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Soaker Pads
Sunday, March 28, 2010
As a culture, Americans don't handle death very well, even when it's not our own.  I recently read of a whole-pig roast in a Los Angeles backyard.  When guests were confronted with a complete and identifiable dead animal slowly cooking over the coals, about half of them refused to eat the pork.  We tend to like our death made a little less real and a little more abstract; say, like grayish pink cubes in chilled and sterile white styrofoam trays, safely enshrouded in clear plastic and with a deftly hidden blood sponge (in the industrial food parlance known as a 'soaker pad') to further conceal any distasteful reminder that we are eating what was once a living, breathing, and yes, yearning, animal with all that inconvenient hot blood pumping through it. 
I remember the first time I slaughtered a hog; more than 35 years ago but still the memory is vivid and fresh.  It was a crisp and clear North Carolina morning showing one of the first light frosts of the fall.  We threw a little corn on the ground in the hog pen, and the frenzied hogs formed a solid mass as they body-slammed each other to be first to the golden grains.  As the hogs began rooting, I simply reached down with a .22 pistol --almost casually-- put the muzzle square between the ears and pressed tight to the forehead of the closest pig, and squeezed the trigger. 
The firing of the pistol seemed to have roughly the same effect it serves at the beginning of foot races:  Events from that point sped up considerably.  The pig flopped over and blood poured from the bullet hole.  With a quick step one of the older farmhands jumped in the pen, slit the pig's throat while the heart still beat, and after a few flops and kicks the pig lapsed into quivering immobility.  In the dirt a bright red tide rapidly rose from the nearly severed head; a mortal Bay of Fundy. 
Then, we each grabbed a leg and unceremoniously dropped the pig in a giant and ancient cast iron bowl of boiling water.  The water scalded the pig's hide, and we scraped off the loosened hairs.  With a great sense of urgency the steaming and pink-skinned pig was hoisted in the air by its hind legs on a stout rope it swung from a large tree limb.    With a wickedly sharp little knife the pig's belly was opened genitals to sternum, I reached in, and with a few quick slashes rolled out the enormous and curious-smelling (but not unpleasantly so) gut bag.  With its strange slick colors and weird convolutions the neatly bundled bag of guts fell to the ground, and the assembled dogs cautiously eased toward the discarded pile.  A water hose appeared and the body cavity of the hog was washed, the water going from red to pink to finally clear as the minutes passed.
With knives and a hacksaw we then began to break down the pig into its component parts.  Little was wasted.  We saved the major cuts of muscle, of course --the parts that literally allowed us to eat 'high on the hog'-- but also the tongue and the intestines.  The liver was thrown directly on the coals of a fire and roasted.  We blew off the ashes, stuffed the liver in our mouths as we stood there, suddenly ravenous from our bloody work.  Women poured hot water into the intestines and squeezed out the rank matter inside; some crude mixture stopped in a transitional state somewhere between hog food and turd.  The cleaned intestines would form the casings for chittlins.  Chunks of fatty skin from the belly were thrown into a boiling kettle of hog grease and were eaten as cracklings.  (Sounds gross, tastes great.)  What little part of the pig that wasn't used was fed to the dogs.
At that young age I had been little exposed to the killing and butchering of a large animal, but at no time did the process seem cruel or ugly or repulsive.  It was an honest transaction of the most elemental sort; not something to be denied or obscured.  The hog died mercifully.  It's body was eaten gladly.  And there was celebration and pleasure in the hard work on a cold morning. 
No soaker pads were required.