A few weeks ago, Hank, a businessman in his 50s, invited about 30 people out to his rural estate in Valley Center to take part in the slaughtering of two large pigs.
“My conclusion from [watching the film Food Inc.] was that I needed to either experience and acknowledge the entire food production process, including raising, slaughtering, and butchering meat animals, or become a vegetarian,” Hank wrote in the emailed invitation. “I want to eat meat but I also want to have an authentic relationship with it.... This conversation seems long overdue in our culture.”
We sipped beer and scotch by the pig pen, passing a tray of Su’s English sausage rolls and sharing stories about our relationship to meat while the two hogs rooted around their enclosure, gnawing occasionally on the two-by-four-foot frame.
“For me, it’s more of a health issue,” said one man. “It’s more about me than the animals. In the long term, eating meat that’s injected with 400 chemicals and hormones didn’t sound healthy. I just don’t trust the way things are regulated.”
“I’ve been a hunter for a long time,” said another. “It’s important to kill with one shot, or else you’ll stress out the animal and the meat won’t be as good.”
“I think anyone who is not bothered by killing an animal has been trained not to be bothered,” said a contemplative Hank. “I think God gives us a conscience that makes us feel bad about killing.”
“Who here has killed an animal themselves?” a woman asked. Three raised their hands.
Shortly thereafter, Paul, a butcher with 25 years’ experience, shot the first pig in the head with a .22 magnum rifle.
“They’ll kick for a while,” said Paul. “They’re just brain dead.”
“Does the shot stress out the other pig?” someone asked as Paul cut the animal’s throat.
“No. They’ll usually get in there and drink the blood from their neck.”
The maybe 250-pound hogs kicked violently for several minutes, their blood running down a hillside as Paul and his 13-year-old son (who began butchering with his father when he was 4) removed the hooves with swift, deft slices.
The skin soon off, the hogs became familiar forms from the meat market. In about 20 minutes, the animal had gone from a pig to pork to an anatomy lesson as Paul raised the first on a hook to drain and pointed out the major organs.
“Here are the intestines, here’s the pancreas, the liver.”
He blew up lungs and his son held the small brain in cupped hands.
The pigs were then bisected and loaded onto a truck.
“It’s been a rough couple of weeks,” said Hank. “I was really dreading it. I was prepared to be a vegetarian. But I found it pretty normal. Not a big deal. And I’m feeling guilty that I didn’t feel worse about it. I’m the kind of Christian I call radically compassionate. I think God calls us all to love everything. So part of my faith is to be disruptively compassionate, and I’m feeling guilty that I didn’t feel more deeply about the deed. Some people are so capable of turning off the connection between killing an animal and eating meat. When you try to connect it, there’s a visceral response that can really be maddening. Some people can be so protective of that disconnect, it’s amazing. I don’t understand how people wouldn’t want to make that connection. I’m going to continue to eat meat, but I’m going to eat less of it and I’m going to really consider where it’s coming from.” ■