom rolled her eyes.
I sat there quietly waiting for an explanation. I didn’t know what was so funny.
The woman covered her mouth and chuckled. She looked down her shirt. “Last I checked.”
I turned to my dad, “Wasn’t Doug bringing her for dinner?”
“Oh!” She smiled. “That would be wonderful!”
“. .. ’cause Doug told you she tasted like chicken, Dad.”
“Uh…” She raised an eyebrow at Doug, who turned red as a tomato.
“You know? Finger licking good,” I added.
She certainly didn’t look too appetizing to me, but they didn’t stay anyway.
In fact, I think if Doug was able to catch her–cause she ran pretty fast–he probably kept her all for himself because I never saw any white packages in the freezer labeled ‘Linda’ and we never saw her again.
“Yeah?” She didn’t look up from the big metal mixing bowl full of hamburger she was shmooshing through her fingers for meatloaf.
“I think I’m a vegetarian or a vegan. What’s the difference?”
“Vegetarians don’t eat meat but might eat eggs and cheese. Vegans don’t eat or use any animal products at all.”
“Why? Have you decided you don’t like meat?”
“So, vegan then? ”
My mom was open-minded and understanding about lots of things.
“I don’t know the word. What’s the word for eating people?”
The bowl clattered to the floor, but landed right-side up, the hamburger firmly stuck to the inside.
My mother looked horrified.
“We don’t do that.”
“But Doug ate his girlfriend.”
“That’s different. Nevermind about that.”
“Different from what?”
“Different from… nothing. Go play.”
I listened to my parents talking in their room that night before they did their usual furniture rearranging.
“Yes, she really asked me that!”
“How did she hear about THAT?”
“Me and Doug weren’t even talking about THAT. It was just guy talk. You know?”
“What are we going to do?”
“Well, we can’t feed her THAT!”
“Do you ever… have the urge?”
“Of course. But just like any diet, I make the choice to stick to it.”
“Me too. But everyone slips up once in awhile.”
For a few minutes, I didn’t hear a sound but when their bed began to creak and they both started to groan and moan, I knew they were rearranging the furniture again. I listened for awhile, considered asking if they needed help, but then decided I was too tired and went to bed.