General Non-Fiction posted January 22, 2022

This work has reached the exceptional level
From paddock to platter: Kazakh cuisine.

Through The Eyes of a Sheep

by LisaMay

You might think I am just a dumb follower, with not much going on in my woolly head, but I ruminate about a lot of things. Just the other day I heard a human say to another: “May your life be interesting.” He said it with a certain tone of voice, and I’ve since learned that it is a variation of an old English expression: “May you live in interesting times”. This itself is derived from a traditional Chinese curse, like a back-handed blessing. It means wishing unrest and uncertainty into someone’s life, rather than peaceful tranquility.

Did I bore ewe? Too baaad! I’m not sheepish about sharing my knowledge. It appears I myself have been blessed/cursed with having an ‘interesting’ life…

When you drive past my paddock or field you might think I live in peaceful tranquility in attractive surroundings, either frolicking with my friends, walking unhurriedly, or perhaps lying in the shelter of shade trees. That’s the ideal – in the Springtime of my life in a temperate zone country.

Of course, when you look at just one aspect of a life, things can appear rosy. Every life has its darker, more sinister aspects of unrest and uncertainty, its seasons of bounty and death. Every life is ‘interesting’, whether we want it to be or not. Me – I’d prefer to live out my days knee-deep in clover, sunshine beaming overhead with not a cloud on my horizon. Huh… fat chance! ‘Fat’ being the operative word, because I’m being fattened up for someone’s dinner table.

While I was munching grass, I was ruminating upon the following concept – if everyone were vegetarian, like I am, I’m certain there would be fewer wars. Surely people would have more respect for life, in all its representations? Violence against fellow sentient creatures should be an abhorrence! In these times of scientific and agricultural advances, nutrition is available from other sources. Food for thought? Naturally, I have a vested interest in that line of thinking!

I won’t bleat around the bush. Consider the suffering involved in being raised to be killed. What are my living conditions like? You might imagine they are quite pleasant in countries such as England or New Zealand, in those green fields of the countryside, but even there they have sudden snow storms where we are buried deep, unable to find food, our lambs freezing to death before our starving eyes. And think of other countries, like Australia, in drought conditions where we die of thirst, after wandering weakly in search of a withered blade of grass, and finding none. In some European countries, think of those terrifying situations where we run in silly circles, being attacked and mauled by wolves. There had to be a dead sheep to come up with that phrase: “A wolf in sheep’s clothing”.

I’m certain my cousins suffer depredations in many other countries too – by coyotes in America for instance – but it’s not just wild animal attacks that hurt us while we endure our lives before being slaughtered for your dining pleasure. When we are shorn of our fleeces, we might have the misfortune to be in the hands of an impatient or unskilled worker, being punched or kicked, or our skin cut and ripped painfully.

How would you like to be mutilated with tags in your ears? (Oh, okay, some of you humans do that willingly.) How would you like to have ghastly chemicals shoved down your throat or stabbed into your body? (Oh, okay, some of you do that willingly, too.) Well, my point remains – the life of a sheep, being exploited so you can chew my flesh – is open to abusive practices, leading to my premature death.

Oh, here’s some more: How would you like to be castrated without painkillers, hmm? Or genetically manipulated so that you have twins and triplets with each pregnancy? And as we are very caring mothers, it is a distressing ordeal to be parted from our young ones.

The fear factor for us sheep is very high. Can you imagine the terror we feel when we’re crammed into trucks and transported to the abattoir? I’ll spare you the details of being killed and dismembered. You just think of us as pink pieces of protein, hygienically shrink-wrapped and placed on a supermarket chiller shelf. But the process to get there is bloody traumatic.

I’m a sheep with a conscience, so I am aware that my presence in large flocks is having an impact on the environment in several ways. By having us around, you stupid humans are actually helping to kill yourselves. And you call us ‘dumb animals’!

Farming us can lead to several detrimental effects. Clearing forests so we can graze interferes with other ecosystems. Natural vegetation and wildlife are disrupted. We cause soil erosion and water pollution. We produce that potent greenhouse gas methane, which is contributing to climate change.

But the main detrimental point that affects our personal lives is this: WE TASTE SO NICE!

I will now describe a dining experience requiring the sacrifice of one of my cousins. You might imagine going to a fancy restaurant with rack of lamb on the menu, accompanied by all the trimmings, or you might think chewing on a char-grilled chop at an outdoor BBQ is bliss, but to continue with the theme of having an ‘interesting’ life, and because a lot of you are cooped up in your own grazing paddocks at the moment and can’t travel anywhere, I will tell you about a meal of sheep’s meat in an exotic Central Asia location: Kazahkstan. It might not be to your taste, but it will be ‘interesting’.

And here it is now: A whole boiled sheep’s head on a platter, staring at you. Do you feel rather confronted? Maybe… if you are a Westerner, but to Kazakhs and other Turkic people of Central Asia it's a favourite dish.

Do you feel revulsion when the eyeball is passed to you? Maybe, but in Kazakh tradition it is a sign that you are an honoured guest. Be polite and try not to gag on the ‘interesting’ texture.

Do you find the lamb or mutton greasy and difficult to eat? Possibly, if you are used to using a knife and fork, but to Kazakhs it is customary to pull the cooked meat from the bones in large chunks with their hands. Therefore the dish is called Beshbarmak (“five fingers”). The host cuts and serves the chunks of meat in order of the guests’ importance. Wide pasta noodles and an onion gravy broth accompany the meat, as well as “nan” – the local flat bread – sprinkled with sesame, nutmeg, poppy seeds or raisins. Shredded vegetables in a spicy dressing will also be served, plus a variety of products made from sheep milk, such as cheeses, yoghurt, sour milk and curd.

This meal is based on nomadic cookery, kept simple. Their minimal equipment would have to be taken from place to place while following the grazing herds. In modern Kazahk dining, the meals are more elaborate, but they are still very meat-based. It’s bad luck for me, being a sheep, but it could be worse for you – it could be horse meat that is served.


Pop goes the Weasel writing prompt entry
Writing Prompt
For one day, you will embody whatever animal you ate last (in real life). You will then off yourself in a manner intended to create the most interesting dining experience for the person who consumes you. Tell us how it goes.

Sources for information:
Several internet sites, personal experience (not as a sheep, though), and conversation with immigrants.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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