In a previous column, I touted the benefits of buying from the wet market. I recently realized that there’s another (unintended) consequence of going local: it makes you acknowledge, point blank, the necessary evil that must be committed when you buy any type of produce that requires slaughtering.
A few days ago, I was walking through the lively seafood stalls of my neighborhood market, and happened past a crowd that had gathered in front of a seasoned fishmonger. The fishmonger had an almost-meter-long silver-scaled carp in front of him, flopping viciously on top of a wooden chopping block. He held the thick, writhing body firmly in one hand, and hacked at the fish’s head with a cleaver. It took him several attempts to manage a clean break.
I felt physically sick watching the whole show, and squirmed when I saw the decapitated carp head still puffing through its gills, its detached body spasming to the very end. Witnessing this brutal-but-nothing-out-of-the-ordinary murder of an innocent creature gave me newfound respect for all the forms of life that we humans at some point in history had deemed appropriate for consumption.
The carp’s horrific death also brought back another memory from last month, when I ventured out to Kwun Tong market and came across a live chicken stall. The chickens were walking obliviously in their metal cages, and customers could pick and choose the exact bird to meet its fate. The chicken butcher would then pluck the unlucky one away from its friends, and using his bare hands, twist the bird’s neck until it snapped. When I realized what was happening, I felt stupidly naive and revolted by the violence, and had to quickly retreat from the stalls.
I was forced to ask myself: Is there a “humane” way for any animal to go? Are there any situations where I wouldn’t feel bad witnessing the death of the creature that would become my next meal? The answer for me is no: death is death, and there should never be justification for a life to be cut short because I feel like eating it for dinner.
There’s a part of me that thinks that one day, I will finally turn vegetarian. In the meantime, I have the local markets to call me out on my dietary hypocrisy. I still love the taste of beef, pork, chicken and fish — but if I keep eating meat, I might as well be reminded of the guilty role I play in the animals’ sacrificed lives. Why should I be able to enjoy a piece of steak without also recognizing that a cow had to be killed in the process?
I haven’t had the guts to order my own fresh chicken yet, but I did end up buying a sliver of barely-dead carp flesh for $28 that day. I steamed it Cantonese-style. I chewed slowly and deliberately. I didn’t want it to die in vain.