Jamón  Íberico

~ Lexi Peréz

Every moment of our ancestry has culminated in the DNA coding—the programming—of our minds, bodies, and souls. We have a prime directive: survive and procreate. We are driven by our programming. We are our programming.

There’s this pig. This kind of pig that only eats acorns from some specific place for its whole life. This strict diet creates a marbling of the pig’s fat and muscle that, when dry-aged, makes for some very expensive ham. Jamón Íberico.

Jamón Íberico is served everywhere in Spain, and it’s easily identified wherever you find it because it’s the only kind of meat served straight from the corpse.

This is only a minor exaggeration, as the meat is dry-aged by the leg. Restaurants and merchants buy legs of ham at a time, and cut strips of flesh so thin you can nearly see through it. Even then, shaving it slice by slice, they must sell it for an exorbitant price, to make up for the massive upfront cost of an entire damn pig leg.

The first time I saw Jamón Íberico, I didn’t recognize it for what it was. I didn’t recognize it at all. I was with my mother, young, maybe ten, maybe eleven, and I saw something dense and heavy and oblong set proudly on display on the bartop. I remember creeping closer and closer, finding a smell, being unable to place the smell, creeping closer. I remember staring—squinting—at the prickly spikes of wiry fur left around the bony ankle, tracing my eyes up and down the shining metal of the stand. It wasn’t until my mother’s confused and displeased hand fell upon my shoulder that I saw, with horror, the thing I was actually looking at.

A shackle was strapped around the ankle of the pig. The hoof, still dirty, pointed haphazardly to the far right corner of the restaurant. It was presented so prominently, so proudly; the curved metal arm that held the cuff high glinted malevolently, and the mahogany base shone.  A wire, like a potter might use on his clay, lay draped over the exposed meat of the creature’s thigh. As I watched, stupefied, enamored, a hand drew the wire up the pink, white, and tan leg – a parchment thin sheaf of ham curling behind it. The smell, still unrecognizable, slapped me across the nose again, before encasing me, seeping into my hair. I decided it must be the smell of being buried alive.

 

The most striking thing about first seeing Jamón Íberico is how easily such a cuff would fit around your ankle, how similar in length they might be, toe to thigh. From time to time, I will catch a glimpse of myself, in some such position, and see immediately, for a moment or a glance, exactly how like Jamón Íberico my leg could look. Some of these times, when I close my eyes, I can see the thin little wire, stroking up my thigh, up again and again and to the bone, leaflets of ham fluttering away.

Strip by bloodless strip.

Thin enough to see through.

Just one leg lasts ages. Ages and ages.

 

I’ve always been proud of my physique. Particularly my legs. Not proud in a sense where I needed to show them off. Just proud in the sense that my legs were strong, and powerful, and would never let me down. The cut of the calf was deep; flexing them, I saw the thickness of the muscle, knew it could do whatever I asked. The cut of each thigh, while less pronounced, was no less impressive. My legs were heavy. Dense. Strong.

 

There was a man in Germany who posted an ad on Craigslist, asking if anyone would be interested in eating him alive. Another man responded, saying yes, yes he would like to eat that man alive. The two got together and wrote up a contract. The contract detailed the sequence of events that would transpire, and that they each recognized the potential repercussions of such events. They both signed it.

The first thing the second man did was cut the penis from the first man, and fry it. I don’t remember if they both ate that or not, but at a certain point, does it even matter? The second man was arrested, but as he had that contract, they had to let him walk. There was no law against cannibalism in Germany at the time.

There is now.

 

I’ve heard human flesh tastes like pork. I’ve heard it’s the only other kind of meat that would. I’ve heard reasoning for these claims, but I don’t remember any of it. I know there is an illness that can be contracted from cannibalism, but I also know this only comes from eating the brain.

 

All living creatures, regardless of intellect or wisdom or willpower, are simple reproductions of their programming, as adapted to the circumstances they arrived in. It was never nature versus nurture, only nature and nurture—only us.

It is our nature to protect ourselves, propagate ourselves, to perpetuate the self. Any action taken contrary to this nature, this directive, is contrary to our programming. To attack one’s own flesh, in the animal world, is a sign of intense sickness, parasitic and contrary in nature to the very being of the animal itself. In the human world, too, the act often indicates sickness of the mind, or (and) a product of religion. It is not impossible for us to break from our programming, it is just very difficult to do so. Someone who inherited OCD, who has it locked in their genetic coding, who has to touch every wall in the room six times before they can leave it, will tell you very quickly that this genetic quirk of their programming does not promote either their survival or procreation, though every bit of their nature screams that not to do it is to die. Yet, with much work, much labor, much hardship – through therapy, and medication, and practice—this person can slowly disentangle themselves —their true selves – from this programming.

But what does consuming the self do? You are both destroying and preserving the very thing evolution has taught it to protect.

 

There was a man who rode a motorcycle. He got in an accident. His leg, separated from his body in the crash, was impossible to reattach. As his leg was his property, he brought it home. He called his friends. They had a barbecue.

In some ways—many ways—I envy this man.

He did it the easy way.

 

I’ve read about so many accounts of autocannibalism in humans. Almost all of them were forced. Prisoners of war forced to eat their own ears, men on drugs biting off their own fingers and swallowing them – even the man on the motorcycle didn’t truly choose to eat himself, he simply ate a piece of meat that used to be himself.

 

I have gotten a lot of sympathy since the accident. The trauma to my body impacted my mind, and this was quickly noticed by those around me. I, in turn, noticed their noticing. I sent everyone away, told them I needed to heal.

In reality, it had just gotten too hard to fit in anymore. Too hard to smile at the right time or make the right joke. It wasn’t just the pain, not just the stress, it was also the tantalizing distraction of anticipation. The energy of my mind could hardly be spent on mundane pleasantries—no matter how well-meaning my visitors were.

Prosthetics are better than they’ve ever been. Thanks to kind donations and my own comfortable savings, I have one for everyday wear—walking, sitting, driving, etc – one for hiking, and one for swimming.

Yes, it does have a flipper.

You don’t actually walk on a fake leg—you more sit on it. My nub doesn’t take any of my weight, it just has a nice little cup to lean back in.

I didn’t host a barbecue, if that’s what you’re thinking. I might, eventually. But Jamón Íberico is dry-aged, not cooked.

Even though I know it’s not nearly time yet, I limp out to the backyard, hobble over to the shed. I already know what to expect when I open the door, but the smell still surprises me—it smells like being buried alive.

 

Lexi Perez is a junkie of all genres, but will always find a home in the dark and twisty. She is inspired by authors like Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, and loves finding cool rocks on hikes. Her hobbies include crochet, knitting, embroidery, and needle felting. Lexi lives in Denver with her partner and cat.

 [ issue 2 : spring 2021 ]