Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pigs to pork

A warning to vegans, vegetarians and others who prefer to meet their meat long after it's processed, this post contains photos of dead pigs and blood. I would argue that these photographs should be no more offensive to animal lovers than a picture of a big mac, but I thought you deserved fair warning.

Our three pigs when they first came here a year ago.
Guanciale, the male pig, was sent to the abattoir at 8 months old.

Did you know pigs love to run? Fast?

That they love warm milk on a cold morning?

That they are utterly trusting creatures and quite hairy?

They love to be touched and will knock you into the mud whilst passionately pressing against you in the middle of a good scratch?

That the only time mine have bitten me was to see what blunstone boots taste like?

That they dig, they dig like crazy if you give them soft earth to get stuck into?

That they graze? When you put pigs on new ground, before they dig they will eat the tender tops of the grass and clover.

That they make their own beds? I put hay into my girl's house and they mound it up into a snug bed. They'll also grab prunings and woody stems of weeds and use them to build up their bed, and they seem to relish the task, shaking tufts of hay into loose strands before padding them down. They've also mended the draft in their house with their milk dish.

That they eat delicately? Our girls will hold a tasty plant down with one hoof and nibble the tender tips of branches.

That they kiss? Well something like it.

That a piggy back is an actual thing? More of a power display by the bossy pigs than a mating thing as far as I can tell.

Rillettes making her own bed.

Rillettes and Lardo this morning. No inkling of what was to come. I miss them and I thank them.

Tonight I go to bed with a heavy but optimistic heart.
What we're doing with our pigs is not only driven by culinary, ethical, practical or idealistic motives, but also one I'm finding it hard to put a name to. There is a (possibly bizarre and twisted) part of my being that wants to own sadness.

Our worlds have become monotone. We have taken away the need to feel icy winds on a cold day, to eat the bitter leaves of a plant, to feel the resistance to our teeth from an unprocessed grain, to have the scratch of wool clothing against our skin, the ache of a worked muscle, the pang of hunger in our bellies waiting to be sated, or the need to relate intimately to death.

Our lives are so sterile that we have taken away all of the bitter things that make the sweet parts taste better, the cold that makes the fireside delicious. I think, to some degree, we need to have scratchy, bitter, chewy and painful things to be able to properly feel comfort and joy. I have had the luxury of choosing to connect with the life and death of these animals. I made the choice to pat them, to care if they had dry straw in their beds and a cool wallow on a hot day, and tomorrow I'll cook them a warm pot of scraps for their last breakfast, scratch their fur one last time, look away as they are shot and hold a bowl under their necks to catch the blood when they are stuck, probably with tears streaming down my cheeks.

So many people tell you not to name an animal you are planning to eat. I would argue otherwise. The more distance we put between ourselves and the animals who provide us with meat, eggs or milk, the more we lose sight of the fact that they are sentient beings deserving of respect and compassion. It is this distance that allows us to perpetrate cruelty in the name of economics.

So for now it's goodnight, more tomorrow afternoon....

Lardo enjoying a wallow last summer.
It is done. Our little fat friends Lardo and Rillettes are hanging in a mobile cool room outside. I thought I wouldn't be able to see it through, but the butcher assigned me the role of taking the gun after the pigs were shot so that he could stick them and catch the blood. Then I was told to roll up my sleeve and stir the blood with my hand as it cooled to prevent it from clotting. After that it felt easier, and I didn't shed a tear, until now that is. In the busyness of rinsing caul fat, scraping hair, cleaning hearts, I didn't have time to think of how quiet the garden will be without the girls there. It will be one less chore in the mornings, but we will miss them keenly. But, come next spring, we will visit our friends and bring home a few more of their piglets to fatten on vegetables and use as carbon neutral cultivating/composting machines.

Our youngest daughter wasn't too fazed, she just insists that we make Lardo into lardo and Rilettes into rillettes. Our eldest felt it keenly. Last night she thought she would be fine, this morning she cried, but was so incredibly pragmatic through her tears. A little angel.

Hard to say goodbye.

The pigs were there, and then they were pork. In their run, sniffing the legs of the butcher before he dispatched them. No stressful transport, no strange holding pens.

The milk lady has just been and gave me a hug along with our milk. We will skim the cream from her milk and use it with the blood to make Matt's blood sausage. The livers and caul fat will be used to make a pate. We will begin the task of learning to cure our pigs, 200kg in all, and in a few weeks I will fry my first piece of home raised, killed, cured and smoked bacon, season it with a little tear of thanks for my porcine friends and relish every morsel.

Blood being stirred while cooling to stop it from coagulating.

Ultimately the reason we kept pigs was to cultivate. We hope to minimise our use of machinery in the process of growing food. This patch was a bare, impoverished paddock 12 months ago. The pigs spent two months here then we mounded the soil and grew pumpkins and tomatillos. Now we're harvesting kale and waiting for broad beans and garlic to mature. The pigs have since cultivated two more plots.