patience and precision (pig kill, part 2)

Making sure you don’t puncture the large intestine (causing shit to squirt out) takes patience and precision. I can see how, with practice, a person could get it down to some fairly quick motions, but, the care necessary for a clean gutting of the carcass simply couldn’t happen at an industrial slaughterhouse. There’s no way.

As I wrote about in January, I participated in a “pig kill” at a farm in Maine this past winter. Until one of the farmers “butt-dialed” me a couple times the other day, I had filed the experience away in my mind as something to come back to. I took photographs of it from start to finish, but they are so graphic I haven’t sorted out a respectful way to share them.

Since the pig kill, I haven’t been able to comfortably purchase meat from the supermarket. It’s gotten to the point that I almost never do. The pig kill itself, as I wrote about before, wasn’t traumatic or disturbing to me. It simply became clear that using a factory model to handle this process is entirely absurd. In each step, personal attention and mindfulness were required, both from a health perspective (preventing contamination from pig shit, for example) and from the perspective of processing the dead animal’s body parts properly. My hands held and pulled a leg to hold open the abdominal cavity so the guts could be removed. In an industrial slaughterhouse there would be no time to patiently hold the carcass at the right angle (not stretched too far open, but open enough for a clean removal of the internal organs). Impossible.

Combining this intimate personal experience with the horrific descriptions of the industrial slaughterhouses from the radical vegan (my label) author of Eating Animals makes for a new relationship with eating meat. I’m still a committed omnivore. Or, rather, I want to be. I enjoy eating meat. I like red meat quite rare. One of my favorite foods of all time is sashimi. I like how caramelization happens on the outside when meat is cooked with dry heat or oil. How moisture changes the consistency. And, how each part of the animal has different colors and flavors and textures. I like that human beings live as animals among other animals; that we care for and use non-human animals as food. I think that seems like a natural arrangement. A natural arrangement when it’s done mindfully. While Jonathan Safran Foer would disagree with me (see, “radical vegan”), I think part of caring for the earth includes omnivorous behavior in at least some parts of humanity. Again, with mindfulness.

I struggle with this, though, since Eating Animals affected me in ways that Supersize Me or many other documentaries about the meat industries or factory farming haven’t. I walk by the meat section of the local supermarket, even the fancy schmancy one at Whole Foods, and I can only see and feel brutality. Not only the abuse and terror of non-human animals, but, even more vivid to me, the dehumanizing effect the industrial farming has on the human workers. I can’t get past that. So, when I remember to do it (I’ll do it tomorrow), I go to the Portland Farmer’s Market (or the Portland Maine Winter Farmer’s Market) where I can buy meat that comes from animals that lived relatively happy lives and died relatively peaceful deaths. I don’t have any illusions that their deaths are somehow painless or serene or spiritual. I do believe the killings there must be done more responsibly than at the mega-slaughterhouses. But, when I forget to stock up or simply can’t afford to buy much and run out of meat in our freezer, we turn to other sources of protein like beans and cheese. I can’t afford, financially, to stay true to my values when it comes to dairy. So far, I’ve been able to stomach continuing to buy industrial farmed (short-term cheaper) cheese where I can’t get myself to buy the (short-term cheaper) supermarket meat.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post I have photographs I want to use as I discuss these issues, but I’m not sure how to share them. I’m going to post one photo here that I think shows a glimpse of the kind of precision and patience that was required for the proper cleaning of this pig carcass. I’ve added it far down the page so those who don’t want to see the mildly “gory” pictures can avoid them (I hope).







9 thoughts on “patience and precision (pig kill, part 2)

  1. I like the way you write about this topic. It’s disturbing, but in a good way. I have to wonder… how DO the huge, mechanized slaughterhouses deal with the issues you raised? I mean, people aren’t getting constantly sick from contaminated meat, so they must have come up with something, however horrible. I don’t buy meat from the grocery store, but every couple weeks I’ll eat a roast beef sandwich from the deli and sometimes order a salad with chicken in it. I just don’t want to touch or cook raw meat myself. I like that my home is free of it. I don’t feel hypocritical because I’m not saying anyone else should do this; I simply feel better this way.

    • Yeah, I stopped worrying about hypocrisy in my life when I realized I could never, ever, ever be purely true to my values. (Of course, then I realized that being true to my values was recognizing I couldn’t do everything the way I would if it were humanly possible.)

      It’s so easy to say “I prefer not eating meat raised on industrial/factory farms” and have people immediately either assume I am, therefore, 100% organic/vegan/PETA activist or that I think they are assholes for buying cheap meat in bulk at BJs (which I definitely did myself before all of this annoying Eating Animals book crap got stuck inside my system).

      I don’t think I’ll ever understand why people think that me telling them about my choices means I think I know anything about what’s right for them. It baffles me to this day (I’ve been working through this very dynamic for years and years).

      If someone tells me about their personal choices I don’t suddenly think they think I’m a shit for not doing the same thing (god, I’m swearing a lot tonight). Or, I suppose, maybe I might think they think that but I then think they are weird for thinking they have a clue what’s right for me (since they are not me).

      Anyway, I’m really glad you read and replied. Thank you. I was actually surprised I didn’t get more responses to this one. Hm.

    • PS to handle the fecal matter they use masses of chemicals and the rate of allowable fecal matter and other illness-bearing crap is really really high (the gov’t lets a lot through). we get mild versions of food poisoning a lot more often than we realize it, too, as I understand it…

  2. I’m with you. I’m not a strict vegetarian because I love the taste of some kinds of meat. Not sure I could live without BBQ pork. That said, I’ve never been a big meat eater, and knowing the things I now know, I can’t justify buying it from the grocery store. So I don’t. I try to choose vegetarian dishes while I’m out, unless I know the animal was raised humanely (or, I’ll admit, unless I really, really, crave it).
    It’s hard to draw a firm line, but I’m gravitating more and more to just never eating meat unless I know where it came from.

    • Yup. That sounds like me, too. I actually just joined the food co-op here so I’ll have easier access to “happy” meat. (Happy-er, that is. Much happier than factory farmed animals.)

  3. Have you read ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ by Michael Pollan? If not, you will enjoy it. He follows three food chains: corn fed, grass fed, and wild/foraged foods. A fascinating & incredibly articulate discussion of some of the issues you are touching on here….

    • Yup. That and Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (I think?) were sort of key in my first investigating these kinds of questions. Eating Animals (in the blog post) has topped them all, though. Blerp.

  4. This is a great post. For a long time now I have felt the need to stop eating meat because I really think it’s gross when I am the one who has to prepare it. And the topic of fecal matter is a huge concern. Not to mention the addition of chemicals to wash that off and then what you said about us not knowing what is actually allowable for us to consume. I can barely stomach it. But then there’s the hypocrisy thing: sometimes I really just crave bacon and BBQ. I’ve never, ever been a huge meat eater but sometimes you do want something. I’m not sure I’m ready to be even vegetarian. I’ve been trying to form my own post over this for a while now.

    Thanks for some great info and resources. I couldn’t imagine having participated in a pig kill, but I imagine that was quite educational. You bring up some excellent points.

    • Thank you so much for reading, and for the thoughtful comments! The biggest thing I take away from all of these questions is that doing it “right” isn’t possible, if that makes sense.

      Thanks again. :-)

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