What Happens When a Vegan Falls in Love With a Carnivore—an Actual Hunter, Even?
A love story about two opposite lifestyles.
(page 3 of 3)
Illustration: Erin Maala
I STOPPED EATING RED MEAT when I was 12, after reading about slaughterhouses. I don’t remember the last time I ate an egg, cheese or ice cream—because I didn’t know it would be the last time. I was aware of the hypocrisy in my ethics—perhaps my camera strap was faux leather, but my medications were surely tested on animals. My shampoo may have had a heart-shaped “V” to indicate that it was certified vegan, but my vegetables were grown with animal inputs. I did my best; when I said, “I’ll never eat meat for the rest of my life,” I meant it.
Hunter used to joke that he would break me of my veganism, and, on the day we separated our lives, he did. Although I had aggressively avoided the bloody scene of every prior peacock, pig or rabbit death, with our increasing closeness, I felt a creeping obligation to watch him kill an animal; it was impossible for me to imagine—both the capacity and the act.
In his backyard, beneath the lemon tree, he took one of the chickens, curled its head beneath its wing, swung it in slow circles to calm it.
“Do you want to hold it?”
I shook my head.
The first knife he handed me felt too small, the second, massive. We crouched in the mulch, facing each other. The sun was everywhere; he held the chicken down, one hand on its head. I placed my hand over his hand, asked how much pressure to apply. “You’ll know,” he said. I pressed the blade into the chicken’s thin neck—like chopping a carrot, until I hit something. “Draw the knife across,” he said. It was simple and it was nothing. He swooped it upside down as we stood, the chicken flapping, twisting, dripping into the mulch.
I kept asking, “Are you sure it’s dead? Are you sure?”
He flicked the head, strung its body against the tree, grabbed another chicken, snapped its neck. A few minutes ago, there had been four of us and we were all living, and I
was amazed by how suddenly we were separated. How irredeemably.
Sitting side by side on buckets next to the compost pile, I held the one I killed in my arms and could only think about how warm and sweet it felt, as alive as any of the beasts I had held in my arms. I was afraid to hurt it as I ripped its feathers off in sharp handfuls; I accidentally tore an entire chunk of skin and thought, oh god, I’m so sorry, even though its head was already in the compost pile.
After, we sat on his backyard steps, and I cried for what felt like my whole life but was probably three-and-a-half minutes.
How perfect and terrible that last day together was—we talked, laughed, killed, cried onto each other’s faces for hours. How is it that you can love someone so immensely and not find a way to treat them with compassion? All the reasons seemed so small: Because he drinks. Because I go to bed early. Because I love running. Because he believes academic degrees define success. Because I am prone to melancholic fits, which isn’t great for dinner parties. Because he loves dinner parties. Because we are not the same, exact person.
I never ate the chicken. I left it, skinned and eviscerated, in a bowl on its empty cage. I almost laughed at how quickly a life can be dismantled—a head here, a heart there. At how what does us the most harm (the prosaic broken heart) is not what we would expect (slitting an animal’s throat). After these cruelties, I didn’t know what I was capable of anymore. After killing the chicken, I asked if there was anything else we could kill. I asked for drugs (I don’t do drugs). I asked to be let out of the riotous cage of my body.
When I left Hunter, he was sleeping and there was a drop of blood spatter on his ankle. It surprised me, how strong the desire to taste it.
About the Author
Jennifer Meleana Hee is a (mostly) vegan chef for Juicy Brew, where she cooks with her sister. Born and raised in Hawai‘i Kai, she now resides in Kahalu‘u. She is obsessed with her dogs, wilderness and ‘ulu. Follow her foraging and family adventures on Instagram @jennmeleana, and find her eats @juicybrew.