Prepackaged pieces of meat had always been enough for Sam Woulidge until the arrival of her son.
I was both born and raised in the suburbs. So I like my meat shrink-wrapped and clearly labeled. I also prefer it to come in body parts. Chicken thighs. Shoulders of lamb. Pork bellies. I do not come from a line of hunters or gatherers. We shop. We do not kill. We order. I now live in the city but not much has changed when it comes to my protein selection, other than the fact that I occasionally like to buy our bits of meat from artisanal butcheries. I derive great joy when it comes nicely wrapped in brown paper and that our eggs are delivered once a week by the lovely Grace who sources them from ethical farmers in beautifully named places like the Hemel-and-Aarde valley. In other words I prefer to not recognise my food. A ‘Hallo Babe/Good Bye Babe. Thanks for the flesh’ conversation, is possibly more reality than I can generally stomach when faced with a plate of bacon.
But that all changed with the first birthday and naming ceremony of our son three years ago.
We waited a long time for this child. Those Years of Tears. And when he finally found us, this dark-skinned version of ourselves, we knew that he was The Boy Who Was Meant to Be. Born on Freedom Day, this chosen child was all that we could have wished for, he was more than we could have imagined. And so we named him Sonwabo, a Xhosa word meaning happiness because more than anything else in the world, we wanted our son to be happy.
We celebrated his first year on this earth with a blessing on our dear friends’ Adi and Cornelia’s farm Kalmoesmontein in the Swartland. The wine, Adi’s obviously, was an easy choice. And the design, cardboard cutout, colour-dipped farm animals, metres and metres of colourful bunting, and white flags that framed the vineyards was Cornelia’s inspiration. Desert was a no-brainer. We would require an enormous koektafel. Our Afrikaans roots called out for that long table laden with an assortment of cakes, the likes of which is such an ubiquitous presence at all rites of passage. Births, Christenings, confirmations, weddings and funerals, you name the occasion, the Afrikaners will eat cake.
For the main meal, Adi suggested I speak to his fellow renegade wine-maker Callie Louw of Porseleinberg. Callie had, along with Craig Glutz, built an enormous black steel beast of a Texan-style slow smoker and started a sideline business The Southern Smoke. No one, I was told, could deliver better smoked meat. And smoked meat is what South Africans are about. So I chatted to Callie and decided on brisket sliders and chicken wings for the party.
And then I confessed, filled with suburban supermarket guilt, that I had been feeling a very strong urge that something had to be sacrificed; that animals had to die, to honour the birth of our son. Where did that come from? Was is biblical? Was it ancestral? Was it a primitive impulse? Was it all of the above?
But Callie got it. He got it completely. ‘Ek kan ‘n klomp speenvarkies groot maak vir jou en hulle heel smoke…’ (I can raise a few suckling pigs for you and smoke them whole….).
And so as the weeks leading up to the party went by I imagined these small pigs growing fatter and fatter oblivious to their imminent sacrifice. And I felt for them and I was grateful to them. And when the day of their death came and they were sacrificially smoked, Callie placed their small charred heads on the table. Respectfully. This was an honouring. Their death for my son’s life. And in the eating of their sweet, fatty, smoked flesh, I experienced a deep and profound gratitude. For everything and everyone that has brought us to this place. And gratitude and happiness, like smoke, filled the air.