Sometimes reality hits you in the face whether you’re ready for it or not.
I didn’t take a picture and that’s probably a good thing. I’ll cut to the chase and then flesh out the detail. People eat animals. Sometimes those animals might be what we would consider to be pets.
Here’s what happened. I was walking to the Chinese store for tofu, coming up on the house where the rust-colored dogs hang out, when I noticed two men doing something in the grass between the ditch and the compound wall. One of the men was picking up an animal. He held both front feet in his left hand and the hind feet in his right. The second man was holding a big woven plastic bag just like the one we bought a load of charcoal in.
I immediately identified the animal as a dog and because it was the same color as the dogs who habitually sleep outside that same wall, a scenario developed in my brain. A cherished pet had been struck by a car and was being rescued. Or it was dead and the body was being removed by city employees to wherever road kill dogs go.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the men look my way so I turned and getting a better look, there seemed to be some life in the unfortunate animal. Maybe there was hope for the dog after all. My face reflected my internal narrative with a mixture of sorrow and hope. As I met his gaze, the man swung the dog into the bag and reached down for something else.
I think my look of concern made him smile. Picking up a second dog, this one a black one, he asked in English in a slightly teasing voice, “You like this?” He held up the dog and its head swung back to reveal a gaping gash where the throat once was. Obviously, the dog’s throat had been cut. Cut the way I’ve seen deer hunters bleed out an animal before butchering. Probably hacked with a machete or “chopped” as they say here.
Confused, I answered “No,” and kept walking, stepping aside to miss a small puddle of drying blood. It was unclear whether he was asking if I liked dogs in general or as pets or did I like dog meat. It was pretty clear these two dogs were headed to someone’s kitchen and it was best that I continue on my way.
A couple of weeks ago our housemate, Jeremy, told me he saw our next door neighbors handling a dead cat in the same way one handles a piece of meat. “Are you sure it wasn’t a dead pet?” I had asked. “No” Jeremy shook his head, “They were treating it like food.” The next week both Bob and Jeremy saw them handling a chicken in the same manner.
To be fair, I’ve often joked that I’d eat roadkill if I were hungry enough and feel better about it than eating factory-farmed meat. I’ve never been squeamish about meat. The neighbors raise chickens for food and the goats in our yard are being raised for breeding with the intention of eating the kids. After we leave Kumasi, Jeremy intends to sell his Nigerian Dwarf goats, Go-At, Aponche and Nwansane, for meat.
My attitude had always been: animal protein is animal protein, no matter how you slice it and I’ve chosen not to partake.
Our vegan diet has taken a hit since moving to Africa. We can’t get Veganaise so we use the mayonnaise made with eggs on sandwiches and in slaw. We eat a lot of beans to make up for the absence of processed garden burgers, soy chick’n nuggets and home made tempeh, and seitan.
Fortunately beans are abundant, soy milk readily available and fresh tofu is delivered daily to the Chinese shop just a few blocks up the street. Peanuts, soy protein nuggets and nutritional yeast (brought in suitcases by visitors to Kumasi) round out the vegan menu. Bean fritters, Kentucky fried tofu, chili, falafel, hummus and fried soy protein figure heavily in our menu.
We all voted against the local margarine “Blue Band” which refused to melt and so I’ve begun buying real butter. Tonight’s meal for example, the Kentucky Fried Tofu meal, will depend heavily on butter for the gravy, mashed potatoes, candied carrots and sauteed mushrooms.
The guys supplement their diet with eggs, tuna and cheese. When we go out to eat, they sometimes order chicken or tilapia. The addition of tuna to the Casa Kumasi pantry created a dilemma for me. I didn’t feel right about buying fish even if I didn’t intend on eating it myself. But it was my job to stock the house and this had become an item to be stocked. In the end, I agreed to add tuna to the list of things I buy and pack home from the store.
Last Saturday Bob and I discovered a new shop in the neighborhood that stocks good cheese, delicious beans, bread, spices, dried fruit and our favorite mayonnaise. We had heard about this unmarked shop on the other side of Melcom Road and Andreas, a German ex-pat who has been living in our neighborhood for over a year knew where it was. He generously invited us to join him while he ran his shopping errands and we happily hopped in.
Andreas’ errands took us out past the abattoir for a case of beer. “Here is the slaughter house,” he said, “I’ve been inside this. It is horrible.” I asked him what was so horrible and he replied, “The attitude. They slaughter animals and how they treat it.” Two stops later we were back at Atinga Junction. “I know you don’t eat meat, but this butcher is very good.” Andreas said, pulling into a tiny shop for a package of ground beef.
We returned home with 101 cedis ($50) worth of food, including three packages of cheese. So now grilled cheese sandwiches are the latest culinary craze around here. I tasted the Swiss and one of the cheddars and was reminded how much I once loved cheese. I have yet to eat a grilled cheese sandwich but I have to admit that today Bob’s sandwiches smelled mighty inviting, even after the trauma of seeing what I saw a couple of hours earlier.
I realize there’s a lot of wiggle room between grilled cheese and dog meat. But my nonchalant attitude towards meat has been shaken by the haunting image of a black dog with a hacked throat. When I arrived home, the goats gathered around like pets and I felt a pang of sorrow knowing that they may one day end up on someone’s dinner plate.
All of this comes down to one realization – we all have to make our own decisions about what’s right for us. Some of us eat fish but not meat. Meat but not beef. Beef but only grass-fed beef. Eggs in mayonnaise but not fried in a pan. Butter but not cheese. Cheese but not a whole sandwich of melted cheese, bread grilled in butter (horrors!)
Only I can decide where to draw the line.