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).

.

.

.

.

.

.