It was looking like a slow weekend, and that was fine with me. I was tired, and just wanted to bathe and wash clothes. I slept well and long Saturday night. With no reason to get up on Sunday morning, I kept rolling over and going back to sleep. It was very luxurious. At about 8, I was finally routed out of my room by a knock on my door announcing breakfast. As I went from my building to the kitchen, I saw a goat and a sheep in my yard. I got excited, thinking we were going to have barnyard animals after all. My fellow PCTs have cows, calves, and assorted livestock, but I just have a dog and 9 chickens. At breakfast, I was told they were for meat. I got over my initial disappointment, and prepared for a day of butchering.
How does one prepare for a surprise date with a butchering? For one thing, though I eat meat, and try to remember to thank the animal silently when I consume it, it has been many years since I’ve been involved in the actual killing of my food, other than beheading broccoli in my garden. Here in Mongolia, there is no escaping witnessing the death of the animal that will feed me. The diet here is meat (usually fatty) with whatever else they put with it. And the animal is bought and butchered by the family. I knew this would happen eventually, but I think I expected some warning.
Warning: this is a description of a butchering, with pictures of carcasses, though no pictures of the killing.
I could tell my host father had done this many times before. A short incision is made in the underside of the animal while it’s held on its back. The butcher’s hand immediately goes inside and pinches the blood supply to the heart. The animal passes out, and is held until its final sigh, and then the work begins. From what I understand, this technique is quick and humane, and also preserves the blood in the animal’s body so that it can be harvested. I watched as the pelt was removed and put aside to be processed. The body was opened up, and the intestines were removed. Throughout this part, the blood was scooped from the cavity and put in a cooking pot or bowl. The intestines, organ meats, and all the fat and membrane around them were put in a big silver bowl, which was carried into an open shed where my host mom began processing it. There was a fire going in a stove in the corner, so water could be boiled. First the intestines were emptied into a bucket by slowly milking them down the length. A funnel directed water through the intestines to rinse them. The stomach was emptied and cleaned with a knife after it had been held in boiling water for a few minutes.
Meanwhile my host father was cutting up the carcass. Each piece was hung on the side of the shed to smoke. One of the daughters built a dung fire in a bucket and placed it beneath the carcass pieces. When this was finished, host father began making the blood soup. Basically, he had a pot of blood to which he added flour and onions. He removed any clots. This was then given to my host mom to stuff the intestines with. The largest part of the blood soup was put into the cleaned stomach. The rest went into larger intestine lengths along with fat and other inner parts of the sheep.
Dung fire being built.Smoking!
Then the organ meats were skewered and cooked in the fire in the shed. We all ate these pieces before continuing with the rest of the activities. They were really delicious!
Next, the goat was processed in exactly the same way. In the end, all of the stuffed entrails were cooked up and served for lunch, and wine was poured. I didn’t expect to like the meat and the innards as much as I did. As the day wore on, the smell of mutton permeated the air in the house as various activities, such as making soup, continued.
Before coming to our house today, this goat and sheep lived outside. They were free to move around and roam with the flock. They ate grass that no one sprayed with chemicals. They were never given antibiotics to fight conditions that are endemic to animals that are confined. They grew and lived as an animal, by nature, is intended to live. When it came time for them to give their lives so that people could eat, they were killed humanely and quickly. Everyone in the family worked on this harvest, even with long polished fingernails. No one in the family was squeamish at any time. They went about their tasks, some of which involved emptying the bladder and colon of the animal, with efficiency and good humor. Everyone worked until the job was finished.
My gratitude goes to this goat and sheep for food, and to my host family for providing me with an experience of integrity in a human and food animal relationship.