america’s eating disorder: how ukraine’s got something right

i usually consider myself a very optimistic person. well maybe 75% optimist 25% realist. whatever the break down of that is, i have yet to find any positive aspect to having my landlord’s pig pen right near my kitchen window. i’ve tried to take a positive spin on it…but nope, got nothing.

most americans have heard of the term ‘locavore’. often they’re one of those other silly groups of people that get clumped in with ‘fruititarians’ and ‘chocolateairians’ (i might have just made that one up). and if i were to explain this idea of ‘locavore’ to ukrainians, they probably would find if oh so funny and wonder why we don’t do it in the first place. most ukrainians are locavores tried and true. so much so that they keep their pigs RIGHT next to their house.

most days i’m fortunate enough that the wind blows the eau de piggie neighbors downwards, though on a windy day like today, it seems to funnel right through the 8x8in openable part of my window. now, i love being close to animals, i too would like to have chickens, pigs, goats of my own some day. but maybe a good few yards away from my culinary corner.

i’ve gotten fairly used to the hue of hogs by living in the village (and by used to i mean it still hits me like a wall of poo and makes me want to vomit, just not as much as it used to). running in the village means often trying to keep your mouth closed as your enter various zones of potent animal stench and plan your runs avoiding those few REALLY smelly places. but even if it feels like your freshly awakened lungs are filled with manure, it’s not that bad.

bye miss piggy

what’s worse is when it comes time for harvest. and by harvest i mean slaughter. and a pig being slaughtered is a very distinct sound. i still remember the first time i came to learn what that sound was. it was a cold morning in  april, my second month being in ukraine, and i was planting potatoes with my host family. we were a good distance away from houses, working in my host family’s secondary fields (what american’s would call community gardens).

for a while it seemed like it was just us, working in sync, with the earth of ukraine underneath our fingernails. and then in the distance i heard the most terrible cry. it took me a minute to figure out it was a pig, another to realize it was probably being killed, and another to stop staring off at the line of distant houses wondering where it was coming from.

if you’re outside long enough in a village, you’ll most likely hear this happening somewhere at some house at some point. ukraine is a pig meat kinda country. and since most people here have a few, you’ll see small trailers packed with pigs, hear the screams that seem to carry for miles, or the deep hum of the blowtorch to burn off the hairs — not to mention the smell that goes with it.

my landpeople are no exception. when i moved-in they had two pigs, then there was one, and now as of a few minutes ago i’m guessing none. i learned they processed the pigs here since, after asking naively, my landlady replied ‘well duh! where else!’ and my neighbor proposed i try the freshest cut of pig next time (their favorite called salo, which is literally just the fat from the pigs back….i said ‘thanks, but no thanks’).

still i felt fortunate enough to never hear one of their pigs being killed. that is until i started thinking about this blog post and the negatives of living next to some svinyei (pigs)…i guess that’s karma. the pig pen is juuuust a few steps away from my window, though i can’t see them, so when i started to hear that tell tale sound it was impossible to escape.

i thought maybe, by some chance, it wasn’t what was happening, but after what seemed like a very long 5 mintues of wailing (for myself and i’m sure for the pig), there was silence, the whoosh of the blow torch, the suffocating waft of burning hair, and the dull thud of an axe. i wanted to cover my ears, i wanted to get away, but at the same time i curiously wanted to see it.

this may sound weird and super morbid, but i can’t deny that i wonder how they do it. i’ve never seen any animal killed for food before. at least, not in person.* (i’ve seen my fair share of peta videos back in the day). but isn’t that odd?? granted, i’ve been vegetarian for 10ish years and didn’t eat much meat before that, but i’ve eaten it. i can think of only a few americans i know that have maaaaaybe seen an animal slaughtered. and i know that if americans saw they way their meat was actually processed, no one would eat meat. even still, some know and some don’t want to know.

i’m in no way trying to say that they’re bad people for doing this, or it’s wrong to kill pigs, or be preachy and turn you to a veggie lover. call me an odd brand of vegetarian, but i know that it’s a fact of life. it’s mainly that i constantly find myself being pulled back to the connection with food, earth, and the weather, that ukrainians have.

connections that i’ve theorized and read about before, now living and seeing them in practice sways me even further. just the other day, with my landlady’s permission, i picked green onion, dill, and parsley from the garden for my dinner that night. and often receive gifts of radishes by the bushell and eggs by the basket-full. and it’s all from here. all from within yards of where i sleep. (and the (former) pigs were no exception).

everything has a season, which besides slightly raised prices in america, we as americans often forget. eating seasonally means a few bountiful months of mega OD-ing on a certain dirt cheap fruit of veggie (to the point of being sick of it), canning/freezing the access, and waiting to get your fix again next year. it brings a whole new level of appreciation to the green months after a winter of, potatoes, liver liver liver, conserved cabbage, and never having a fresh green vegetable or anything with a leafy crunch.

green green green : )


and with the exception of my banana purchases (they’re my favorite fruit okay!) i did my best to eat seasonally. it wasn’t easy, but it’s certainly not impossible. it’s something that americans need to do more of. buy more fruits and veggies when they’re in season, locally too, can/freeze for when they’re not. you might be thinking ‘pshhhhhh way to dream miss 75% optimist 25% realist’.

and this is where the realist comes in. america has some SERIOUS eating priorities and ethics to figure out. part of the problem we don’t eat seasonally anymore is the fact that most farms just don’t farm the produce any more. next time you shop, most of what you’ll find has traveled an amazing number of miles.  my homeland of the midwest is picture perfect rich soil and land for basically every single crop ukraine grows. but we don’t grow them in mass. why? because the farmers are being forced to grow corn, soy beans, and grains to feed the live stock.

america is the number one meat consuming society in the world. the. world!! and to account for that, there’s gotta be a lot of cheap feed. oh, not to mention that the cattle and corn industry are likethiswiththegovernment. and it’s not a coincidence. so the land is used for feed and the animals are processed at an alarmingly quick rate to give the americans non-animal-looking cellophaned chunks of easily prepare-able and cheap meat. meat stays cheap, produce travels across country, and many families are quite simply unable to afford fruits and veggies.

this is where the problem lies. i’m not saying i have a solution for all of this…wouldn’t that be nice?? go to peace corps, come back, save america…it would make for a pretty good resume booster. “kristen a. hartman. 75% optimist 25% realist. saver of america”. but unfortunately i won’t be adding that anytime soon. america has got a lot to sort out food wise. i’m not saying everyone should have pigs and slaughter them themselves, or giant greenhouses in their back yards – mainly because if you can’t park your car overnight in the driveway of my parent’s neighborhood they deeeeefinitely wouldn’t allow for pig slaughtering.

i could totally squeeze one of these in my backyard

all i can suggest, and urge, is for americans to buy more local vegetables and fruites less meats, plant a small garden if you can, and try to eat foods when in season. i recently heard a quote from a fellow pcv that said ‘if you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room’. and that’s really it. in order to change the way america eats, people have to start one by one, family by family, state by state, and then maybe eventually congress will let it’s pinky promise with the meat/corn industry go and other things will change too.

i often think ukrainians do things a little backwards or maybe a little inefficiently, but food, they’ve got right.  well i’m not talking about their often heavily fat, oil, starch based diet…but here’s where locavores started. america originated from this not too too long ago. it’s time to get back to our roots, literally and figuratively.   of the many things i’ll miss about the bread basket of europe they call urkaine, i’ll miss dirt cheap so local you-can-pick-it-in-your-pajamas food. so america, preferably fix this whole problem before i come back home ; )

i might come back and pick this in my pjs

*after finishing this post went to gather my laundry from the line and greeted my landlord, carrying a bucket of pig guts, who promised i could watch and photograph the next pig harvest. this should be interesting.

also i upgraded my wordpress account so i could add music to my posts. i have quite an extensive ukrainian folk music collection. get ready.

i’m not sure what this song is exactly about, i can’t understand him very well lol, but i thought it had a nice indian-ish vibe. it’s long.

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