Pigs: The last chapter

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It’s been a month, now, since we slaughtered the pigs, and the day stays with me.  The story is in today’s Washington Post, and on their site.

Carrying Tiny’s carcass up from the pen (photo by Suzie Glover — thank you, Suzie!)

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Comments

  1. Great article Tamar! I think the thing I love about your attempts the most is that you learn (quickly) from the mistakes/hangups that happen.

  2. That was a lovely article. I think you did an amazing job. They were lucky pigs.

  3. Accidental Mick says:

    Hi Tamar,
    I admit that I didn’t read the comments posted on the Washington Post because I was revolted by the hate-filled and ignorant responses you got from some bigots on your previous posts.

    I am full of admiration of the things you and Kevin have achieved and very respectful of the way you have achieved them. We have never met and are unlikely to in the future but I would be proud to be considered among your wide circle of your internet friends.

  4. Thanks, Brooke, Brenda, and Mick. Kind words are particularly welcome on days when I write about killing animals in the mainstream press.

    Mick, I was braced for the worst in the comments, but there are a number of thoughtful and interesting responses, both positive and negative. There are a few name-callers, but not many. And if you’re not in my Internet circle of friends, I don’t know who is!

  5. So to sum it up… was it worth it? Do you want to do it again? I’m thinking of taking it on.

  6. Well done, Tamara. You did well by the pigs, raising them humanely and giving them a good life. You did well by the pigs, giving them a humane death. You wrote well about it. Many people will benefit from reading your words who will never come closer than that to their food. You did well and good.

  7. Linda — It was worth it. We learned a great deal, and Kevin and I will always look at meat in a different way. We’re thinking about doing it again — not next year, but perhaps the year after that.

    Walter — Thanks. The things that keep going through my mind are the things we’d do differently, but I know that, in the pig world, ours had better lives and deaths than the vast majority. And I do hope that a few people will think differently about the animals they eat.

    For the record, if we decide not to grow our own pork, we’ll be coming to you for yours.

  8. Anyone who has attempted to grow/raise a portion of their large ration (vegetable or meat) should appreciate your efforts and applaud your candidness in the process. Anyone striving for self-sufficiency understands how ridiculous it is to grow enough calories to actually be a vegetarian or vegan. It is delusion and hypocrisy. I was 12 yrs old when a zookeeper explained how field mice were an “allowed” component of ketchup. Mice, however small, are mammals and experience pain like any other animal. No one stands up to fight for the field mice or the lab mice who die in the name of pharmaceutical research/therapy. And no vegetarian/vegan goes without their life-supporting drugs. At least a single pig can feed a family for a year. A used lab mouse goes to the landfill in a freezer bag and undergoes an excruciating (cancer supporting, mechanical ventilating, etc) drug-induced, oxygen-deprived, painful death, hopefully before he reached the freezer. Hold the tears. People who cannot appreciate their food/pharmaceuticals/”necessities” or where they come from have lost a part of their own realities.

  9. “Years ago, I read “Education of a Knife,” an essay by Atul Gawande about every inexperienced surgeon’s need to practice on real live people: “In surgery, as in anything else, skill and confidence are learned through experience — haltingly and humiliatingly. . . .”

    Thanks so much for including this thought. I butchered my hens for the first time, and while a few went smoothly, the first two did not. I felt horrible that they did not die quickly, as I struggled cut after cut on their throat. Despite our desire for things to work right, there has to be a learning process.

    • Tamar, I am sorry that Doc did not have as easy a death as the other two.

      My first time killing excess roosters I messed up the first one. I chose my favorite because I figured that after doing him, the other two would be easier. I did not realize how much force you need to use to get a good, clean cut, so he suffered for about 5 minutes before I realized I needed to do a better job, and I screwed up my courage and finished the job. I learned, and the other two bled out in seconds. That first bird’s death haunts me still, because it was my job to get it right, but, I honor him as one of my teachers in life. Doc is one of your teachers.

  10. Thank you so much for the story, you have shown us what it takes emotionally and physically to go full circle on a project like this. You have inspired myself and I am sure others about taking the leap of raising our own meat. Your animals had a good life and were treated well by you and that is the best anyone could ask for. Did you have any legal issues from the state or town about raising 3 pigs, turkeys and chickens on your property? Currently we are raising chickens for eggs and plan to raise some meat chickens this coming year and was wondering what the laws are for such things and how you found out about them.

  11. Christine — We do indeed kill many mammals in many human endeavors. I think we need to keep that in mind as we undertake those endeavors, but a refusal to kill would wipe us out as a species.

    Melissa and Laura — Sucks, doesn’t it? We all want every kill to go perfectly. But we all have to learn to do it. Thanks for your stories about the chickens.

    Jan — We didn’t have any legal issues because our town has very few restrictions on animals. I’m betting all your local laws are online, and you can find them with some searching. Failing that, you can talk to your local department responsible (in our town, Natural Resources). Good luck!

  12. When you look in your freezer, and you see it full of pork, I expect that you remember the relationship you had to the animals when they were alive. The meat gives us needed calories but the time and experience spent in the animals’ company enriches us in other ways. I scrolled through a few of your comments and one stuck with me:”it’s a lot of work just to eat pork.” I don’ t think we would put our hearts and energy into keeping animals if it was only about the meat.

    I remember all of my learning experiences, and each death that didn’t go to plan. I’m afraid that never goes. But, when someone like Dave turns to you and says that meat is beautiful, you remember that too. I feel immensely proud over each of my home-produced lambs. I certainly don’t do it just for the meat. Thank you for writing so intelligently about all the other reasons why we do it.

    • Jen — Your comment, for some reason, went to spam, so I just saw it now.

      That comment about its being a lot of work stuck with me, too. I’ve found that, when people ask me why I’m doing this, I answer with a version of what you said here. There is a very particular pride in raising, hunting, or growing your own food. The pork from our pigs is not the same, to us at least, as any other pork.

      Killing an animal is a really lousy job. But, if you believe that an agriculture that includes animals is better for all concerned — including the animals themselves, who wouldn’t exist otherwise — then the killing has to happen. And there will be mistakes. Most of the people with experience I talk to are very sympathetic because they’ve been there themselves.

      Thanks.

  13. Bravely done, bravely written.

  14. Hey Tamar,

    Just adding my vegetarian voice to those saying “Thanks for talking about this in public.” There is no diet that doesn’t impact our planet and the animals on it in a negative way. I think it’s a matter of choosing which animals and how much impact. Where do the vegans think their vegetables are being grown? On land where animals have been displaced of course! I think the best we can do it simply act in as knowledgeable and respectful manner as possible. I think you’ve achieved that.

  15. Virginia — Thanks. Although I have to confess that none of it felt brave. Just hard, and necessary.

    Karen — Knowledgeable and respectful sounds about right to me. And I think your point that our existence necessarily has an impact on other species is critical. I think an animal that eats grass, or eats a lot of food that would otherwise go in our waste stream, is an excellent use of resources. I also think that one large animal, feeding many people, is a way to minimize the cost, in lives, of feeding humans.

    Mostly, I appreciate a vegetarian vote of support. After the horrible names I’ve been called throughout, it’s buoying. So thanks.

  16. Greg Mabrey says:

    I finally read the article. What struck me the most was the very real appreciation of the pigs your writing displays. You not only wrote about what happened that went according to plan, you spoke of the error in killing as well. Clearly, you regret the animal was not dispatched as quickly and “cleanly” as you would have liked. That shows you respected and sincerely cared about the welfare of the creature. I believe that no one should ever take life, their own or others, for granted. Taking life is part of life or us as humans, whether we do it ourselves or by proxy. Only those who DIY something like that can ever really appreciate the true cost of good meat. Thank you for sharing your experience. You have probably made some people aware of what meat costs for the first time. I don’t blame you for not wanting to start more pigs next spring. Start more oysters instead, then spend more time fishing for stripers or blues. Fishing is fun!

  17. There was nothing brave about murdering these pigs who wanted to live as much as all of us. No it is not a “lucky” thing to be murdered no matter how transparent the process is.

    • @wayne. So what. A lion’s prey wants to live just as much as the lion but the lion kills it and eats the zebra. The zebra’s prey (grass) wants to live just as much as the zebra. Yet the zebra eats the grass. This is the natural order of things. It’s called the food web. Even you are part of it. If you object then boycott eating.

  18. I so appreciate the comments on this blog post, as opposed to the ones at the Washington Post. It shows that your readers here are a community, whereas those at the post speak from the no-consequence land of anonymity. Whatever our choices and our differences, can’t we all realize that when we speak with disrespect, we will not be heard; the listeners mind shuts down out of self-protection. This goes both ways. I especially appreciate Sharon’s respectful comment from a vegetarian perspective. I currently eat a diet that’s close to Paleo, and therefore the opposite of veganism, and both camps often condemn and stereotype each other. I have found the people that are the most vehement are often the recently converted. I’m lucky to have friendships with longtime vegetarians who don’t judge my diet, nor do I judge theirs. We all are trying to eat ethically, which puts us in the sad minority of this country. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could work together to make life better for animals and the earth, instead of drawing lines in the sand and hurling insults? It reminds me of our current congress. I admire your courage Tamar, not just in the undertaking of your life on the Cape (which is impressive), but in writing honestly about your experiences and bracing yourself for the inevitable mudslinging. In contrast to the haters, I’m sending you a little love, knowing you’re not the mushy type, but I am, and knowing you’ll accept that difference in me.

  19. Greg — You’re right about fishing, and we will definitely be doing more of that next year. Even with the difficulties of slaughter, though, we are thinking about pigs for the year after that. Thanks for the kind words.

    Eileen — I’m definitely not mushy, but I think I can appreciate a little love as much as the next guy! So thanks for sending it. I’m always grateful for the tone of the comments on this site. People who disagree are almost always civil and reasonable. I get the occasional exception, like Wayne here, but it doesn’t happen often.

  20. The only question I have is what you thought your other options were beside “shoot again” when Doc didn’t go down quickly. That decision should have been nearly automatic, not over several minutes of dithering.

    • I suspect that, when you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation involving large animals, several people, and guns, you’ll discover that nothing is automatic.

  21. Great article Tamar. I really enjoyed reading it. Killing your own food is hard to do. That is part of the reason Lee and I always put off butchering chickens because it is not a pleasant job. Lee watched so many youtube videos and read a lot on how to kill and butcher chickens before he did it for the first time. He still feels like he doesn’t have it all down after a few batches of chickens. We go through all the same emotions you described in your article every time.

  22. Leslie Wilder says:

    Thanks for sharing the biographies of your pigs with us.

    I was appalled by some of the mean-spirited comments in The Washington Post following the first of your articles. I thought vegetarians were supposed to be kind, gentle people (Adolph Hitler to the contrary.) They won’t win any converts that way.

    • Mean-spirited is right. I, too, was appalled. But I think the number of vegetarians and vegans out there calling names is small — it’s just a very vocal minority. At least I hope so.

  23. Thanks Tamar. Your words from your Post article spoke right to our hearts … we had almost exactly the same experience with our first two pigs last autumn (one went as planned & hoped for, one not so), other than the professional butcher helping at the end. We feel passionately that our job is to raise our animals so that they can live out their lives experiencing as much of their essence as we can provide (for the pigs, that included foraging, rooting, running, sunning, wallowing…), and our responsibility to be the instruments of their death when we’re ready to eat them. We eat meat, and we feel that it’s hypocritical to do anything less (for us, we have the means and the ability; I realize that is not the case with everyone). We’re not perfect, the animals must suffer because life wants to live and will fight hard at ending, but with practice we get better. Death is not something we enjoy. We enjoy our life with our animals, and we delight in our limited self-sufficiency, and are proud in the skills we’ve built and the knowledge we keep learning.

    • Thanks, Amie. It’s good to hear from someone who had a similar experience. I think all of us who eat meat have to come to terms with the idea that, no matter how hard to we try, animals will suffer. They will get ill, they will have accidents, they’ll get taken by predators. And we will screw up. But we screw up less as we get more practice.

      I don’t think it’s necessarily hypocritical to eat meat, but not raise it. In fact, I think that the only way we’re going to improve our food system is by appealing to those people who don’t raise their own food, and ask them to be engaged with the people who do.

      Enjoy your animals, and your pork. Thanks again for stopping by.

  24. Accidental Mick says:

    ???