Know Your Food: Pig Slaughter

Dead Hog on a Tractor
Dead Hog on Back of Tractor

For the most part, I follow a vegetarian diet. It is also easier to tell people, "I am a vegetarian*." Most people know what it is, know what diet they generally follow (or think they follow) and have the automatic assumption that it is for animal rights reasons. However, there is an unspoken asterisk next to vegetarian for me – it includes a few things actually. I will eat eggs, fish and milk products in addition to tofu, vegetables, beans, rice and the list goes on. I am closer to a pescatarian, but aside from the more well read crowd at the University (of Minnesota Duluth, where I work), I would get strange looks by the locals here in southern-Northern Minnesota; even stranger looks and bewilderment from the home-crowd on the Iron Range.

The second, and more important part of the asterisk has to do with why I have chosen to not regularly consume meat. It is rather simple: I feel better. It has nothing to do with "killing is wrong" or "animals are people, too." Without going into a great deal of detail, I feel better physically. Fewer stomach aches, fewer head aches, etc.

In some parts of the world, meat is a luxury. Meat may only be eaten several times per month due to cost or accessibility. Here in the United States, meat is abundant, meat is cheap, and meat is all too often under appreciated by the masses. On the rare occasion, there are those like Steven Raichlen, of Barbecue University, who truly appreciate the significant role that the consumption of animal flesh has played in human history.

Three Little Pigs
Fifth Avenue Farm – Three Little Pigs

Some time, at the beginning of May, I was helping a friend set up her beehives. After getting things setup, Melissa and I left. In the truck, on the way back to our house, Melissa said very excitedly, "Theresa is getting pigs; she asked if we want one, too." These were not to be pet pigs, but, rather, pigs to do a job and then, before snow fall, to be killed, butchered and eaten over the course of the winter and spring. The job they needed to do was rut up and fertilize an acre or so of land for next season’s planting. Shortly there after, we plunked down money and became owners of ½ a pig.

Hog Skinning
Hog Skinning

Animals get slaughtered for consumption all the time. Billions of chickens are consumed globally each year. The United States, according to USDA projections, produces 10,884,000 tons of consumable cattle each year. The methods used to raised poultry and livestock, and everything from the transportation of the animal to market to the means in which it is dispatched (killed) are all important things. For many Americans, the most difficult and taxing part of meat consumption is trying to decide on whether to get t-bone steaks or the porterhouse steaks. There is an inherent disconnect between what gets purchased from a grocery store (and subsequently consumed) and how that product – meat, vegetable, box of crackers, etc – got to the store or even how it got to be in its current form.

From piglet to pork chops, we know the vast majority of the story of our ½ pig. It is comforting to know the quality of care received and the quality of the food consumed during its life. Having participated, even tacitly, in their progress through the summer, is humbling, and it is comforting to know your food’s story.

The remaining two hogs were [humanely] slaughtered this morning. From dispatching to delivery at the butcher’s, the two pigs took 2.½ hours. The stories involving these three pigs will continue with the meals they are part of and the stories and memories that are shared by the families consuming them.