The Vegetarian and the Pig Butcher

{photo cred: check out these cool artistic renderings of meat cuts at this Etsy shop by Drywell! so neat!}

Yup, you read correctly. I, Stephanie, the vegetarian, watched a burly man wearing a plaid shirt saw through pig skin, muscle, and bone all in the name of sustainable food knowledge.

This past Sunday, my boyfriend and I spent an afternoon at Jimmy’s No. 43 on 7th between 2nd and 3rd listening and watching attentively as pig (or hog, depending on the weight) farmers Brad and Heather of the Piggery gave us a crash course in pig history, diet, politics, and of course, butchery.

The Piggery raises heirloom and pastured pork and utilizes a technique called ‘mob grazing’ in which Brad and Heather move their pigs to fresh pasture everyday. The Piggery runs their meat share CSA out of Jimmy’s No. 43 for us Manhattan and Brooklynites.

After the initial shock of seeing a smiling pig-half splayed out over a marble counter top, (perhaps the hoppy pint of Two Brothers IPA helped a bit to soften the shock) I relaxed enough to take in some interesting porker knowledge. Brad and Heather’s charm may also have helped – they just seemed so darn nice and chill, who couldn’t enjoy a pig butchering with these Cornell grads behind the knife??

The pig in question was 9 months old and weighed 208 lbs., which according to Heather, is typical for a sustainable, small-scale farm. Compare that to the industry standard where the pig weighs about 200 lbs. at 5 months when it’s processed. This particular pig was a mix between a few breeds, including the heritage Mulefoot. Mulefoots are a rare and ancient breed. In fact, around the 1980s, there was only one herd left in the U.S. (they’ve since recovered).Their defining characteristic is their solid hooves instead of the more widely used split-hoofed pig. (This does not, however, qualify Mulefoot pigs as kosher.)

Brad demonstrated the difference between a loin, sirloin, and tenderloin, explained that the lard along the belly is better for baking while the lard on the back of the pig is better for cooking (not that I would use animal lard, but hey it’s still interesting) and that a pig is technically called a hog only when it reaches 160 lbs. or heavier. Who knew?!

Agricultural politics could not be avoided, particularly when Brad and Heather discussed processing. The two lamented the lack of suitable slaughterhouses: one that is within reasonable driving distance, USDA sanctioned, and relatively humane. I encountered a similar issue when interviewing the women farmers for my senior project. The lack of slaughterhouses in New York was one of the most frustrating aspects of being an animal farmer. One woman I interviewed drives two hours into Pennsylvania to slaughter, which is not only stressful for her and her husband, but it’s more importantly stressful for the animals. This particular slaughterhouse even has a waiting list of 2 years! That’s outrageous. I pitched the idea to Noah of opening a local, small-scale slaughterhouse and his reply? “Slaughterhouses smell.” Fair enough.

Here’s a great video from the folks of Working Class Foodies of last year’s butchering event:

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5 Comments on “The Vegetarian and the Pig Butcher”

  1. Danielle says:

    This is so interesting!
    1. Major props for being open-minded and going to an event that would have most vegetarians ready with a megaphone and a soap-box.
    2. I’ve always believed that small-scale meat processing AND a sharp decrease in our society’s opinion of what is a healthy amount of meat consumption would really help solve a lot of problems. For whatever reason, we’ve been raised to think that some sort of meat every day (or even every meal) is normal, which is bullshit. Not that I’m a nutritionist or anything, but it just doesn’t seem healthy to eat that much dead flesh!

    Plus, it’s those large-scale meat processing plants that are responsible for the awful, no seriously, AWFUL stories you read about animal cruelty. Shut them down already! As the official representative of Texas, I say we can live without our daily dose of steak, BBQ and the Whataburger Triple Meat & Triple Cheese Burger (ya, that’s real).

    Anyways, I’ll be the first in line if you ever open that local slaughterhouse!
    Danielle

    Ps. I know this girl who’s a butcher’s daughter…if you’re interested…Lol.

    • Stephanie says:

      Thanks to all of you!

      And Danielle I agree with everything you said. I rarely get up on a soapbox about being a vegetarian because it really is such a personal decision for me. I think humans should eat meat (just not your humble narrator) but I also think that anyone who eats meat should be educated and aware of the consequences (positive and negative) of their choices and also just of the nuances of meat eating, like what the hell is the difference between a sirlion and tenderlion?! (Both cuts come from the same part of a pig, but the sirlion lies above the spinal chord, the tenderlion below, in case you were wondering lol) I hold all eaters to this standard, even vegetarians and vegans, because sometimes the consequences of eating, say, a GM banana from Chile or un-fair trade coffee from Costa Rica can be MORE damaging than eating turkey cold-cuts.

      ANYWHOO. I’ll keep you updated on that slaughterhouse 🙂

  2. Tammy McLeod says:

    Well, I can’t watch your video but agree with Danielle that I’m really impressed that you are so open-minded and that you observed and blogged about this event.

  3. […] statement in favor of what has been anathema to me for the past 5 or so years? You might recall when I attended a pig butchering demo a few months ago. I was so moved by the owners of the upstate pig farm The Piggery that I […]

  4. Keratika says:

    This is so interesting!1. Major props for being open-minded and going to an event that would have most vertaegians ready with a megaphone and a soap-box.2. I’ve always believed that small-scale meat processing AND a sharp decrease in our society’s opinion of what is a healthy amount of meat consumption would really help solve a lot of problems. For whatever reason, we’ve been raised to think that some sort of meat every day (or even every meal) is normal, which is bullshit. Not that I’m a nutritionist or anything, but it just doesn’t seem healthy to eat that much dead flesh! Plus, it’s those large-scale meat processing plants that are responsible for the awful, no seriously, AWFUL stories you read about animal cruelty. Shut them down already! As the official representative of Texas, I say we can live without our daily dose of steak, BBQ and the Whataburger Triple Meat & Triple Cheese Burger (ya, that’s real). Anyways, I’ll be the first in line if you ever open that local slaughterhouse!DaniellePs. I know this girl who’s a butcher’s daughter if you’re interested Lol.


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