The first time I reckoned with the reality that my food had a face was while I was living in China. I always knew that meat came from animals – I had even been a vegetarian for several years – but had never given the connection much thought. I was against CAFOs and animal cruelty, but in a more theoretical sense.
My grandparents spent their working life raising hogs, but had largely retired by the time I came around. I remember visiting the farm and watching the pigs (who also liked to chew on my shoes, much like the Wyebrook piglets) but I was much too young to make the connection between them and the bacon I ate for breakfast.
All that changed in China. The town I lived in didn’t have grocery stores in the American sense. There were two Super Wal-mart-esque monstrosities – Carrefour and Auchan – that carried groceries (and anything else you could want or need), but they were a fair hike away from my apartment and, to be honest, gave me panic attacks every time I went. The best place for fresh produce was the outdoor markets.
I discovered the market by accident. I was just wandering as I liked to do, turning down random street and alleyways, when I stumbled into a veritable farmers market. The vendors looked just a shocked to see me – a very lost American girl – as I was to see them. Wanting to be friendly and to appear more local/less lost than I felt, I bought some broccoli. It was one of the few items I actually recognized. Plus, my mom had sent me some mac-and-cheese and I figured adding broccoli would make it healthy.
A few days later I went back and explored some more. There were produce vendors selling everything from apples and broccoli to lychee and stinky durian. There were fish mongerers whose wares swam around in vats and buckets waiting to be selected. And there were the meat stalls, only the animals weren’t all yet in meat form. Live ducks and chickens squawked and pigs grunted. You selected your animal and they’d butcher it for you on the spot. Truly, it didn’t get any fresher than that market.
I never did work up the courage to buy meat there. The whole thing kind of disgusted me at the time. If you had told me in just a few years I’d butcher a chicken myself, I would have laughed at you. But here I am. Even though I went to the market just about every other day, I never could bring myself to take pictures. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t. So you will just have to use your imaginations.