Warning: This article is about a hog butchering class and contains images of dead animals.
Last week, I took the plunge and attended a hog butchering class at the Smoking Goose in downtown Indianapolis. Before you ask, no, Spoon didn’t force me to do this. As weird as it may sound, I chose to do this.
A bit of background for you: I grew up in the Indianapolis suburbs, which contrary to popular belief, have lots more than corn in them. I didn’t grow up on a farm, and the only livestock I’ve had interaction with before has been the slabs of meat I’ve bought from the grocery store. So why did I want to learn how to butcher a hog?
The simple answer: I was curious.
Over the past few years, I’ve had a number of friends and family members go vegan or vegetarian, and after repeatedly saying, “ugh, I could never do that,” I finally decided to really listen to their reasons for cutting meat out of their diets. I started watching food documentaries like Cowspiracy to learn more about what really goes on in the factory farming system. I began doing my own research on the environmental impacts of eating beef and other factory-farmed meats.
And now, I’ve taken a butchering class to learn more about the process of preparing pork for everyday consumption. I suppose you could say I took this class as a test of my own meat-eating willpower. I went into it thinking it could be the day I swore off meat, wondering whether I’d join my vegetarian friends in their quest to end the killing of animals for consumption.
Not to ruin the surprise or anything, but that didn’t happen. If anything, I actually gained respect for local butchers and the art of butchering. As odd as it sounds, butchering really is an art, in its own strange way.
Kameron, the butcher leading us through the process, focused primarily on seam butchering. The differences between seam butchering and the way hogs are cut up in factory farms are immense. Kameron used just two knives throughout the entire process and repeatedly warned us of the danger of cutting too deep into the flesh of the hog. Where factory farms use machines to hack up hogs, the butchers at the Smoking Goose use their hands to carefully dissect the pig. What’s more, they respect the animal they’re working on.
Kameron knew exactly where this hog had been raised, the living conditions it had grown up in, and its approximate age. He said this particular animal had been killed a bit early, based on the relatively lean fat deposits on its back. Throughout the 4-hour session, he told us every last detail about butchering that we might need to know in case we decided to make a major career change overnight.
In short, this guy was incredibly passionate about his job. While snacking on some Smoking Goose salumi during our break, I began thinking about the ethics of taking a class like this. Here I was, paying money to learn how to cut up an animal. Is that right? After a while, I began to think that, yes, it was perfectly fine for me to do this.
The hog we butchered in the class had had a good life on a farm in Indiana. It had been treated kindly, fed well, and was killed humanely. After hearing Kameron explain what all goes into raising and butchering a pig, it was clear that though he’s in the business of selling animal by-products he hasn’t forgotten that he’s dealing with something that used to be a living creature.
I’d already felt uneasy about factory farms before I took this class. Between the research I’d done and my general gut instinct on the issue, I knew I wasn’t 100% sure whether I wanted to continue buying meat from the grocery story. This class solidified my feelings on the matter. It was suddenly clear to me that to ensure the ethical treatment of animals, I needed to start actively supporting local stores like Smoking Goose. The prices may be a bit higher, but in the end it’s worth it.
So will I buy factory-farmed meat again? I certainly don’t want to. I’m not sure if it’s something I can give up over night, but I’ve set a goal to completely cut out factory-farmed animal products by the end of this year. I imagine I’ll have to make some tough decisions, as I’ve yet to secure a stable income as a recent college grad. That being said, it’s time that I took responsibility for my choices and focused on buying meat that I can feel good about eating.
Though the images in this article were graphic, I sincerely hope that you understand the importance of choosing to consume ethically-sourced meat. The prices may be a bit of a turn-off at times, but the effort and care butchers like the crew at Smoking Goose put into their products is well worth the few extra dollars, in my opinion.
So now we have a choice: keep buying factory-farmed meats and hope the animals were treated well, or support local butcher stores and farms, knowing exactly how the livestock was raised.
Needless to say, I know what I’m choosing.