What would be my dinner was right in front of me, blood still pulsing through its veins. We had named it Pumpkin, but it was not a pumpkin. It was a morbid idea to name our meal, perhaps, but it was so natural to name the animals we kept around. Pumpkin was a pig, a pig that lived with us in the Darien Jungle of Panama, tied up to a fence just outside of our hut.
We brought Pumpkin on a small boat down the river to the village where we lived for that summer. She was dinner and the meat of her body fed the entire village. The evening before our departure was the last time we saw her. Our goodbye was short. Two of the men who lived in our village held the pig, and in one swift motion, another man stabbed her in the neck. He pulled the knife, tearing at the most vital of veins. Pumpkin struggled, squirting blood from her neck onto her killers. She squealed, the tone piercing through the air. Her pain may have been great but it was not lengthy. Her life had ended in a matter of seconds, which meant it was time to prepare the body. A man with a light blue shirt and dark blue shorts laid the body of the pig on two large leaves, both bigger than her body. He began to shave the pig with a machete. The man then severed Pumpkin’s head entirely from her body and hung the carcass upside down from a nearby tree over a bucket. He cut the carcass down the middle of the stomach, allowing the organs to fall into the bucket below. The man scraped out the body entirely, leaving only the bones and meat behind.
The next time I saw the pig it had been sliced into chunks and placed in pot which was roasting over a fire. We prepared for a fiesta, our grand goodbye to the community of people we had grown to love. Petey, a four-year-old boy, couldn’t wait for the dinner and the celebration. He crawled in my lap and on the ground and then onto the lap of another person. Some children colored on coloring books we brought for them. The older kids played fútbol in the field near the school. I sat and visited with the young moms who were all so confused I hadn’t started a family yet. I told them they could be my family and they agreed to that—family we would be, at least in heart.
Dinner was ready. The plates were comprised mostly of rice with three or four pieces of pork. It was not a feast, but it was enough. Pumpkin was delicious. I had never had such fresh meat before. It was the most connected I had ever felt to my food. Much of my team felt it was morbid, even though they had eaten meat at home, to glare into the eyes of their food before enjoying it. I wouldn’t say I disagree. I, however, do feel that it was in some way a beautiful process. We brought a pig to a jungle village as a humble offering, and we were able to share her together. Pumpkin’s death was not in vain. It was this meal that had made certain we were united as one family. It was the perfect goodbye.