A few weeks ago, we ate at one of our regular neighborhood restaurants. The manager is always solicitous, ensuring we understand the non translated list of specials. On this particular Saturday, all related to the tradition of a Slovak pig killing (a “zabijacka”). Pat and I generally sample the local cuisine – particularly those things core to Slovak traditions. So against our better judgment, we ordered to the waiter’s recommendation.
It wasn’t my favorite meal. These cheaper cuts of pork (I sampled the pork belly) are, to my taste too fatty and salty. But I had heard of the pig killing weekend tradition from my work colleagues and was excited to learn more of this custom. Some of my friends head home each fall to help their parents with the sun up until sun down labor required to process a full grown pig. Fortunately, our young waiter spoke great English and had participated in the pig killing ritual with his grandmother in their native village. Each time he stopped by our table to check on us, I was able to glean five minute snippets of his experience.
The net of the tradition is to buy a young piglet and raise it on the family homestead in the simplest connotation of “free range”. When it reaches the desired weight, the local pig killer is hired to do his work. At that time, 10 to 20 family members and friends gather for a weekend of: preparing every cut of meat; making sausage; distributing the finished product amongst the participants; and drinking liberally.
Many Slovaks, and especially those we know who were born and raised in Bratislava, assert these traditions have died. Slovaks are no longer the “peasant” farmer stereotype some fear are implied by the pig killing stories. While I have no doubt fewer Slovaks raise and slaughter their family pig, I know many who have done just that. In the eastern part of Slovakia in particular, the simple traditions are alive and well.
The question I continue to ponder is, “How do I feel about this tradition?” My knee jerk reaction is to brand it as barbaric, the actions of a backwards people – both cruel and uncivilized. The reality is, I eat pork. And while I have never, and could never, raise and slaughter my dinner – someone does. The pig which I eat likely grew up in a large scale meat producing operation, lived in a highly confined space and died a worse death than his Slovak counterparts. While my ignorance may be bliss, the consequences of my choices are likely less humane than those practiced here in Slovakia.
I was raised in a culture where family pig killing weekends didn’t exist. While I may love some Slovak traditions more than others, I have to respect the traditions and make some attempt to understand them. Also, I must realize my more pristine life is not, at its core, nobler or more civilized. I’m just less a witness to and a participant in some of the realities which under pin my life.
Categories: Insiders Budapest