When I was a kid, my dad told me and my sisters horror stories about my grandparents growing up during The Great Depression. My grandfather, born to Polish immigrants in New Jersey, was sent miles away as a little kid to pick berries and sell them on the streets. In this day, an unattended child peddling to strangers would be criminal. My grandmother’s family who worked a cotton farm in Oklahoma was so poor that they had to send her sister off to relatives because they couldn’t feed her. Imagine having to decide which child you have to hand off.

Nowadays, we are born into in a world where any kind of food we want is at our fingertips. It’s fresh, cheap, and effortless for us to buy it. We put little thought into what (or who) we are eating or where it came from.

The other day, my expat neighbors who have egg-laying chickens told me one of their hens had a limp. Chickens can be vicious, and the others kept pecking at the injured chicken and forbid her to enter the hen house at night. My neighbors asked me if I could send my employee over to put it out of its misery. I thought about how funny it was that none of us gringos knew how to kill the chicken.

My employee, Ismael, is indigenous. His family comes from the comarca (reservation) isolated by miles and miles of footpaths through the jungle. There are no supermarkets out there. They know how to survive, and they certainly know how to deal with killing dinner. They still hunt for bushmeat—iguanas, monkeys, and whatever else they can find. (For the record, Ismael never killed the chicken. He ended up taking it home next door to us and now it’s laying eggs for him. Win/win!)

But I bet my grandparents and most of my great-grandparents knew how to kill a chicken. This is a skill lost to those of us raised in the suburbs of the modern age. It’s funny to think that if we first-world people were stranded on an island, we would have difficulty tracking and killing to survive. We rely completely on the agricultural industry to do all the dirty work for us. We don’t see the process, the mass production and slaughter of livestock that is more barbaric than hunting.

should humans eat meat

Panama is a small country with only one main highway stretching its length. Whenever we’re on the road, we see the cattle and pigs on their way to the slaughterhouse. They sway in the back of trucks, only able to stay upright because they are packed in so tightly. When I look at them, they actually look back with their enormous, brown eyes. They ignore the discomfort as their urine drips from the tailgate. They are docile and compliant, oblivious that they’re on their way to being bludgeoned and dismembered. It’s so creepy. It makes me think of the Holocaust. The stench as we pass the carnecería (slaughterhouse) is putrid.

I find it difficult to reconcile eating animals if I allow myself to ruminate on it (pun intended). If I owned livestock, I’m sure they would become my pets. But even though I’m an animal lover, I never wanted to become a vegetarian. I always believed humans were supposed to have meat in their diet. Still, it bothers me that at almost every meal, we eat what is essentially a piece of dead animal without giving it a second thought. In this secular society, many of us don’t even thank a god, much less appreciate the once living creature we’re crushing between our molars. I knew one question would determine if I should become vegetarian.

Would I kill this animal in order to eat it?

I watched a documentary called Earthlings. It was the most disturbing thing I had ever seen, worse than any horror movie or nightmare. I forced myself to stomach it because it was the truth about our food. If I was going to be eating it, I couldn’t ignore the reality of what I was doing.

I was so traumatized after that film that I stopped eating meat for almost a year. I only ate wild-caught fish and seafood, telling myself the fish and shrimp at least enjoyed some freedom in the sea. I refused to consume mass-produced animals like cows, pigs, and chicken.

Or rather—beef, pork, poultry.

These words help distance us from what we are really putting in our mouths. It sounds like a commodity, not a creature, not hunks of dead cows, chickens, and pigs. It’s ghastly when you think about it from this perspective.

So, ask yourself:

How much do you like that bacon?

If there were no such thing as a slaughterhouse, a butcher, or a grocery store, would you kill, slaughter, and butcher a cow, pig, or chicken?

These questions I posed to myself about the killing and eating of animals are what birthed my †3Dark story, Conviction.

Michael is one of the masses, a teen suicide risk who expects nothing but a bleak future amidst urban decay. Then he encounters Sebastian, a, beautiful, enigmatic young man who inherited a farm from his deceased parents. ‘Seb’ brings Michael to this pastoral Eden, where he and his followers believe fiercely in the survival of the fittest. He who lacks the conviction to kill his own food cannot eat meat. Michael’s initiation is to go face to face with an animal.

Would you be able to pass the test?

I still don’t know this answer for myself.

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