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Death of a Pig
July 9, 2008 5:38 AM   Subscribe

(Life and) Death of a Pig - farmer to butcher to curer.
posted by Wolfdog (55 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
My favorite meat-critter! Reading that reminds me of my hometown and growing up with my hog farmer buddies. I remember having to chase some loose hogs back into their pen at my friend Brian's house.
posted by sciurus at 5:56 AM on July 9, 2008


A wonderful, magical animal.
posted by DU at 5:59 AM on July 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm a vegetarian. Occasionally someone will offer me something with bacon on it, then remember that I'm a vegetarian, and say "oh, but I guess you wouldn't like that".

No, you've got it all wrong. Damn straight I would like that. Bacon is like sex and hashish under a fireworks show. Liking it and eating it are two different things.
posted by greenie2600 at 6:02 AM on July 9, 2008 [19 favorites]


Don't kill Wilbur.
posted by stbalbach at 6:12 AM on July 9, 2008


Here's the part where the author kills a pig.

The bullet had to pierce the pig’s thick skull to stun it. The shot’s angle and position are everything. If you drew an X from each ear to the opposite eye, I was aiming for the small depression that lay in the middle.

Even at point-blank, getting in position to shoot a pig is a dance with an unwilling partner. I had the added trouble of working up the nerve to pull the trigger. You have to shoot the pig with it looking you in the eye.

Each time the pig looked at me, every time I had a shot, I was slow to act and the pig would look away.

“I know, I know,” I said, answering the pig’s imagined protests. “This is going to be hard on both of us.”

Admittedly, it would be harder on him.

I clicked my tongue to entice the pig to turn his gaze toward me. He obliged. I aimed. Deep breath. Safety off. I pulled the trigger.

Nothing.

Havel took the gun and ejected the misfired round and handed rifle back.

“It’s on safety.”

Again the dance. The pig turned around in his pen. I clicked my tongue. Havel reached in to push the pig back around to face me. He squealed in protest. Havel sprayed water on the ground and the pig turned, put his head down and drank. Aim. Safety off. Trigger.

Nothing.

Havel took the gun. I laughed at the ridiculousness of having worked up the nerve twice, and having failed twice. Havel cleared the misfire then opened the backdoor, aimed toward an open snow-covered farm field and fired. He closed the door and handed the gun back.

“It’s on safety.”

The pig seemed undisturbed by any of this. He just stood there. He looked at me. Aim, safety off, trigger.

Bang.

The pig’s face went brain-dead blank and he fell to the ground. Havel reached in and cut its throat. The pig thrashed, kicking the wall and gushing crimson. Its movements eventually slowed and its life was over.

Suspecting that I would, well, butcher the butchering, Havel skinned, eviscerated and split the hog.

I was disappointed that I didn’t feel a profound sadness or emptiness. But the disappointment was overwhelmed by a feeling of pride and accomplishment. It was an act necessary for the eating of meat but a part that I usually give little thought to while I am eating.

Maybe I’m heartless — a monster — for not feeling sadness. But this pig was destined from the day he was born to die so someone could eat him. By participating in his death and dismemberment, I was no longer in denial. The pig’s blood was on my hands.

posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:18 AM on July 9, 2008


This is a great post.

In 2006 the Washington Post ran an article on the Virginia ham industry's attempts to make some changes to their cure so that they can market their hams for raw eating.
posted by OmieWise at 6:19 AM on July 9, 2008


Never did dig on swine.
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:22 AM on July 9, 2008


Articles like this make me lament that my Pa never took me hunting. Waaaaaah!
posted by chillmost at 6:25 AM on July 9, 2008


"Death of a Pig"

I prefer to think of it as "The Birth of Bacon"
posted by sourwookie at 6:29 AM on July 9, 2008 [8 favorites]


Good read/photos/video. Thanks!
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 6:29 AM on July 9, 2008


Man, that's hard to watch. Looks a whole lot more humane than the giant factory slaughterhouses where the workers are worth about the same as one whole animal, though.
posted by notsnot at 6:32 AM on July 9, 2008


Thanks for this. It's a great piece. The video of the slaughter is particularly interesting. I would say "horrifying," but that's really not quite it. Awe-inspiring, maybe.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:36 AM on July 9, 2008


Good post. I appreciate efforts such as these. While I may be ridiculed into unbelieving submission here on the Blue, I say a blessing before each meal, thanking God for the plants, animals, whatever, that went into making that meal. It always tastes better and seems more filling that way.

(Although I never know what to be thankful for when eating some things these days. "Lord, I thank you for your gift of . . . wait . . . gummy bears? No . . .")
posted by resurrexit at 6:37 AM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is very well packaged. Mainstream media outlets strive for this sort of presentation.
posted by bugmuncher at 6:40 AM on July 9, 2008


A man sees a sign that reads, "Come see the Amazing three legged pig!" So he does, asks the farmer, "What makes him Amazing?"

"Well there was a fire. That pig dragged me to safety, went back in for my wife and kids."

"Wow, is that how he lost his leg?" the man asked.

"Hell no," said the farmer, "A pig like that you don't eat it all at once."
posted by cjorgensen at 6:41 AM on July 9, 2008 [7 favorites]


Meanwhile, it is pork week on Salon; the first two bacon-wrapped stories are here and here.
posted by TedW at 6:44 AM on July 9, 2008


No pork on my fork, plz!
posted by smackwich at 6:51 AM on July 9, 2008


Why wouldn't they use a larger caliber than .22? I'd be worried that it might ricochet off the pig's skull. Also: Infidels, all of you!
posted by Burhanistan at 6:55 AM on July 9, 2008


Why wouldn't they use a larger caliber than .22?

He said that the reason was because it's enough to penetrate the skull but not exit, so it bounces around inside the head shredding the brain into itty bitty bits.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 6:57 AM on July 9, 2008


Yeah, but in the next sentence he says sometimes if you don't get it dead on, it doesn't penetrate.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:00 AM on July 9, 2008


If Death of a Salesman is anything like this, I'm glad I've never seen it.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:04 AM on July 9, 2008


No pork on my fork, plz!

I know, who's got time for a fork!

He said that the reason was because it's enough to penetrate the skull but not exit, so it bounces around inside the head shredding the brain into itty bitty bits.

What a waste of perfectly good (and delicious) pig braaaaaains!
posted by Pollomacho at 7:07 AM on July 9, 2008


I thought this was going to link to the E. B. White essay.
I spent several days and nights in mid-September with an ailing pig and I feel driven to account for this stretch of time, more particularly since the pig died at last, and I lived, and things might easily have gone the other way round and none left to do the accounting. Even now, so close to the event, I cannot recall the hours sharply and am not ready to say whether death came on the third night or the fourth night. This uncertainty afflicts me with a sense of personal deterioration; if I were in decent health I would know how many nights I had sat up with a pig. [...]
posted by pracowity at 7:11 AM on July 9, 2008


If Death of a Salesman is anything like this, I'm glad I've never seen it.

Wonderful bacon. Meal in itself.
posted by Opposite George at 7:12 AM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Burhanistan: I don't think anyone wants to get hit by a bullet that's been through a pig. Something small enough to get stuck in the brain pan makes sense to me.
posted by Jilder at 7:14 AM on July 9, 2008


I like big pigs and I cannot lie. (via everlasting blort)
posted by Kabanos at 7:24 AM on July 9, 2008


They're tragically delicious!
posted by Navelgazer at 7:32 AM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


But pigs now come from the hoglot, pork from the disassembly line and bacon from the factory. The skills once necessary to feed people are no longer indispensable and so are disappearing.

I was kind of surprised by how little skill was on display on Top Chef this last season when they had the butchery challenge. A friend of mine went to CIA and I know you have to take a course on it early in your training, so maybe it's more a set of skills that need to be maintained that most chefs don't utilize very often after being trained. It almost seems to me, though, that butchers are born more often than made, like there's a level of desensitization necessary for the job that most people can't achieve, sort of like surgeons. I get the sense that even among a lot of chefs the idea of disassembling an entire piece of livestock is outside their comfort zone.
posted by The Straightener at 7:33 AM on July 9, 2008


The Pig

The pig, if I am not mistaken,
Supplies us sausage, ham and bacon,
Let others say his heart is big--
I call it stupid of the pig.

Ogden Nash
posted by nasreddin at 7:43 AM on July 9, 2008


(Although I never know what to be thankful for when eating some things these days. "Lord, I thank you for your gift of . . . wait . . . gummy bears? No . . .")

Blessed are you, o Lord God, King of the universe, who brings us these gummi bears and twizzlers to sustain our lives and make our hearts glad.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:50 AM on July 9, 2008


...And lead us not into Necco Wafers for they are an abomination in thy sight and taste exactly like dusty little discs of chalk, especially the black licorice ones which are the excreta of Satan, Amen.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:03 AM on July 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


A few years back, I heard a rabbi tell an anecdote about a conversation with a Christian friend of his. One day, his friend yelled, "Just what do you have against pigs?!" To which the rabbi responded, "We have nothing against pigs. We leave the pig alone."
posted by thomas j wise at 8:04 AM on July 9, 2008


Big meat processors have turned the craft of butchery into simple, repetitive tasks so they can hire cheap, unskilled labor. Huge factories produce identical tons of bacon, sausage and ham.
This is a metaphor for how the world is shaping up, led by American influence.
When I was young, America 'was it', no question. I spent part of my youth close to Americans (in Lakenheath and Mildenhall) and was in thrall to the culture. I have deep affection for those times and exposure to the aspirations and beliefs of the friends I made. But it all seems to have gone awry. What happened to you?
posted by tellurian at 8:06 AM on July 9, 2008


What happened to you?

We either stopped fighting wars in Europe or you were a victim of good PR. It's not us, it's you.

Too bad you miss the good old days of segregation, institutional discrimination, environmental catastrophes, urban renewal, the 70's, the Marielitos, Love Canal, Three Mile Island, Jonestown...

Maybe you'll hark back to the days when folk were timid and cowed into being proud of putting in a hard day's work at a plant and reaffirmed said activity by naming the local football team after themselves.

Yeah, those were the days.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:43 AM on July 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


That'll do.
posted by jbickers at 9:12 AM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]



Yeah, those were the days.


But at least all of America didn't look like one giant strip mall.
posted by nasreddin at 9:15 AM on July 9, 2008


Stay on topic and talk about the guy cutting off the pig's head.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:17 AM on July 9, 2008


But at least all of America didn't look like one giant strip mall.

That came gracias to the Eisenhower administration and the whole expansion into the hinterland. Prior to that, businesses flourished in every available space in the cities because one didn't have to confine themselves to fascist zoning laws and the whims of developers/pesky neighbors.

Once white flight erupted on a massive scale, industry-bred efficiencies took over, marginalizing the unique and introducing the consumer to mass appeal products that we were ripe for in the first place. It's not like we discovered A&F, The Gap and Arby's all at once and changed our culture forever, it's just that nobody had the urgent need for it and the suppliers didn't have the Holy Grail of distribution: The Suburban Strip Mall.

Back to pig killing: Awesome post, btw, but since when is guanciale inedible? If Havel really wanted to promote his dying trade beyond the yuppie foodie, me, he should look into getting more out of his hogs.
posted by jsavimbi at 9:33 AM on July 9, 2008


Why wouldn't they use a larger caliber than .22?

Anything bigger would penetrate the skull, go straight through, then exit the other side (damaging the precious precious meat).

See also the silenced Ruger Mark II .22 pistol used by some military Special Forces teams to take out sentries the same way (bullet just bounces around in skull).
posted by mrbill at 9:58 AM on July 9, 2008


Why wouldn't they use a larger caliber than .22?

If you use a larger caliber there's the chance that the bullet will pass through the skull and into the body of the pig, doing less damage to the pig's brain than a ping-ponging .22 and leaving you with the unenviable task of dispatching a really pissed off animal that is in a lot of pain and fully mobile. A bullet that breaches the skull and enters the body can also ruin the meat, scattering bits of bone and lead and tearing muscle. Also, it can pose a serious danger to bystanders, either by ricocheting off of a bone or exiting the body and bouncing off of a concrete floor or wall with far more velocity than a .22.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:04 AM on July 9, 2008


*Angrily shakes side of bacon at mrbill, refuses to share*
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:05 AM on July 9, 2008


The circle has completed - my obsessive hobby of anything military comes full circle with my love of bacon.
posted by mrbill at 10:15 AM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sir, madam, please step away from the bacon.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:33 AM on July 9, 2008


I wonder why they use a .22 rifle instead of a pneumatic bolt gun...

...friendo.
posted by rusty at 10:59 AM on July 9, 2008


Not too very long ago, killing and butchering a pig was not unknown to many people. My Dad grew up on a small farm; they raised their own hogs until well into the 1960’s. Heck, I can even remember going to my Grandparents place and being a little bit afraid of the huge sow. She was one mean creature. Even my Granddad was cautious around her. I was never around when the hogs “went to market”. They had chickens for their other meat; plus, sometimes there would be deer or quail or rabbit. Rarely was there any money for store bought meat. The only things purchased were sugar, flower and seasonings. They managed to feed the family for many years this way until there was more income in the household.

They routinely had a hog-killing in the fall after the first freeze. Often, neighbors would coordinate the time so there would be help for each other. (A big hog is not easy to move around, especially when it’s dead weight.) Hogs were very efficient creatures to have on a small farm because they could be fed almost any scrap; and then almost all the scraps of the hog could be used once butchered. It’s not making it up when you hear someone say “everything but the squeal”. From the meat, to the feet, to the fat: all was used. There were few things better in my young world than my Grandmother’s biscuits made from their homegrown lard. I learned how to make her biscuits, but cannot duplicate the flavor.

The thing about growing your own meat is that it keeps you humble. How could you not see your connection to the living creature that’s about to become dinner?
posted by mightshould at 11:10 AM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I once participated in the slaughter of a goat.

Damn that was a tasty goat. Can't say that I wasn't bothered by the whole shooting it in the head thing, but... kind of necessary to kill it, if you're going to eat it.

Also, look at this, kid...
posted by caution live frogs at 11:15 AM on July 9, 2008


Here's a French video of some potty-mouthed French fella preparing everything there is to be prepared of a pig.

The French use everything from the pig. From Rillettes to their anus.
posted by Crusty at 12:40 PM on July 9, 2008


I tried, but couldn't locate a clip from the documentary "Genghis Blues" where the old Mongol slaughter method of cutting open a lamb and squeezing its heart is shown. Apparently the Mongols weren't fond of bleeding out the kill.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:41 PM on July 9, 2008


Just for the record, pretty much every country that eats an animal makes use of the entire animal in some fashion.

You can even buy a dried pig pizzle if you're so inclined.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:46 PM on July 9, 2008


Some pig.
posted by brevator at 2:27 PM on July 9, 2008


Yeah I accidentally had some of that good old pig anus recently in France. Special of the day at a place that was a little too authentic. It looked really nice, like a fresh, fat, handrolled sausage. But that thing was vile. It was foul. It stunk. I mean, it really stunk, as in smelled like what had passed through it. French menus can be really tricky.

The pig story, on the other hand, was great. Too bad about the killing part, but have to try the ham from the "acorn-finished" pig.
posted by cogneuro at 2:41 PM on July 9, 2008


The French use everything from the pig. From Rillettes to their anus.

While the general sentiment is true, rillette is more a method of preparation than a specific part, and indeed the linked Wikipedia article describes several cuts and types of meat that can be used. I think I offended my Cordon-Bleu trained aunt when I compared her rillette to really good barbecue, but the fact is both are properly made by slowly cooking fatty chunks of pork Boston butts, which actually come from the shoulder, are best according to some) until they fall apart, then slathering the resulting highly flavored mush over some bread.

As for the Andouillette you mentioned, the article says nothing about actual anuses but does mention the colon, which is nearby, but not the same. In fact there are festivals devoted to pig intestines, and if properly prepared they are delicious. The only time fecal odors come into play is when they are cleaned; once they make it to the kitchen and your plate they look and smell nothing like the original parts. Boiled chitlins are more of an acquired taste, though. Fried is the way to go.
posted by TedW at 2:52 PM on July 9, 2008


I like how megapistoning a deathbolt through a sentient creature's brainmeat is considered "humane". That's just...that doesn't say a whole lot for us that strikes me as any good.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:14 PM on July 9, 2008


While I may be ridiculed into unbelieving submission here on the Blue, I say a blessing before each meal, thanking God for the plants, animals, whatever, that went into making that meal. It always tastes better and seems more filling that way.

Not to mention assuaging the guilt about killing another animal. Isn't that how blessings/sacrifices came about?

I'm not saying it doesn't apply to plants as well. They're just screaming silently. They deserve our grace as well.

Nice post. Thanks.
posted by mrgrimm at 5:33 PM on July 9, 2008


Metafilter: Megapistoning a deathbolt through a sentient creature's brainmeat.
posted by rifflesby at 1:23 AM on July 10, 2008


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