Half of one of these beauties will soon take up every bit of space in my wholely inadequate freezer. In the not particularly brave new world I’ve moved closer to, where rancher-friends sell me meat that I know they’ve raised well and killed as humanely as a rancher can do those sorts of things, I’ve tried to keep my distance. Once I noticed that these little fellas scamper around their pasture as adorably as my elderly pug moves when she’s waiting for food, I took a few photos and walked away. I could not look back.
Do I, do we need to live so close to the source of our food that we are reminded every day of the death of an animal? Vegetarians would certainly say yes, in the belief that proximity to animals would decrease our connivance in their slaughter. For myself, I’m willing to accept, I suppose because it suits my tastes, Michael Pollan’s argument that from an evolutionary point of view it doesn’t make sense to become vegetarian. Our choices of sustinence have repercussions in the food chain. But he would certainly advocate that we take responsibility for our decision to persist in meat-eating. At least once in our lives, we should meet who we eat.
To be honest, my problem eventually had less to do with looking the Berkshire pigs in the photo above in the eye than it had to do with the practical problem of deciding how I wanted their carcasses cut up. I really had no idea what to tell the butcher. Only exotic cuts — belly, trotters, crown-rib roasts — came to mind. Fortunately, I got hold temporarily of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Cookbook. If I had held in my own arms either of the adorable piglets on the cover for even two seconds, I would not be writing this post. However, Hugh W-F has very practical advice: he provides a list of cuts one should give to the butcher into whose care a slaughtered pig has been consigned.
A few days ago, I called the butcher in possession of my friends’ slaughtered pigs to discuss the strategy. I learned that butchers like the ones I was dealing with plan from which they are reluctant to deviate. Thus enters the spirit of negotiation. The poor pig is mapped out like a battlefield.
I thought I would lead with my preferences. No, we enter the field from the preferred corner of the butcher: the ham. Smoked or fresh? We discuss price for each. We settle. Three to four roasts, one smoked, two fresh. Next, the butcher moves to bacon. I say, wait, I’m interested in pork belly. We cross swords on saving the front end for pork belly roast and the thin end for bacon. Thin, medium or thick? Medium. One or two pound wraps? One pound.
Next, we skirmish over the loin. He asks how many chops in each wrap. I say, hold on, I want the loin cut up into half roasts and half boneless chops. The butcher pauses. The roasts. Bone-in? Yes, I counter. How many chops in a wrap? Two, I say. We move on.
Now we’re down to the shoulder, my favorite cut. By this time, we’re both exhausted. I should have insisted on making this my opening salvo. Instead, it comes after an intense exchange of artillery. I get sloppy. All I can manage is “More roasts than chops.” He says, fine, what about sausage? No sausage, I say, thinking I can handle that myself, thank you very much. Ground pork. Fine, he concedes. Wait! I cry. What about trotters? Doesn’t half a pig have two feet? He sounds confused. Mutters something about only one foot. How can that be? Is the pig deformed? I saw it only a month ago and it looked fine! The butcher grows more incoherent. I retreat. “Ok, forget the feet.” There’s nothing left. We are both spent, depleted.
My half pig’s hanging weight comes in at around 97 pounds. The cut and wrap fee will be close to $90. That does not begin to cover what I owe Sherry and Dan. All I can say is that this Berkshire pig better be worth it. It will be cut, wrapped, and ready for pick-up on the 28th. Stay tuned.