This post is a little different from the previous chapters of my blog... Because I am beginning to settle into a bit of a routine, my posts will most likely become somewhat more speculative at times, versus just informative. Just a warning to my readers!
A significant aspect of my impression of South Africa so far has been food. Food is a central part of all cultures, and a great way to learn about the values, traditions, and customs of the people. I could see straight away when I got here that South Africans love meat. As a vegetarian (though admittedly a rather loose vegetarian since my arrival here), I was a little skeptical. People in the States love their meat too… and what I didn’t realize at first was how different meat is viewed here. As a result of this recent realization, I’ve come to view meat and meat consumption somewhat differently. I have never been one to think that it is “wrong” to eat meat. Certainly not. But the excessive meat consumption, and despicable methods of the meat industry really turned me off from meat at home. I never thought my eating habits could change the world, but why not remove myself from a system that hurts all parties involved, including myself? So, I stopped eating meat (my reasoning was a little more in-depth than that, by the way... headed by environmental concerns, which are still prevalent in my eating choices but I won't address for the sake of this post).
Here in South Africa, however, I found myself occasionally trying meat as a way of embracing the culture, being open to a new experience. I have only eaten meat if it is a new experience (i.e., I don’t eat hamburgers, but would try springbok). I have sampled oxtail, some sort of traditional lamb/vegetable stew, a gatspy, biltong (the South African version of beef jerky), and the meat at Mzoli’s, simply because it’s the most famous meat restaurant around. But even aside from eating meat as an experiential/cultural act, I have found that generally speaking, meat is not merely eaten, but treasured. My research methods teacher, Cina, was talking about meat the other day in class, and the way she talked about the South African love for meat further led me to question my own eating habits, and my perceptions of meat consumption.
Westernization and modern technology has surely undermined some of the more traditional forms of farming and consuming… but historically at least, South Africans value their animals. Animals are treasured; they are expensive and time consuming, and the act of slaughtering and eating an animal is a special event. South Africans seem to better recognize where their meat is coming from, rather than disconnecting the package in the store from the cow across the street as Americans seem to do so easily. Rather than turning the consumers away from meat, I think this connection and recognition leads to a greater appreciation for the meat, for the animal, and for the process by which it ended up on the dinner table.
I realize that one of my main problems with eating meat isn’t the act of eating meat itself, but rather the disassociation of food from its source. South Africans seem to have a much greater connection to their food, and I admire the way they recognize and value the animals they eat, rather than taking meat for granted as a necessity. If I ever become a regular omnivore again, I will only do so if I can feel such a connection to, reverence toward, and understanding of the source of my food… without it making me squeamish, but instead more appreciative, humble, and respectful in my consumption.