Let me start by saying that I am in a low level civil war with the pigeons. The pigeons and I inhabit the same city. In many ways they are privileged. They survive on my and others waste (free-eats), they inhabit the highest floors, with the views that they choose, the breeze or sunshine flowing over them as they wish. A short jaunt out to sea does not involve taking the north-bound ‘autostrade’ or facing the south-bound return beach traffic. I suspect they visit the higher, cleaner winds, distant from the diesel-particulate-laced air I and my children breathe.
I do not really envy them. They are not respected by the respectable. Those who do associate with them are condemned by us men as dubious, untrustworthy, dirty perhaps.* They are not gracious, they are not majestic, they are not particularly proud looking animals. And they have no control over their bowels. I would accept their occasional presence on my balcony, their sipping at my flower-pot water-dishes and their cleaning up of my spilt meal-crumbs if they did not shit everywhere. I am not asking that they be clean like cats, carefully hiding the traces of their animal-ness. But do they need to shotgun guano all over the place? Despicable devil may care things.
So the war is over shit. It’s a reasonable reason to be at war in my view. The battles have made me something of an expert on pigeon spikes, Korean herbal repellents (they both work), poisoning, harassment and more. I’ve realized that it is not killing them that does anything. The others just multiply faster. It is a question of making my place less friendly than others. Kind of like what we have to do with terrorists. Pigeon: winged shit-for-bombs terrorists.
This morning I was having coffee on the terrace among the noise of the city, human pollution I have learned to ignore. I noticed a lot more bird turd than usual. I went to scrubbing and hosing and worried about whether this intense shit-fest might be a warning of some new trend I would have to be vigilant against.
It turns out there were two flightless young pigeons behind a wall on my balcony. I took a long bamboo pole from the garden and started poking them and making noise until, after a lot of to and fro the damned things were in individual plastic shopping bags. The kind that usually float out to sea and kill gulls.
The two bagged pigeons were sent down to the parking garage where I intended to load them into my car and drop them off far away. I did not have the coldness of heart to kill them with my hands.
I had an errand to do and left the building for a while. On my way back I concluded that I did, in fact, need to do away with them. Their highly evolved homing sense scared me. I knew the bastards would be back and they’d lay more eggs and thanks to the power of compound interest I’d soon be living in a Hitchockian nightmare of bird mess.
Jack London makes a convincing case that death by freezing is not a bad way to go. The more I pondered the idea, the more freezing the two juvenile birds seemed like the best case scenario-for me. I decided to put them into nested bags (not wanting their grossness to infect my frozen goods) and pop them in my freezer. A few hours and they would be numbed into permanent oblivion.
But, on my return the bags were missing. “Odd,” I thought. I asked the Doorman where they were. He said that he gave them to a couple of Bangladeshi friends. They were planning some kind of casserole. I didn’t believe in the wholesomeness of the winged rats and was skeptical about the amount of nourishment that might be gained from them. I expressed those thoughts to the Doorman. He made it clear that small and young was a delicacy.
This story, meaningless though it might have been, has settled a long standing uncertainty for me, namely whether I should eat meat or not. While I was in the process of capturing the little pigeons, my emotion swung from hatred, a hatred that encompassed their whole species, to tenderness borne of the sight of them as helpless individual chicks. When the hatred was strong, I felt a temptation to impale them with my bamboo pole, when tenderness came to the fore, my stick was simply a noise maker. Finally, having gotten them both out intact, I could not kill them and discard them. That just felt plain wrong. And when I did decide to kill them, it was only the fact that I had come upon the freezing death that made the whole idea acceptable. But, once I found out they had been used for food, I was relieved, satisfied internally and not only because I was no longer obliged to bloody my hands. It was because I could feel that things were in their right places. I felt, and thus believe, that these birds which had been treated with respect and consideration (I mean their destiny was the result of me considering the possible outcomes with their suffering in mind) and then eaten as nourishment is somehow fulfilling an acceptable destiny.
To be clear I reject, and this story does not justify, Tyson Food’s or Hawa Chicken’s mass torture and execution of animals, and it specifically excludes the wasteful approach to food and the commoditisation of flesh that has become commonplace. Period.