Friday, August 23, 2013

Still warm

In another life, I may have been a vegetarian, but in this day and age of supermarkets and their aisles of prepared meat, it's hard to imagine something as generic as a chicken breast once belonging to a living animal. Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware that it does, but having been divorced from the source of my food for the whole of my lifetime, eating meat is something that I do because I'm hungry and it's food. There's no moral quandary for me because, for the most part, I never think to question where any of it came from. If it tastes alright, I'm fine with it.

At the same time, I'm an animal lover. I have a cat (bad-boy Boris) and a dog (wimpy Splash) and to see them in pain is akin to injuring myself. It's not just pets either, because if I can avoid stepping on something as tiny as an ant, I will.

As the summer season waxes and wanes, Silver Spoon (Gin no Saji) is one of the two new anime (the other being Sunday without God,) that I've managed to keep up with. Created by Hiromu Arakawa (Fullmetal Alchemist,) it's the story of Hachiken's tentative entry into the world of Japanese agriculture. Fresh from his suburban school life but desperate to escape the claustrophobia of conventional academia, he enrols at a farming college far and away from his old school and like me, has something of a sheltered exposure to food production in-tow.

It's one thing knowing where your food came from, but another thing entirely to see it happening. Early in the series, there's a particularly memorable scene of a chicken being beheaded, to my mind an image less notable for the blood, but for rather the matter of fact way in which it was executed. Later on, Hachiken eats some of that same chicken. Real or not, I can't deny, it looked delicious.

In episode six, Hachiken is asked to butcher an already-dead dear. He hesitates. It's carcass is still warm, a sign that, until very recently, it was still alive. A wild, beautiful animal. Faced with that, I'm not sure I could do it, but Hachiken does. Coming to terms with our place in the animal kingdom, having respect for an animal's life at the same time as taking it away, butchering it and then eating it, these are the very real, difficult decisions that may define a person's will to live. Hachiken has already run away from his old life, is he going to run away from this new one, too? "What'd I do all day?" "Why am I here?" After a quick prayer, the knife goes in and the skin comes away. They eat it later that night over a barbecue, but Hachiken can't seem to shake the smell of blood from his hands. It's a delicious feast, but it's hard to forget where it came from. You shouldn't forget.

Silver Spoon is headed towards a difficult finale. At the school, they raise pigs for slaughter and butcher the meat, but Hachiken has taken one particular little piglet into his heart. The runt of the litter, he's named it "Pork Bowl," so he fully intends to eat it, but having spent so much time raising it, can he do it? Again, I don't know if I could, I don't think he knows either, but with the way that Silver Spoon has gone so far, I think he will. In a story that's clearly about the reality of animal produce, it makes sense for him to make the hardest of choices, but more than just a conceit to Arakawa's agenda of demystifying agriculture, it promises to be an emotional moment. To take an animal's life, at least to me, means carrying a heavy weight of responsibility, and to Silver Spoon's credit, it understands that. It might be difficult to watch, but for me to look away at this point would be even worse.
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