“Sick”: By the Author of “Heat”
October 4, 2011 5 Comments
Bill Buford, in yesterday’s NY Times Magazine.
What’s the Most Delicious Thing You’ve Eaten?
For the last two and a half years, I’ve been able to declare, without hesitation and with only a modest sense of theater, that the most delicious thing I’ve eaten in a long time was a bowl of warm pig’s blood. I had it on a cold day in February 2009, in a gravel-and-straw courtyard, on a farm, in the hills above the Rhone River, in France.
Two friends slaughtered the animal that morning, following an old-fashioned approach. I had wanted to witness it, mainly to see how the deed was done but also to learn what the effect on me might be. Every meat eater participates indirectly in an animal’s death, normally at a very far remove. Few of us have the opportunity to get close enough to the meat we eat to experience that death that makes it possible. This was that opportunity.
The animal was raised by one of my friends, and it seemed fitting, by the perverse logic of food, that he should be killing it. You are not only what you eat, but what you’ve fed. A farm pig is different from an industrial animal. This one was uneconomically huge and had been luxuriously fed. It was strong — it took four of us to pin it down — and had an abundance of character and a withering self-awareness: it knew it was going to die and knew enough to spot the wuss in the group and fix on him pretty much exclusively. (Wuss = me.)
Its wail was piercing and relentless and at a pitch that you couldn’t block out; the whole valley knew that a pig was being killed, and it didn’t diminish until the animal was secured, and soothed, and calmed, and the artery in its throat was pierced by the tip of a knife. My friend raised and lowered the animal’s foreleg, like a pump, pushing blood through the hole in throat and out and into a bucket, where it then coagulated instantly.
My task was to keep it moving with my hand. I stirred, and a hundred pieces of string thickened against my fingers. I stirred and stirred and seemed to become aware of everything at once. The blood up to my armpit, the smell of the animal, the low wheezes of its last breath, the clear winter light, the color of the sky, the dirt under my knees, the smoke from a fire that had been made to heat water in an old-fashioned cast-iron stove for cooking the boudin noir. That’s what the blood was for, blood sausages that would be cooked to a weightless custard.
The strings dissolved, the blood was ready. A friend gave me a ladle, and I dipped into the bucket, and drank it, a little sloppily, aware that I now had a red moustache.
We eat a lot of meals in a life. Sometimes I don’t know why some foods break through, elevate themselves in my consciousness and manage to stick. It is often for reasons besides the food itself, the theater surrounding its eating, the culture of the experience, the otherness that naturally gathers around the things we eat: history and grandmothers and death and the mechanics of surprise.
The blood was good. It was ridiculously vital, as rich as it was vibrantly red, and weirdly, unapologetically full of health. It had a taste that I hadn’t known, and like the experience, like the theater where I drank it, is something I won’t forget.