We raise pigs every year.  And when it comes time to slaughter them, our friends show up and help us do the deed and get through all that meat before time takes a toll.  We processed four pigs this year. Because we wanted to take our time and really start to master our butchering skills and use every part of the pig possible, we did our slaughter on three different dates.

Our friends showed up to help us all three times. Pig processing from start to finish is an all day event.  It starts before light with getting the scalder hot and preparing all the equipment, cleaning surfaces, sharpening knives.  Then the help comes and we take the shot, scald the pig, scrape the hair, gut it, and halve it.  From there we break it into cuts to bag for the freezer, trim for sausage, and hams and bacon to cure. Then we’re on to sausage, head cheese, pate, lard, and cracklin.

We processed close to 700 pounds of products at our place this year.  I am sure we could do it on our own if we had to, but it wouldn’t be nearly as rewarding. It would also be a whole lot of work.  Even with a team of friends, it’s still a lot of work.  And yet, it doesn’t feel so much like work when surrounded by your friends.  It feels like community.  That thing we all need so desperately, but often have a hard time finding in a culture that feels designed to isolate and divide us.

Who has time for a hog killin’ anymore when we’re so busy working so we can go to the grocery store and buy infinitely inferior meat products?

Obviously we do.  And others like us who have made a conscious decision to trade some of our dependence on wages for home food production and community reliance.  Not everyone gets the luxury of a making a choice like this.  So, it is something we appreciate every day.  For some, the ability to grow and raise your food is not a luxury at all, but a matter of survival.  So much depends on your perspective and your situation in life.

Today, we got the chance to pay back some of that good will our dear friends have built by helping us with our hog killins (which is what we call it here in the South).  This morning we drove up to their place and arrived just in time to participate in the kill and begin the activities that would last into the evening. When our fingers and toes were frozen and the last carcass was nothing but bones, we called it quits so we could get home and wrap up our own livestock related chores.  Our friends will have a few more hours of clean-up before they get to sit down, just as we do when everyone leaves for the night.

There were some new comers to the slaughter today.  People, like us just last year, who wanted to know where their food comes from and how to do things for themselves.  And like us our first time, they dove right in, elbows deep in pig parts and emerged transformed and freed from ignorance about the necessities of life.

I know slaughter is a touchy subject.  Every time I write about it, I steel myself in preparation for the backlash. Though to be honest, there has only been a little of that.  And yet I know it is out there. One of the helpers today raises cattle.  He told us a story about a woman who came to shame him for what he did to “his poor cows” who are raised on pasture and given a dignified life.  He said he had to laugh as he looked at her leather shoes and asked her what happened to the cow that gave her those.

I am exhausted from a hard day of work.  But I am also filled with hope as I see more people opening their eyes and seeing the true cost of life and facing it bravely and with honesty.   Food does not come from the grocery story.  That’s just where it is sold.