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The Final Chapter: A Pig Hits the Chopping Block

The final chapter: A pig hits the butcher block

(THIS IS AN EDITED VERSION THAT APPEARED IN THE PRESS DEMOCRAT. If you prefer to read an unedited version that I will warn you in advance contains graphic images of the event, CLICK HERE and ENTER THE PASSWORD: reggiebacon.)

Hesitation has no place at the slaughter. The kill must be quick, the hand swift and the mind resolved.

Nervously lifting my condemned pig off the back of Sonoma rancher Nancy Prebilich’s pickup truck, I feel none of these things. The 50-pound black and white Hampshire prances and sniffs from inside the metal cage, unaware that the handful of clover we’ve tossed inside will be his last meal.

“Do you want to do it?” asks Prebilich, pointing to a .22 rifle. She knows I’m ambivalent. Firearms aren’t in my repertoire, and we agreed earlier it wouldn’t be fair to the animal should my aim and inexperience falter. I’m sure the wan look on my face confirms the choice. But it feels like a failure on my part not to do the deed I’d promised to do six weeks ago, when this adventure began.

In August, I purchased a piglet from Gleason Ranch with plans to raise, kill and eat it. The idea was simply to get to know my meat, to break down the walls most carnivores prefer never to look behind. But the process isn’t without peril. Few ranchers are willing to publicly open their barn doors to the process of harvesting animals, and even fewer of us really want to know that our bacon had a face.

Learning of my intentions, several local vegans vocally pleaded for the life of my first pig (which we’d named Reggie Bacon), ultimately securing my consent and the resources to send him to a no-kill farm sanctuary in Orland. Their compassionate perspective on meat-eating became an integral part of the story, strengthening my resolve as a carnivore to stop taking my pork chops for granted.

So, in late September, another pig from Reggie Bacon’s litter was purchased without chance of reprieve. After wrestling the squirming, muscular creature into a cage and driving through rural West County to a backyard processing facility, his moment had finally arrived. Heart racing, I feel queasy and unsure about the inevitable process about to unfold.

Yet there is no place for my hesitation here, and the trigger is pulled. With a ping that sounded more like a BB gun than a rifle, the bullet hits its mark. The pig’s legs instantly buckle and it collapses; brain function has ceased. We’ve called upon a more seasoned butcher at the facility to grab the animal from its cage and quickly cut the jugular vein. He has the deft sureness of a butcher who knows every inch of the animal’s anatomy.

Kneeling, he makes a single cut and blood pumps from the neck, a necessary step to keep the meat from spoiling. As it blooms onto the wet concrete, my hand instinctively lifts to cover my mouth, my eyes widen. The animal continues to have jolting, reflexive movements for several minutes. I won’t pretend it isn’t shocking to watch. I am grateful when it is over.

The carcass is lowered into heated water so the hair can be removed, then the internal organs are removed delicately. Handling the pig is intensely intimate; I am aware that this is no pork chop, but an animal that minutes ago was alive.

We constantly spray the carcass with water to keep eager flies away. This is hot, messy and difficult work. It is easy to see why efficient and sanitary facilities are necessary for commercial meat processing and appreciate the strength of our ancestors, for whom this was a frequent task.

Though the pig is for personal consumption (hence why we’re not at a USDA-regulated facility required for commercial processing), we hurry to get the carcass on ice, placing it into an ice chest with a chicken and rabbit that we’ve also harvested.

Several days later, all of the animals are broken down into smaller pieces at a butchering demonstration at Santa Rosa’s Great Handcar Regatta September 25. A crowd gathers to watch as chefs wield huge knives, dissecting the animals into more familiar dinner-sized pieces. Here is a loin, ribs, a leg for ham. Faces range from enraptured to disgusted. That is exactly the point. Our audience is getting personal with their food as well.

A heavy plastic tub holds the remaining pieces, and our pig becomes a communal feast. The cheeks and ears are wrapped around the belly to create a porchetta di testa; the legs will be smoked to become hams. Shoulders are brined and slow-cooked.

A chef friend boils the head to make a gelatinous head cheese, and the ribs somehow disappear after the event, no doubt ending up on someone’s grill. Nothing is wasted, nothing pushed aside uneaten.

But this pig is not an easy meal for me. With every bite, I’m reminded of the process. The meat is leaner, rougher, a hint gamier. It’s not perfect, but as I chew, I am again grateful. I can say without hesitation that I’ve gotten personal with my dinner, looked it straight in the eye and taken part in bringing it to the table.

Missed the first two chapters of this story? 

Chapter 1: Meet your Meat
Chapter 2: A Reprieve for Reggie

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Comments

16 thoughts on “The Final Chapter: A Pig Hits the Chopping Block

  1. I think the reason why (in your “why me?” question, Heather) people responded with such vehemence to your story, is that you acknowledged that because an animal has feelings, and is not just a personality, rights-free commodity, we are responsible for their treatment at our hands. Yet, while acknowledging this, you still chose to override this being’s right to breathe the same Sonoma County air that you do, feel the same sun on it’s back, live it’s own life apart from you, and kill it and put it in your belly. This is destruction. This is desicration of a life form that bore you know ill. This is the nightmare of it’s mother. And, by your own admittance, you know it. What vegans like myself cannot fathom is, knowing that we are causing death, destruction, pain, fear, and loss, what personal pleasure would warrant that? I am healthy, in fact I am an athlete. I love my beautiful, vegan, almost solely local and homegrown food, and I am no longer subscribing to the subjugation and killing of other life forms to sustain the pleasure of my existance. I wish for you that you will someday find happiness without making other vulnerable creatures suffer and die for your pleasure.

    1. I truly support your right to believe what you believe and eat what you choose. Your incorrect perception of the animals experience through the obvious humanization of the animals which happens so often with vegan folks aside, your views are simply your opinions about what life is and means. You don’t hold the racoon, snake or praying mantis in contempt for eating other living, feeling beings. You don’t find fault in their willful taking of another animals life. Why are humans different, simply because we have a concience and posess decision making skills non-humans do not?

      Before you give the vegan-centric and illinformed position that humans were not meant to eat meat, this again is based on your feelings spawned by your personnal beliefs that what you do places you on a morally higher ground. I too have feelings, but in this debate, my feelings, much as yours, are irrelevant. Science is based on evidence and fact and the facts clearly indicate that humans are and have been omnivores for as long as we have been sapiens. We can continue to debate phylosophy, but science has spoken, so don’t hold us humans in contempt for doing what we are biologically designed to do, which is to eat a well balanced diet that includes animal proteins. Too many much smarter people than either of us have weighed in and there is no “real” debate when facts and science are allowed to decide what is correct.

      Bottom line, live your life how you want and leave everyone else alone to make their own decisions. Peace…..

  2. I think the reason why (in your “why me?” question, Heather) people responded with such vehemence to your story, is that you acknowledged that because an animal has feelings, and is not just a personality, rights-free commodity, we are responsible for their treatment at our hands. Yet, while acknowledging this, you still chose to override this being’s right to breathe the same Sonoma County air that you do, feel the same sun on it’s back, live it’s own life apart from you, and kill it and put it in your belly. This is destruction. This is desicration of a life form that bore you know ill. This is the nightmare of it’s mother. And, by your own admittance, you know it. What vegans like myself cannot fathom is, knowing that we are causing death, destruction, pain, fear, and loss, what personal pleasure would warrant that? I am healthy, in fact I am an athlete. I love my beautiful, vegan, almost solely local and homegrown food, and I am no longer subscribing to the subjugation and killing of other life forms to sustain the pleasure of my existance. I wish for you that you will someday find happiness without making other vulnerable creatures suffer and die for your pleasure.

    1. I truly support your right to believe what you believe and eat what you choose. Your incorrect perception of the animals experience through the obvious humanization of the animals which happens so often with vegan folks aside, your views are simply your opinions about what life is and means. You don’t hold the racoon, snake or praying mantis in contempt for eating other living, feeling beings. You don’t find fault in their willful taking of another animals life. Why are humans different, simply because we have a concience and posess decision making skills non-humans do not?

      Before you give the vegan-centric and illinformed position that humans were not meant to eat meat, this again is based on your feelings spawned by your personnal beliefs that what you do places you on a morally higher ground. I too have feelings, but in this debate, my feelings, much as yours, are irrelevant. Science is based on evidence and fact and the facts clearly indicate that humans are and have been omnivores for as long as we have been sapiens. We can continue to debate phylosophy, but science has spoken, so don’t hold us humans in contempt for doing what we are biologically designed to do, which is to eat a well balanced diet that includes animal proteins. Too many much smarter people than either of us have weighed in and there is no “real” debate when facts and science are allowed to decide what is correct.

      Bottom line, live your life how you want and leave everyone else alone to make their own decisions. Peace…..

  3. How sad it is for a newspaper to use the context it did on this article to sell newspapers. People are not idiots. We know where meat in the supermarket comes from. As a kid and young adult our family slaughtered our own chickens, beef, pork, and rabbits. We hunted and ate squirrel, raccoon, and bear. But it was necessary to feed our family – and it was something we never bragged about or had it published in the paper. I know times have changed – well it definitely has. Wasen’t it Henry Ford who said “Computers would destroy the world.” Look around – it may already have. How many of you out there can actually sit through a meal without texting?

    1. Hey Glenda. This had nothing to do with selling newspapers, and i disagree wholeheartedly with the assumption that people truly understand where their meat comes from. I would say that very few people have actually had a hand in slaughtering their own meat.

      I have heard from a number of people who grew up in the area and had similar experiences to you, and have suggested that the story reminded them of those experiences.

      Hmmm. What’s this really about?

    2. Ms Castelli:
      I can’t believe anyone born in the 20th or 21st Century HAS to kill bears for their own sustenance….as you state, you did have access to chickens.cattle and pigs, so wild bears were NOT a necessity to slaughter. I just want to set it straight. Ursus americana californiensis deserves honesty, protection, and respect. Not slaughter.

  4. How sad it is for a newspaper to use the context it did on this article to sell newspapers. People are not idiots. We know where meat in the supermarket comes from. As a kid and young adult our family slaughtered our own chickens, beef, pork, and rabbits. We hunted and ate squirrel, raccoon, and bear. But it was necessary to feed our family – and it was something we never bragged about or had it published in the paper. I know times have changed – well it definitely has. Wasen’t it Henry Ford who said “Computers would destroy the world.” Look around – it may already have. How many of you out there can actually sit through a meal without texting?

    1. Hey Glenda. This had nothing to do with selling newspapers, and i disagree wholeheartedly with the assumption that people truly understand where their meat comes from. I would say that very few people have actually had a hand in slaughtering their own meat.

      I have heard from a number of people who grew up in the area and had similar experiences to you, and have suggested that the story reminded them of those experiences.

      Hmmm. What’s this really about?

    2. Ms Castelli:
      I can’t believe anyone born in the 20th or 21st Century HAS to kill bears for their own sustenance….as you state, you did have access to chickens.cattle and pigs, so wild bears were NOT a necessity to slaughter. I just want to set it straight. Ursus americana californiensis deserves honesty, protection, and respect. Not slaughter.

  5. Good for you! I believe that anyone who chooses to eat meat should at least become familiar with how this harvesting process works. It may cause more folks to not want to eat meat at all, which is not a bad thing, but rather one of personnal choice. What it does do though, is forces people to realize that the meat they eat from the nice packages at the store are from real living and breathing animals and that it is not an easy thing in any case for that product to get there.

  6. Good for you! I believe that anyone who chooses to eat meat should at least become familiar with how this harvesting process works. It may cause more folks to not want to eat meat at all, which is not a bad thing, but rather one of personnal choice. What it does do though, is forces people to realize that the meat they eat from the nice packages at the store are from real living and breathing animals and that it is not an easy thing in any case for that product to get there.

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