Well, maybe there aren’t so many. But it was an interesting discussion as part of The Human Path’s recent day-long class on processing large game taught by wildlife biologist Greg Pleasant.
In the class, we learned how to humanely kill, bleed out, quarter, butcher, and render an entire wild hog. Many of the day’s students have never gone hunting (including me), so this was the first time we had ever participated in something like this. As one person commented, the only time she’d ever used a knife to cut open her meat was when she cut open the plastic wrappers.
And just as it was new, it was also difficult. The pig was a cute brown girl who snuffled your hand with her snout and liked it when you scratched behind her ears. None of us therefore really wanted her to die. But as hard as it was to kill her, the reality is that bacon just doesn’t grow on trees.
She had been treated well, with respect, for her whole life (she was from a wild mother, but had been bottle fed and raised on a farm). I knew exactly how she died and how her meat was processed, because I was there for everything from the skinning to the meat cutting to the sausage making, and I cooked the final product. Later, we even rendered the left-over fat and made lard, which we subsequently turned into lye soap.
It really changes how you view your food when you have that connection to where it came from, and when your own labor puts it on your plate. It’s like gardening… there’s a satisfaction you get from eating a salad with your own tomatoes… but it’s also more than that, because this was a living, breathing, sentient creature that became dinner.
As part of the class, we learned how to first kill humanely, how to bleed out a large animal, and how to remove the hide and quarter the animal. Most of us took turns, first by holding the pig, cutting up the carcass with the knife, or processing and packing the meat and sausage. In this way, we each took part in the process according to our own desire and comfort levels, and as a result, it became a community activity.
Thinking about the experience, the lyrics of the Decemberist song Red Right Ankle seemed to have new meaning:
This is the story of your red right ankle
And how it came to meet your leg
And how the muscle, bone, and sinews tangled
And how the skin was softly shed
And how it whispered “Oh, adhere to me
For we are bound by symmetry
And whatever differences our lives have been
We together make a limb.”
This is the story of your red right ankle.
Taking part in the slaughter of an animal and going through this whole process offers a whole new way to understand how we – humans and animals, as part of nature – are all interconnected.