I’m not saying you should be a vegetarian. That’s your choice.
Eat what you want. It’s your body, your taste buds and your conscience.
It’s just that sometimes when there’s a story to tell, you’ve simply got to tell it.
You are what you eat
I’d been an omnivore for 26 years. An omnivore of the most adventurous kind I might add. Water buffalo, iguana, snails, frogs legs, brains, trotters, … If it could walk, fly, swim, slither or break wind I’d eat it.
I was raised on ‘proper’ food like tripe, tongue and chitterlings.
At 18, the hippy bit of me loved the idea of going veggie, but not as much as I loved a bacon buttie.
Then things changed.
Welcome to Jamaica
We got married. In Jamaica. Jamaican style.
My fiancée’s parents had gone back to Kingston after having been in the UK since the ’60’s and it was her first time back in JA since she was 7 years old.
I’d been to the Caribbean on holiday, but this was a whole new level.
Time to crank up the sound system, make some stupidly strong rum punch and invite the neighbourhood.
We were there for a whole crazy month.
Most of the time we ate fresh fruit and veg brought over by cousins from St Anne. Mango, plantain, yam, gungo peas, avocado… we picked guineps, ugly fruit, ackees and mangerines from the back yard. Fish was salted or tinned. The occasional bit of meat came from the supermarket up the road. All was irie in the shadow of Jack’s Hill.
Then one day a goat turned up. It was cute. Pretty little thing.
Little did we know that the proceedings leading up to the big day would involve the mass slaughter of half the island’s livestock including Gary (he looked more like a Malcolm, but Gary stuck).
Thankfully I was saved from watching Gary bite the dust, but I was there for seven chickens and the pig.
How to kill a pig the old fashioned way
First catch your pig.
If a pig doesn’t want to be killed, it’s going to tell you about it. The scream as it ran around in muddy circles was distressing. Like a domestic smoke alarm and nails down a blackboard all at the same time.
Two lads, distant cousins, armed with carving knives, ran around the pen, knee-deep in pig poop while I watched with a mixture of horror and hypnotic fascination.
After ten intense minutes of chasing, the little porker was roughly wrestled to the ground. Legs bound with rope, its throat slit and the knife inserted to pierce the heart.
All this in the 90+ degrees of relentless Jamaican sun.
The next sequence of events felt like I’d just walked into a deleted scene from Apocalypse Now.
A huge oil drum of water was boiled over an open fire, the pig dunked (to soften the hair) and shaved with the same knife that had ended his shorty piggy life.
Then the corpse was hung up – back feet uppermost – from a tree.
Split from neck to gentleman’s department, his steaming guts spilled out onto a bed of banana leaves.
While the country boys set to, severing the head and hacking the torso into bits, my dear old mother-in-law (rest in peace), tucked up her skirt and got in amongst it.
Up to her ankles in guts, she squeezed yesterday’s breakfast out of the poor little things innards and sorted out which bits were for the pot and which were for the dogs.
Quite an education.
I never got round to giving the pig a name, but it only seems proper now to call him Providence. You see, this little piggy didn’t go to market, but he did have a huge influence on the rest of my life from that moment on.
The wedding feast
Macabre mammal massacre aside, we had a wonderful time and a magical wedding day. The sun shone. Both Mums and Dads were there, a few mates from the UK made it and we met a load of the Jamaican posse that my wife hadn’t seen since she was a little girl.
We danced and drank and partied into the night.
The buffet table groaned under the weight of wedding cake, rice and peas, and fried chicken (that I’d plucked with my own fair hands as their bodies twitched and spewed blood from the holes where there heads used to be – but I’m killing the romance of the moment).
There were Providence chops, Providence ribs and bowls of Providence tail stew.
And pride of place, a massive dish of Gary head soup (with the head still bobbing about in it).
That was my very last meaty meal.
I can’t remember if it tasted better than Tesco-caught. I was too busy asking forgiveness from the Great God, Mighty Quorn.
That was almost thirty years ago.
Bacon sarnies still smell tempting today, but that fateful afternoon in sunny Brownstown, Jamaica, has left its own unique taste in the mouth. Bring on the falafels.
And the moral of the story?
If you want to avoid becoming a vegetarian, don’t give your meat Christian names.