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Meat in Haiku

close up photo of bacon

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Of the 212 haiku and senryu I’ve collected so far, I only have five that mention meat. Of course, I know that there are more out there. Still, I find it interesting that on the whole, meat does not seem to show up as frequently as vegetables, fruit, eggs, coffee, tea, or sweets. While I know my fair share of haijin who are vegetarians or vegans, many of us eat meat as well. Even those of use who avoid meat in adulthood were raised with it as the foundation of the main meal. I don’t have any compelling theories as to why meat doesn’t seem to show up in haiku as often. In addition, who knows what the proportion of meat haiku will be once I have collected 1,000 poems, which is my goal.

Another thing I have noticed in my initial work is that meat appears to be an all-year word. However, historically, meat consumption is tied to the seasons. My partner, John, grew up on a farm, and I asked him to clarify the seasonal nature of slaughtering and eating meat. Pigs and cattle are normally slaughtered in autumn, after the summer heat has broken, but before winter has set in. Hunting seasons generally occur in autumn. Even freshwater fish and seafood have their ideal harvesting seasons, ranging from late spring to late autumn, depending on the species. Chickens are a bit different; you don’t slaughter a chicken and cure it to last through the winter. Poultry is more likely to be slaughtered and eaten throughout the year, though again, autumn was often a more advantageous time than others. John also noted that, in prior generations, it was common to eat a quasi-vegetarian diet (excluding rendered animal fat) for at least part of the year, usually in spring and sometimes into summer, when the previous year’s meat stores had been depleted.

Of course, thanks to refrigeration, industrial farming practices, and global trade, all types of meat are available year-round in much of the world, meaning our meat consumption is divorced from any sense of the seasons. While that’s true of produce as well, I think fruits and vegetables still retain more of a seasonal rhythm. Even if you live in a city, you can probably manage some sort of small-scale garden, which tunes you in to the seasonal nature of produce. It’s not feasible to keep a pig or cow in an urban or suburban back yard. Even those city dwellers who are able to keep chickens usually have them just for eggs. Plus, I know more than a few people who eat meat, but would prefer not to think about where it comes from. It’s easy to see how meat gets divorced from the seasons not just at the industrial level, but on a personal level as well.

cholesterol a steak through the heart

Keith Evetts, Failed Haiku Issue 70

Keith Evetts’ humorous poem relies on the pun of steak and stake, and though cholesterol and heart disease are serious issues, this piece makes me chuckle every time I see it. Perhaps the pun puts the haiku in autumn, referencing Halloween, but based on my limited knowledge of vampire fiction, they exist year-round. This is an effective senryu (or could possibly be classified as zappai), but there isn’t a clear seasonal referent.

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steak night
I ask about
the vegan options

Louise Hopewell, Failed Haiku Issue 76

Louise Hopewell’s senryu provides a sense of juxtaposition, between a meat-eater and their vegan dining companion. However, this doesn’t take place in a specific season. I’ve had steaks grilled outdoors in the summer, cooked in an oven in winter, and fried in a skillet just about any time of year. In fact, the method of preparation might influence the sense of a season rather than meat itself.

fish and chips
in yesterday’s news
yesterday’s news

Susan Spooner, Charlotte DiGregorio’s Writer’s Blog, May 28, 2022

Historically, fish and chips were wrapped in newspaper. I’ve personally never experienced this, and ostensibly, the practice has died out for hygienic reasons. Still, Susan Spooner’s poem makes excellent use of the cultural knowledge of fish and chips, and I find the repetition of the phrase “yesterday’s news” to be effective and engaging. While the cod that usually comprises fish and chips peaks in winter (Pacific Ocean) or summer (Atlantic Ocean), the dish is available year-round, and so again, given the nature of modern life, we don’t have a clear seasonal referent here.

Photo by Gustav Lundborg on Pexels.com

Cat dreaming of man,
Man dreaming of cat, both
Craving fish fillet

Debbie Walker-Lass, Haikuniverse, May 9, 2022

Even if fish were only available at certain times of the year, you can dream about them in any season. Debbie Walker-Lass’ emphasis on dreaming takes the poem out of reality and into the world of the subconscious. You can also have a craving at any point during the year. Even if something is out of season and unavailable, you might desire it. This senryu, focused on dreams and desire, is applicable as an all-year poem.

Mother’s Day
the smell of bacon
from each apartment

Bob Redmond, bottle rockets Issue 46

Bob Redmond’s haiku is the only one I have collected so far that has a clear seasonal referent, but it doesn’t come from food. Redmond mentions the Mother’s Day holiday, which occurs in May, making it a spring haiku in the Gregorian calendar and a summer haiku in the lunar calendar. In this poem, multiple families are cooking bacon in celebration of the holiday, at a time of year when, historically, bacon might not have been available. Reading Redmond’s haiku in that light, a layer of profundity emerges. How amazing that we can honor our mothers with bacon . . . and, given the state of the world, let’s consider ourselves fortunate, because that might not always be the case.

As I reach the end of this post, I realize that this topic points me in a new direction for research: the ways in which certain words might once have been seasonal, but due to changes in human activity, are no longer connected to seasons. I welcome your thoughts on that!

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