A Life of Meaning

This past Sunday our pigs went off to the processing facility. In stark contrast to the debacle that was our first attempt, on this occasion the pigs practically raced each other into the livestock trailer. As the guy had told us before, the key is to have hungry pigs. They’d had their last meal at noon the day before, and it was almost noon the next day when they got picked up. When they saw us put their food in the trailer it was all we could do to stop them from getting on board. Inside was a thick layer of sawdust and some apples scattered around. They had each other and they looked content. I confess I felt a bit sad seeing them off and knowing that they were going to be killed the next day. But I never had any second thoughts about it.

The guy who runs the processing facility, Mark, actually came with the livestock hauler on his run that day, so we were able to meet him in person. A very down-to-earth, friendly guy whose facility is not far from our place. These are the kind of local relationships we wanted to find when we were dreaming of this life. So it was with great satisfaction that we shook hands with the man who would care for our pigs on their last night, make sure they were dispatched swiftly and humanely, and process our food as he would for his own family.

Any lingering sadness I may have felt was quickly turned to excitement when Husband came home from the processing facility after a visit two days later to select our cuts. As he read out the list to me, my mouth watered at hearing about the hams, ground pork, thick chops, slabs of pork ribs, bacon (which will be smoked for us), tenderloin, and sausage (again a service offered by the processor) that we’d be getting. I love pork, and I’ve not bought much of it for years because I couldn’t afford much of the good stuff, and couldn’t in good conscience support commercial pig farming by buying their products either. I’ve never even baked a ham myself, but I cannot wait to set a table for family and friends where a ham raised on our very own farm will be set down for all to enjoy.

Mark told Husband that our meat was of very good quality and showed him how it compared to others he had in that week. At this stage the carcasses had been cleaned, head and hooves removed, and were hanging in halves (Husband took a photo to bring home for me). You certainly couldn’t recognize them as the brown and black pigs who’d left our farm. Yet there, stamped on the skin, was our name and the date. I’ve been in butcher shops before and seen half-cows and half-pigs hanging to age, but there was something pretty special about seeing *our* meat there. The processor said you could tell they’d been raised outside as the meat was lean and there wasn’t a huge layer of fat on top (in other words, we’re getting more meat per pig). We felt pretty good about that given this is the first time either of us has raised an animal for consumption. Frankly, the whole experience has been even more rewarding than I imagined. And I have to say, pretty darned easy all told.

As I think about ol’ Sweet and Sour I can feel good about what we’ve done. All animals on this Earth have a purpose. They are part of a food web that promotes the health and beauty of our planet. A life ending up as meat is not, in my way of viewing the world, a life without worth. But the factory-farming method of producing meat is so lacking in vision of the greater picture. The harm to the environment, to the health of the animals (and the people who eat their meat), and the lack of opportunity for those animals to take their place in Nature’s cycles makes it seem like an act of greed. To take without giving, to take at any cost. Our pigs were given a good life, with fresh air and forage and continuous opportunities to express their natural behaviours and therefore be content. I feel that is what brings a healthy balance to this equation. They nourished our land with their droppings, they cleared it of weeds and shrubs, and they dug up rocks so that we can plant a pasture that will become part of the cycle of life on this farm. To me, their life had meaning and purpose. And now they will feed our family, nourish our bodies, and give us the gift of a really deep and meaningful connection to our food. I’m so grateful for this experience, and very much looking forward to getting new piggies next Spring.

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