Posts Tagged ‘hog’

The Whole Hog

August 5th, 2011


My first day at the Country Cat, watching Adam Sappington butcher a whole hog, was probably one of my most memorable experiences at the restaurant.  I came in a couple hours early because I didn’t know anyone and didn’t yet know how this restaurant operated.  I was searching, even before the restaurant  had opened, for this job.  Freshly returned to Portland after ten years of loitering around the Americas I needed to recoup before I was ready for commitment.  So I lived rent free in the basement of some wonderful friends, worked at a burger joint, and rode the bus to work.  Until this opportunity surfaced.

I remembered when Wilwood opened in ’94.  I had just graduated college and was hired at the Black Rabbit at McMenamin’s Edgefield 2 months after opening.  I was 22 years old…the rest of the wait staff were well into their 30’s and very  professional. The idea to  butcher a whole hog was not yet in the culinary jargon back then…chefs were still sprinkling parsely around the rim of the plates!  These veterans had been in the restaurant business for a long time, but the idea to go back to the farm traditions was just beginning.

The knowledge that filled that resturant astounded me and soaked into my young mind.  In 1994 the Farm to Table phenomenon was new, and the thought to butcher a whole hog for a restaurant seemed a waste of resources.  This was before Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential shocked the world and restaurants were merely places to eat, not places to revere, or eventually work.

“Butcher a whole hog,” my boss says,” or turn your back on what food is about.  You have to go back to the basics and understand where your food comes from and how it gets to your plate.  Before you butcher the whole hog, you  have to understand how the animal is raised,  slaughtered,  and how it gets to your kitchen.  Good food ain’t easy.”  That last sentence sums up what humans have been diligently studying for many thousands of years: how to alter the chemical make up of food to maximize nutrition and taste.

I don’t know everything about the restaurant business, but I do know the benefits of being able to butcher a whole hog and  how to use the whole animal.  I know, from personal experience on my grandfather’s farm, that a farmer who loves his animals and treats them with respect will produce the best quality  product.  So come watch us butcher a whole hog at


Is it still meat?

November 20th, 2010

winter pig

The evolution of agricultural science which lifted off in the 1960’s (well, the process may have started in the forties, but didn’t actually receive the sobriquet “Green Revolution” until sometime in the 1960’s) worked increasingly well:  grain production increased signifcantly, yet  “global increase in crop yields per” hectare “across 1961 – 1999 were accompanied by a 97% increase in irrigated acreage and 638 %, 203 %, and 854 % increases in use of nitrogen fertilizer, phosphorus fertilizer, and production of pesticides, respectively.”(B. TRENDS IN ACREAGE AND YIELDS,  Patricia Muir.  Oregon
State 1998) A huge increase in food was not only offset with a growth in population, but also with an historic use of chemicals used to produce that food.

And?  You ask…and I tell you  that the short cuts that science allows, unchecked by humble goals and a careful agenda, will cost more in the long run.  So our land is riddled with dying soil and small farmers are  losing their farms, and, although smaller farms tend to be more efficient per acre, industrial production of food is now the norm due to government intervention. The capitalist virus has its all powerful grip on our food production, and, although capitalism can indeed be contained, we are not supplying the information in terms that the market understands without help.

Along comes Genetically Modified (GM) food crops.  Conservative sources expound the great benefits of GM food.  Yet GM food, even though donated in the beginning, is patented, licensed and owned.  Small farmers are being successfully sued because GM seeds have blown onto their property and they have been accused of theft.  Growing your own food is becoming a less likely phenomenon  in our new world.

What about the Hog! You ask.

Well.  The hog has gone the way of the eggplant, of corn, of wheat: pork will soon be produced in petri dishes.  Dutch scientists are taking stem cells from a hog and making pork.  This meat posesses the consistency of a scallop and is deficient in protein, yet  could be used as “processed meat in sausages and hamburgers”  (Maria Cheng, The Associated Press, January 15, 2010.)

Potentially we could feed protein to millions of the hungry.  Yet…should we? Indeed, hunger  is surpassed by obesity in our new age.   More hungry people exist today as a percentage of the population than before the Green Revolution.

What do you think of ultimate processed meat?  Do you think it safe without testing it?  Should we feed the hungry with this untested meat.  Is it still meat?

Is it Pork without the Hog?

May 6th, 2010

The hog has gone the way of the eggplant, of corn, of wheat: pork will soon be produced by white cloaked scientists in laboratorys far away.  Dutch scientists are transforming the stem cells from a hog into edible pork.  This meat posesses the consistency of a scallop and is deficient in protein, yet  could be used as “processed meat in sausages and hamburgers”  (Maria Cheng,  Scientists turn stem cells into pork.  The Associated Press, January 15, 2010.)

Potentially we could feed protein to millions of the hungry.   Pork created in the factory would not need the vast amount of land used to raise  and feed the hogs.  This new meat production may well even be cheaper.

Yet…should we?

We don’t even have sufficient information about the effects of genetically modified food crops. Scientists are blocked from seriously investigating because  of “the threat of litigation…they cannot examine whether the genetically modified crops lead to unintended environmental side effects.” (The Editors, Scientific American Magazine, August 2009). Scientific American We are increasing the reach of technology as it is applied to food.  Theororeticllaty our entire diet could soon be processed.

More hungry people exist today as a percentage of the population than before the Green Revolution. (Craig Sams. The Little Food Book.  Disinformation, 2004)  The increase in nitrogen based pesticides and fertilizers has increased the amount of food being prized from the ground. Yet obesity has surpassed hunger.   (Health Experts: Obesity Pandemic Looms. The Associated Press.  Sept. 3, 2006) MSNBC The dearth of food is not the reason people are hungry: poverty is the root cause of hunger.   People losing their land and becoming unable to feed themselves is another facet of this issue.

The medical system is now just beginning to feel the impact that food related disease is having on the populace.  The hospitals and medical facilities are still reeling from this onslaught of food related diseases.

Is the food we are eating killing us?

While the idea of food made cheaply (as far as indirect costs to the environment, land use, etc…) seems a tempting way to feed the hungry, it may very well have negative side effects on the human constitution.  The actual costs of  industrial food production have not  suitably been evaluated.  Whether it is our inability to control the Industrial Food System or our inpatience as a culture, much of our nation is hurtling  toward a society composed of the hungry and  the obese.

Every meal counts.  More importantly, every dollar spent on those meals counts.  In a political system where nothing seems to get done and hope can sometimes be far away, make every dollar count.

Is that what we eat?

October 6th, 2009

I posted a link to the video that I edited of Skeeter breaking down a hog’s head to make headcheese for the restaurant.  My friend, John Moody (, and I had filmed Skeeter process a whole hog into manageeable parts to be served at the restaurant.  This was the biggest hog that had come through the doors yet.  This beast was only 8 pounds lighter than Skeeter!

I was fine with Skeeter carving out the hog’s shoulder.  Cutting out the neck seemed merely an addendum. Even slicing off the flank of the hog failed to scare up a hackle on my arm…but watching Skeeter hew the skull into pieces without hesitancey set me aback a little.  That quiesiness drew my attention and I pursued that little sickling through my mental labryinth and tried to bring it into the open scrutiny of my conscous mind.  Hewing of the Hog’s Head

Watching the lifeless jaws yawn up at me tightened my bowels a little bit.  I would have averted my gaze earlier when Skeeter gauged out the eyes, but I was editing and so had a duty to fulfill.  My girlfriend squeeled and scurried from the room, exhorting me to care for her peace of mind  a little more earnestnly.

I couldn’t tell whether I was uneasy with the concept of eating my fellow mammals due to the inane wrongness of it or because I was so inured to only consuming already processed, packaged protein which held no suggestion of origin.

Perhaps because there is very little genetic difference between a hog and a human, and I am of the imaginative type, the undoing of the head into smaller pieces which could then be cooked ina pot to create headcheese creeped me out a bit.  I understood that humans need protein to survive, and the current predominant cultural method of procuring protein was to slaughter animals, and I knew utilizing each portion of the beast was the only way to honor its death (and maintain the bottom line of the business).

To resolve this issue I thought it best to follow this quesiness to its logical conclusion.
Go witness the slaughtering of hogs meant for the dinner plate.

A simple bite

September 29th, 2009

A man came into the restaurant tonight with his wife and mother for his birthday dinner. They each asked me a series of questions seeking clarification about certain menu items.  Is the fried chicken traditional?   I gave the whole spiel about the chicken: how it spends 24 hours brining in salt water; 24 hours soaking in buttermilk; dredged in seasoned flour and finally fried in beef suet.  They were impressed and the gentleman asked if their were another item that was particularly special.  Hands down, the whole hog plate, I said.  We butcher a hog every week in back and you get four different cuts that we prepare four different ways.

“Over the fish and shellfish pan-roast,” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

When the plate arrived I asked him if he would like me to point out the different cuts.  In response he navigated the plate, telling me, quite correctly, the identity of each cut. When he came to the corn meal crusted head cheese he stopped and asked what it was.  I told him.

He looked at me and then told me a story of how he had had one bite of head cheese 25 years ago and had avoided it ever since.  I explained the integrity of our kitchen and he said he would try it.  He ate the whole thing and liked it.

I can’t think of a better example to illustrate my favorite moment in my restaurant life: to take a guest’s perception about an item, or the restaurant itself, and move it 180 degrees in the opposite direction.  It’s a two way street, for sure.  The guest has to be willing to taste the head cheese, even after 25 years of built up distaste.  And, of course, it has to be prepared correctly. Sometimes it seems magical what one can accomplish through doing things the right way.