PetrokusPosted: December 15, 2012 Filed under: Chronicles of a First Time Parent, Farming off the Farm 2 Comments
Petrokus was our family’s pig. Well, half the pig was ours.
On a rainy saturday, one week ago, he was loaded into a trailer and I told my daughter E, “He is going to another farm.” That was true, by half. “Why?” she asked. “Well, he has gotten too big for Dan’s farm.” That was completely true. He had grown to almost 400 pounds.
He spent the weekend in that trailer, at the other farm, until Monday when he was taken to the slaughter-house. I wasn’t sure how to broach that topic with E so I had punted. But this morning, we made the long drive up to West Gardiner Beef. We loaded the car and headed back home. I felt it was time to talk about our payload.
Of all the “big” conversations I might have with my children, I would anticipate the topics of sex and drugs. The source of our family’s food, however, would hardly seem to belong on that list. But I was feeling pretty uneasy.
We are trying to live as close to the land as practical, and when friends offered to co-raise a grain-fed hog, that was a welcome opportunity. I love pork: braised, brined or roasted; pan seared or smoked “low & slow”; dry rub, salt cure, wet mop – whatever the manner, I love it all. My daughter does too. Becca is sure this gene was inherited from my side of the family.
We visited Petrokus during the summer. We talked about him when we purchased grain at the feed store. We touched upon the idea that Petrokus would provide our family with food. We want our children to know their food and its source. The issue of slaughtering may very well have been my own.
On the way to the slaughterhouse, I had told E that we were going to get some meat. Now I needed to add some details. I eased into the conversation.
“So, E…the meat that we are carrying is…from…Petrokus.”
I pondered that phrasing. Was it better, clearer to say “…is Petrokus” ? I distanced the animal and the act by inserting “from.” I continued, “He gave his life, gave us food.”
Silently, she looked out the window at the bare trees. I did not want to rush the conversation so I gave the silence plenty of time.
“Did the butcher…did the butcher…hurt him?”
The topic of “hurt” is commonplace in our conversations. She might ask if a pencil hurts paper when she makes marks, if it hurts a carrot when she takes a bite, if it hurts a tree when the winds blow. “Hurt” is her three-year-old variant of “Why?” So her question was not as loaded as it might seem.
I thought about Chuang Tzu’s zen tale of the butcher and the oxen. At first he “saw the Ox as one mass.” With experience comes insight and then “My whole being apprehends. My senses are idle. The spirit free to work without plan follows its own instinct, guided by natural line, by the secret opening, the hidden space, my cleaver finds its own way. I cut through no joint, chop no bone.”
What I said was, “The butcher did his job well. So it is okay.”
“It is sacred,” I continued, “when an animal gives its life to feed us. We are thankful.”
Her thoughts drifted to her new-born brother. “Will we be able to share this delicious meat with Milo?”
It must be in the genes! “Yes,” I said, not opening the question of how long before a newborn could be fed pork.
In silence, she looked out the car window.
Then finally, “Will we have another pig next year?”
So our conversation passed without trauma. Or perhaps this is just the first phase of a long ongoing conversation, with changing feelings, about the source of our food. Certainly she will have much to say on the topic.
For the record, here are some facts about the fattening of Petrokus:
– purchased the suckling pig on 1 May, approx 18 weeks old;
– consumed 1,100 pounds of Blue Seal “Pig & Sow” grain pellets and 650 pounds of Blue Seal “steamed flaked corn.”
oh, shoot. i left a long comment here — or at least i thought i did — hours ago, and poof it’s all gone. darn!
short version: your writing is amazing. this is a total keeper, and have you thought of sending this to NYT perhaps, or a fine magazine. i will never forget the paragraph about “hurt,” and all its iterations.
your parenting is breathtaking. your capacity to use words, and respect silence, is breathtaking. you and becca are marvels in the world of parenting.
so sad original comment went poof.
David, Not to sound like an Eco-warrior, though I wish I had the energy, and thank God your animal lived on a farm and not in a cage, but the math is simply enough — 1100lbs grain + 650lbs corn to yield 370lbs pork is just not sustainable (then times the estimated 112 million hogs that are slaughtered each year) Go Veg, Douglas