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WhiteTrash BBQ -- Real Pit Barbecue from New York City. This is the story of a fire obsessed guy, living in Brooklyn, with a dream of producing award winning, competition busting, real Barbeque. Come live the dream as I compete around the country in the KCBS Championship Barbecue circuit.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Cooking a Whole Animal

I have no problems with animals being raised and slaughtered for food. I would like to believe that every animal leads a good life and is slaughtered as humanely as possible, but I know that's not true and for this post it really doesn't matter. I'm not going to get into that here, so PETA people move on. I know that once this pig was in my hands it was treated with respect.

With all that said, I didn't expect to feel anything when I cooked this pig. In a very strange way, I feel responsible for this animal's demise. I asked for a whole pig and it was delivered. I don't believe that this pig was killed on my order, but it just as well may have been. Frankly, the thought bothers me.

Why don't I feel the same connection to the animal parts I pick up "wrapped and cut" in the supermarket of from the butcher? I've never really connected those spare ribs with an animal. I understand where they come from, but the retail meat been so sanitized that the connection back to nature has been lost.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, pigs are the third most consumed animal in the country after chicken and beef. I'm talking retail pounds of flesh consumed per capita. I have no idea how many actual chickens, cows and pigs are slaughtered each year, but in terms of actual pounds of flesh the average American consumed 51 pounds of pig meat in 2007 down from 65 pounds of swine per person in 1950. Pork was the most consumed form of animal flesh in the United States until 1965 was it was overtaken by beef.

So if pig meat is so popular why the squeamishness about cooking or eating a whole animal?

Ever since childhood we've been taught that pigs are cute. Do you remember Charlotte's Web? Babe? Gub Gub? Lester? Little Pig Robinson? And let's not forget the Queen of cuteness- Piglet? I could go on and on. We as a society have an obsession with pigs. Look around any curio shop, kitchen store or thrift shop. How many cute little piggies do you see? Hell, even in my own kitchen we have a ceramic pig dressed in a chef's coat holding a black board. How many barbeque teams feature a comical pig as their mascot or in its logo? Take a quick gander through Suicide Food and see how often a pig is used to represent a good time or a feast.

When I first saw the pig, purchased for me from the fine folks at RUB BBQ as Matt ushered me into their walk-in, it appeared to be sleeping on the shelf amongst all the other meat cuts. Even seeing her lying amongst ribs and pork butts, I didn't make the connection between the familiar cuts of meat and an actual animal. Only when Matt took the pig off the shelf and handed her to me exposing her gutted belly did it begin to register that a life had been given up. Matt and I both felt this and acknowledged it to each other.

Matt placed the pig into my outstretched arms where it hung like a sleeping child. This was getting tough. "Was this "piglet"? "I thought, "I'm going to cook "this"?" Why has this thought never bothered me before? I've cooked whole animals in the past, including pigs. I guess that since this was the first time doing it on my own, I assumed a higher level of responsibility. In other cooks I was the accomplice, here I was the protagonist. Oh, of course, I could blame Ned as this pig was for his birthday party, but once the idea of eating a whole hog was breached, I immediately offered to do the deed. Little did I know that this pig would have an effect on me.

We quickly placed the pig in a cooler, covered her with ice and put it in the trunk of my car. I sped to Brooklyn and Matt returned to the bowels of RUB where he prepared the hundreds of pounds of offerings of flesh served in the restaurant that day.

Driving to Ned's I put the thought of "a pig" out of my mind. With the animal in the trunk of my car, the sweet little pig was just "meat" again and I could focus on preparing it for the party.

She stayed "meat" until it came time to prepare her for cooking. As Kevin Lincoln and I were preparing the pig, one of Ned's female guests arrived and freaked out by the site of the pig laying on the table. With as much macho we could muster, we immediately ridiculed here for her squeamishness. But to be completely honest, Kevin and I both felt something for the animal. This was not a moment to take lightly.

I'm not going to get into the actual preparation as this post is already much too long, but in laying her out on the cooking rack, cleaning and seasoning, naming her as is tradition and placing her on the fire, this slab of meat became an animal once again. It was with some trepidation that I closed the lid for the first few hours of cooking.

Somewhere in the magic of the smoke, this pig became meat again. As the smoke worked on the pig, it also performed a sort of magic on my mind and soul. It changed my attitude towards the animal from pity to respect. When she was finally removed from the fire and I put the first strike of the knife blade into its side, this pig was meat and nothing more. But I did offer a silent prayer of thanks for its sacrifice.

So, from now on when I'm cooking a rack of ribs or a pork shoulder or any cut of meat, I'll remember that this meat is really from an animal that was slaughtered so that I could eat and offer a little prayer in thanks. I recommend you do the same.

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At 8:14 PM, Blogger Andy Tanguay said...

This is a great post. Thanks for writing it with such honesty. I'm no PETA person by a long shot, but It sounds like doing this roast was a valuable experience.

I started working with leather a while back, and some of the pieces of the stuff you can buy reveal the shape of the actual animal who gave it's skin. It freaked me out a bit for a while. Then I decided that if I made things with permanence as opposed to things that were disposable, it was ok.

I think that the best thing you can do is what you did, give thanks to the animal that gave it's life for this meal, and use as much as you possibly can and not waste it. Humans are animals too, and we need to eat. But the disconnect we have with our food nowadays makes it easy to forget that it was once a living breathing creature.

Well done.

At 9:05 PM, Blogger Terry_Jim said...

Respect is the right attitude, I think, for the animal who's life was given and taken to provide sustenance.
Besides mere sustenance, BBQ provides pleasure and fellowship as well. These are all good gifts from God.

That Suicide Food website has a humerous point about the strangeness of cartoon animals promoting their own consumption, but the authors are stuck in a confused, ignorant moral equivalance of humans and animals.

Vegetarians are cool. All I eat are vegetarians - except for the occasional mountain lion steak.
-Ted Nugent

At 8:17 PM, Blogger Chris said...

"But I did offer a silent prayer of thanks for its sacrifice. "

As I was reading this post, I was thinking of the tradition that many hunters do. Your thankfulness is spread across hunters of most all cultures.

Despite your discomfort along the way, I would think this experience will make you more connected with the food you prepare and for the better.

I liked this post, very thought provoking.


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