Shortly after the collapse of the socialist camp, eating meat in Cuba became a luxury. Since that time, things have improved slowly, and I believe that it’s no longer unusual for a family to have some kind of meat on the table at least once a week. They get it either directly from the state, or, as in most cases, they struggle to obtain it on their own.
Jokes about the lack of protein in our diets are still quite common, but in my particular case at least, not eating meat was a voluntary decision; the years of shortage taught me to live without it.
I remember when I was still a young teenager, during the most difficult times; I designed a large hen house to be constructed out on the balcony of our apartment. However, my imagination at that age was greater than reality, and no such chicken coop ever saw the light of day, since I was never given the materials to build it.
The years passed, and without my body ceasing to yearn meat, things began to change in my mind. The matter concluded with me no longer eating animal meat, except in exceptional cases.
Now I would like to discuss how I got to that point.
Ever since I was a child I had a great affinity for animals, and I believe that I will never forget the dogs, cats and other pets of my childhood. Who knows where their bones lie today.
I’m not saying that I was a saint, because I was also very cruel to bugs and small lizards – martyrs of my first contact with science. This quest for knowledge did not stop in the face of the voiceless suffering of those insignificant beings, nor was it completely clear to me that they did in fact suffer.
Of course I also ate a lot of meat in that period, during which time we were supplied Russian beef. After a long journey across seas and land, it ended up on our plate with the look of some industrial product.
We were allocated chemically preserved beef, which appeared more like the work of a technician than the body of a creature that was once alive and suffered as it lost its life. I feel that the deeper change began when I had the opportunity to observe the complete lifecycle of animals raised to be eaten, because my next-door neighbors began to raise them when the Russian meat disappeared from our plates.
In our neighborhood, we all participated in the emotional moments of the birth of the neighbors’ animals, which may have been the most important event in that micro-community. We were later moved when we saw the touching relationship that the offspring had with their mothers, and this even served as a comparison to judge any so-and-so who abandoned their children.
Long rows of ducks -with their peculiar way of walking, each following their mama duck- or the fat hog surrounded and tugged on by piglets desperately looking for its mother’s teats, were the most pleasant and at the same time the most common scenes in the neighborhood. One could appreciate the spectacles of the animals’ courtship dances, or their outdoor mating; likewise, if they died before their time, it was a moment of sorrow for the neighborhood’s families.
In short, these animals ended up being part of our life, and each was almost like another neighbor. Nonetheless, the day of cruel sacrifice would arrive; men would again start sharpening their knives. As the end of the year approached, this sinister event occurred with the almost continuous chorus of pig screeching; this revolting din was produced at the very moment of their slaughter.
You could see the brawny men from my window as they held the hoofs of the terrified animal. With a long iron stake, one of these butchers would feel around looking for where to puncture the heart, though they did not always pierce it on the first try. The killers themselves were dazed in the trance of this beastly gregarious spirit, which is of course one of the crucial moments of this sanguinary ceremony.
A deep and mysterious joy united the main characters in their complicity. During the end-of-the-year fiestas, I therefore preferred to go away, far from the house.
It’s been quite a while that this first began to upset me, but the decision to not eat meat came from another influence. I made the decision as the result of things that happened to me when I began teaching philosophy at the university.
To be continued…