Eating the whole pig

Via email from Moira, an article from last week's New Yorker, Carnal Knowledge: How I became a Tuscan butcher by Bill Buford. Buford, after spending time in Tuscany learning how to butcher pigs, buys a whole pig at the New York City Greenmarket. He gets a lot of strange looks from people as he lugs it home.

The realization confirmed something I'd always suspected: people don't want to know what meat is. They don't think of meat as an animal; they think of it as an element in a meal. ("What I want tonight is a cheeseburger!")

For me, meat wasn't a cause. I just believe people should know what they're eating. At the Greenmarket, you overheard discussions about fertilizers and soils and how much freedom a chicken needs before its eggs are free-range. Wouldn't it follow that you'd want to know your meat? I had brought home a freshly killed animal — better raised than anything I'd find at a store — and, in preparing it, I was hoping to rediscover old-fashioned ways of making food. This, I felt, could only be positive. But I was sure getting a lot of shit for it.

Over the Fourth of July weekend in 1994 I attended a pig roast in New Hampshire organized by some friends. I don't recall their reasoning behind buying a pig and butchering it themselves — except that the one in charge had grown up on a farm. But for me the participation was a critical part of eating meat. I wanted to witness where the food came from. That said, it was a bit disconcerting to arrive at an apartment the night before the BBQ and discover a pig in a large metal crate on the front porch. He was killed the next day and we all learned how to skin him from the farmer hosting the roast. Hours and hours later, we ate the pig and I found it to be the tastiest pork I'd ever eaten.

It was definitely disturbing and I'm not sure I want to do anything like that again, but I'm glad it did it. It's important to know the animal behind the meal and to understand where our food comes from.