The following is a reflection I wrote about the final step in my journey with the pigs.
Saturday November 14th was a day I had been dreading for months. A vegetarian for the four years leading up to this event, I wasn’t sure I was cut out for this kind of involvement in my food but I was jumping in headfirst anyway. If I was going to eat meat, I had to hold myself responsible for the process that meat goes through before it gets to my plate. And I had raised those pigs for meat, so making their transition from life into my freezer as easy and smooth as possible was what I was determined to do, no matter how heartbreaking.
The previous day, we set up the pig trailer in their moveable pen and scattered bits of their favorite treats all over; corn chips, moldy bread, stale muffins, stinky cheese. They clumsily climbed in with little effort on our part, and shortly thereafter we embarked on the journey to Steve’s; the location of the next day’s events. They spent the night there, jammed in next to one another in that trailer, protected from the constant rain by a tarp.
The next morning we found them calm, sleepy and relaxed, completely unaware of what was coming. I climbed up on the wheels of the trailer, ducking under the tarp to lean down and comfort them one last time. Patting each of them on their backs I thanked them again for their delightful piggy lives and said goodbye, silent tears streaming down my face. After jumping down from the trailer, I excused myself from the crowd that had assembled to witness the process, and retreated to my car where I collapsed in sobbing gasps. Devastated. After a few moments, I gathered myself together, took a deep breath, and rejoined the group. Everyone was drinking coffee, sharing stories, and laughing, I tried my best to put on a smile and make the best of this.
When the butchers arrived, I explained in a collected, logical manner that I had grown quite fond of those pigs and didn’t want to be there when they died. “Well when are you takin’ a walk then?” Mark asked in his strong Vermont accent, smiling. I went into the house immediately where I found Josie, a shaman and one of Steve’s stepdaughters. “Are they starting?” she asked with a sympathetic smile… and the dam I had built to hold back my tears started to crumble … then I heard the first shot go off, followed closely by the other two. My heart sank.
Sitting there at their kitchen table Josie and I spoke about the importance of those animals and what they represent. Josie told me about her constant awareness that her life is made possible by other organisms giving up theirs. A humbling realization. She told me that there’s a great sense of responsibility that goes along with that knowledge, a responsibility to live each moment intentionally. It made me realize that my feelings of sadness were a necessary part of really knowing and owning this process of raising my own food. Those pigs were loves of mine, and now they were sacrificing their lives (unknowingly) so that mine, and the lives of others could continue… I had found a deeper gratitude.
I thanked Josie for her words and headed outside to take part in the process I had begun with those pigs. There before me was Flo Jo on her back on a sawhorse-like contraption, being cut in half. Mark and Dave, the butchers, were working carefully and quickly in the rain… I felt myself getting choked up. Walking around to the open side of the trailer I saw Herkimer and Crysta, both motionless as if they were in a deep sleep. And yet again I was overcome. What were we doing?! Just then Ben came up to me. “They were all quiet. It happened quickly,” he said. The butchers said that pigs rarely went that quietly. We discussed the fact that those pigs had been touched by countless humans and heard a range of loud noises (power tools, hammers, etc) in their time, so when that gun went off they were startled, but panic was minimal and brief. I looked over and watched as Mark handled Flo and felt all my fear melt away. The terror and uncertainty I had been drowning in were gone. There was a gentle respect in Mark’s movements. Sure Mark and Dave made jokes (not about the pigs) and laughed as they worked, but I welcomed their light hearts. They had treated those pigs in a humane way with no lack of accuracy. Yes, of course I still felt heavy with grief, but that grief was evenly matched with my appreciation for their skill and respect of my feelings as they cared for the bodies of the animals I loved. As I watched them work through the day my sadness lessened and I become more fascinated by the process. What beautiful animals those pigs were, inside and out! Those men had managed to turn a potentially scary, brutal, messy experience into a rather meaningful, almost enjoyable morning for me. After seeing every step (minus the first one) of the process first hand I knew it was one I had to, and wanted to go through again. I had made sure those pigs led fantastic lives up to the very last moment, and that was something to feel good about.
Mark and Dave told me several times what remarkable animals I had raised. They were healthy, lean, beautiful pigs, the product of a happy life. It comforted me to know that the fresh pasture, room to run around and wrestle, and ample amounts of affection had resulted in the best meat we could have hoped for.
It feels good to stand here at the end and know that the process was a success. And now that I have tasted the end product I feel even better about it! During their lives the pigs nourished me emotionally, and now they’re nourishing me physically. I do still have moments of sadness, missing the way they leaned on me waiting to get their tummies rubbed. But mostly I feel thankful to have had the opportunity to know and love those delightful animals. I am a better person for having embarked on such a challenging, rewarding adventure. And it’s one I plan to repeat over and over throughout the rest of my days.