Most Important Food Story of the Year

Andrea Weigl and Shawn Rocco of the News & Observer have put together an article and multi-media presentation that should be required reading for everyone over the age of ten. This is the story of a pig, a cute Ossabaw hog that has made its way to the abbatoir. A pig that will be dinner in a week’s time. The article itself is graphic and gut wrenching, but is as well-written and objective as anything you’ll find. This isn’t a story that you usually see in the food section of a newspaper, with inherent space limitations and over-editing. This is a well-rounded, detailed journalistic piece and includes a side story comparing the small operation of the packing plant used for the Ossabaw with the large, industrial plant of the Smithfield Packing plant in Tar Heel, NC. This is top notch writing and photojournalism, pure and simple. Rocco’s pictures juxtapose sweet shots of piglets with a scene of “dead pig walking” and a somewhat eery photo of a small plastic pig in the cup holder of the truck taking the pig to the slaughterhouse. Frankly, I have not seen a story as compelling as this in any paper or magazine this year.

As a father of four children, I believe it’s my duty to ensure that my children understand how we get our food. Whether it’s the heirloom tomatoes, the Frosted Mini-Wheat or the barbecue, my kids should know that food production and processing isn’t always pretty. Sometimes, it really hurts.

This story was the second reminder I’ve had of this in the past month. The first time was when we were in Alaska, on a small boat in Resurrection Bay near Kenai Fjords National Park. The primary purpose of the boat trip was to see wildlife and scenery, and boy, did we ever see some sights! However, we also stopped two times to fish, once for silver (coho) salmon and the second for halibut. My 12-year old daughter, who doesn’t eat much meat at all (and absolutely no fish), was looking forward to catching a fish or two. She got really excited when her younger brother hooked a feisty salmon, even though we couldn’t net it. When her 70 year old grandmother brought the first fish into the boat, she was ecstatic. But that was all to change. The crew brought out a small club and brutally and quickly ended the salmon’s life. I hadn’t prepared my daughter or any of my children for that reality. And she couldn’t handle it, starting to bawl from witnessing the cruelty of meat. Just as Morrissey and the Smiths said, “Meat is Murder,” and my daughter just witnessed a killing.

And a small part of me is glad she did.

Many of you are thinking that I’m an awful father for thinking it’s a good thing for your child to hurt, but that’s not the case. I suspect my daughter already had issues with eating meat because of humane reasons, and this incident may make it worse. I know it bothered her later that day when that salmon was on our dinner table, but she saw first hand how the fish gave its life for our nourishment. She knows that the world of food, including fish and other meat, is not pretty. She knows that her chicken drumstick really came from an animal, an animal that was killed to satisfy her hunger. I don’t think she’ll need to go into therapy, thank god, but she’s forever changed. A little less innocent, perhaps. And after many of us read Weigl’s articles, we might be, too.

Edit: Please also read Weigl’s first piece about this particular pig that came out in Sunday’s paper.  Great, great writing.

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11 Responses to Most Important Food Story of the Year

  1. dave says:

    That was an awesome story. I’ve been wanting to buy pork from Cane Creek for some time, either a whole pig or parts, and this is going to motivate me to do so.

    You’re right about knowing where our food comes from. I think of the times when I’ve seen creatures make the transition from “live” to “food” (fish, shellfish, chickens, etc), and I believe it does give you a better appreciation for the food we eat.
    I think it’s in the French Laundry Cookbook that Thomas Keller talks about slaughtering rabbits, and how you have a commitment to treat creatures that have given their life so you can eat with respect, and you try to make something good out of them, so their sacrifice isn’t in vain.
    Thanks for the link!

  2. Lurker says:

    I thought the article was great as well. I agree that it’s really important for people to understand where their food comes from. I have a hope that doing so will reduce (dare I say, eliminate??) waste. It’s sickening how many tons of meat/poultry/fish gets wasted daily in this country for the buzzards at the landfill to eat. Those animals lived (most of them in despicable conditions) and died (some horrendously) for absolutely nothing. I’m not opposed to eating meat, but I *am* opposed to factory farming and waste; and the complete disregard and ignorance exhibited by far too many people regarding something they do daily – eat! Honor the animal that died so that you might continue living.

    I was surprised to read that the Smithfield plant now uses gassing to kill the pigs rather than captive bolt guns. I think that’s a huge step in the right direction and better than the Matkins operation that shoots them in the head.

  3. seahawg says:

    I thought it was a great article as well. It opened my eyes on the economics aspect. Pork chops at 2.99 a lb at the supermarket vs 9.99 a lb at the farmers market, and the farmer’s still aren’t making it. It’s tough to compete with the factory. As the author said “Carnivorous consumers are caught between conscience and pocketbook.”

    We are no doubt too far removed, from where our food comes from. Most kids will never experience slinging the head off a chicken, and plucking it’s feathers. They will never experience the festival atmosphere of several families getting together for a hog killing. Scraping the hide and rendering the lard. Not a bit going to waste.

    I hope your daughter is fine, and have no doubt she is. I’m with you, in that she needs to see the connection between us and our food. Not a bad life lesson, in my opinion. Keep up the good work. Sounds like you are as accomplished at fathering, as you are at blogging.

  4. “Many of you are thinking that I’m an awful father for thinking it’s a good thing for your child to hurt”

    No way.

  5. Varmint says:

    I only wish I had warned her, but frankly, I had completely forgotten about the clubbing of the fish. Nobody likes it, but I suspect it’s a lot more humane than letting the fish suffocate. She had seen that happen before, but because the fish doesn’t show outward signs of struggling or suffering, it wasn’t traumatic. Beating the crap out of a fish was another story, however.

  6. Hat tip for the Smiths reference. I loved that band.

    I saw the Observer article this weekend, but didn’t have the guts to read it. Looks like you’ve forced me into pulling the thing from my recycle bin. I did see the picture of the piglet they followed and it was really cute.

    As I’ve been known to say, “If God didn’t want us to eat animals, then why did he make them all outta meat?”

  7. chef colin says:

    Chris at http://www.offalgood.com has a pictograghy of the humane slaughter of a cow. It’s pretty gruesome but if you eat meat you should really watch. If you can’t watch I’d recommend not eating meat. here is the actual link to the blog.
    http://www.offalgood.com/site/photos/humane-cow-slaughter/

  8. Jeff says:

    A Kraft salesman once told me about visiting a pork slaughterhouse…not sure where. He said they were playing “Zippidy Do Dah” over the loudspeakers to keep the pigs calm and happy before being offed. So next time you reach for that package of Oscar Mayer center cut bacon, know that it is a former Disney fan you are about to consume.

  9. Matt says:

    Agreed. Great Smiths reference.

    You know, I was probably 30 before it REALLY hit me about where food comes from. Trust me, I knew before, but it took a french cafe to really drive it home. It was when the fish I ordered came out with the eyes staring right back at me. I’ll admit, it kinda freaked me out.

    But it sure was tasty.

  10. tracey says:

    Dean get the youngun a set of Little House on the Prairie books…every girl should have them anyway

    tracey

  11. Pam says:

    I grew up on a farm and remember the first time I realized our pet cow (I’d named him ‘Friendly’ of all things!) was about to be my dinner. I vowed I would never it him, or meat. Of course I did.

    I do respect your desire to teach kids where their food comes from and to appreciate that, I however prefer to live in my own little world where everything comes from the store as is and never had a face. 🙂

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