It’s always a wake-up call whenever I meet my uncle Bilal in Lahore, Pakistan. Seeing him is like looking at myself from a parallel dimension. Due to 12 generations of inter-cousin marriages, our genes are probably identical. But he’s a bearded street-tough union man, the kind who could knock most of my waify New York crew over just by blowing on them. His house is cramped and everyone has to share a bed. On my last visit, I spent most of my nights suffocating in the embrace of my cousin, Pashu, who’s a hulking six-seven. But even though my uncle’s home is a far cry from the prissy five-star hotel rooms VICE sends me to, the lack of creature comforts isn’t worth complaining about, especially on my last trip, because I was there for Eid al Adha—Islam’s Thanksgiving.
Eid al Adha, or simply “the bigger Eid” as it is known in Pakistan, is everything that regular old Eid is, except on a much grander scale. The other Eid, Eid ul Fitr, is child’s play in comparison—it’s a holiday for enterprising kids to hustle their families for money. Eid al Adha, on the other hand, marks the end of Hajj, the single largest religious congregation in the world. During the bigger Eid, there is so much meat, you get to gorge yourself and still have a bunch left over to give to charity. And you get to sacrifice livestock.
In the days leading up to the sacrifice, which is called Qurbani, the animals are dressed up. You see camels with their humps dyed pink and purple, or goats with embroidered draperies. Farm animals be damned, people eagerly draw and quarter everything from lamas, horses, camels, goats, and bulls. Being somewhat of a wuss, I tried my hand at a cow. Lets call her Betsy.
Maybe it was beginners luck, but the slaughter was quick and efficient. When I slit Betsy’s throat, it was amazing for me to realize how little force you need to kill a living creature. With just a little pressure on the blade, the skin on Betsy’s neck came apart like a run on a pair of tights. Out of the cut poured a pool of blood and in that moment I felt a sense of achievement, like I’d just lost my virginity.
It’s incredible how quickly the animal that you’ve lived with, fed, and dressed in fancy draperies becomes nothing more than a meaningless husk after its sacrifice. That is, until it’s cooked. The day after Qurbani, Betsy’s head was on the kitchen table. Her discolored tongue hung out of her mouth like a dead, bovine Michael Jordan. Her skull was cracked open in the back, and on a plate lay her brain waiting to be turned into masala.
When I came back to the US after Eid al Adha, the responses I received about my animal sacrifice were pretty surprising. Political vegetarians or vegans reacted positively to the idea of me actually killing something I ate. But many American meat eaters, on the other hand, were straight up pussies. I couldn’t believe that some swine eating hypocrites would grimace at the thought of my aunt’s brain masala, while chewing intestinal casings filled with miscellaneous animal scraps (hot dogs).
Unfortunately, denial is the entrée being served on many American dinner tables this Thanksgiving because we are so separated from what we eat. We only know the American turkey that is headless and frozen in plastic. Most people have no idea that the bird they are feasting on was likely bred so disgustingly and obese it couldn’t fly or walk or fuck naturally. How can someone call Qurbani brutal, when they can turn a blind eye to the horror that sustains them?
This Thanksgiving, take a lesson from Eid al Adha and connect with the food that gives you life. I know where my aunt’s brain masala comes from because I killed it with my own hands. Understanding and acknowledging this part of life is crucial to knowing your place in the world, which is at the top of a violent and brutish food chain. If it wasn’t, your head would be the one cracked open on a family’s dinning table.
Want to know more about Eid al Adha? This Is a Must Read: