This week our featured meal is the one we shared on a neighbor's table on Sunday. We had joined friends and neighbors at Turner Family Farms for a special annual workday: the fall hog butchering. They raise a few pigs each year on their small farm, including their boys' 4-H hogs and a handful of others that are sold directly to neighboring families who agree, as part of their ownership of the animal, to help with the processing.
We'll tread gently, in this space, on the topic of raising animals for consumption. We know how personal the decision to eat meat is, and that for some people it is simply unnacceptable. We, after various periods of not eating meat, have now chosen to incorporate animals into our diet as mindfully as possible, including being a part of the entire process. For us, one of the outcomes of a committment to knowing the full story of our food has been that we eat meat very sparingly.
We are not quite as insistent as that couple parodied in the Portlandia sketch, who must request every detail of the chicken they order. But we do take some good-natured ribbing from family sometimes for our "where did it some from?" questions, and we do take the vegetarian or wild-fish option most often when eating out. Of course, we're not complete purists: we've succumbed to the pancetta-topped pizza at our favorite place without obtaining a full pedigree, more than once. And sometimes as a guest, it's best to simply eat gratefully and not ask too many questions.
So, at events like potlucks we are usually pretty wary of the options. But when we broke for lunch at the Turner's, it was an interesting and different experience to be at a potluck where each contribution came from a family willing to engage so directly with their food as to help in the butchering process. And so we were suddenly faced with a surprising array of choices: slow-cooked barbequed chicken grown right there, home-smoked pork, and wild game chili with a squash and bean base.
I have a theory that when people really understand and engage with what it took to produce meat, it tends to be used more sparingly: smaller amounts can feel denser, more nutritious. It doesn't have to be in a huge slab or the main event of a meal. And so, of course, the other featured foods were just as exciting and filled out most of the plate: cabbage slaw, kale and spinach salads, dollops of roasted winter squash, baked brie with huckleberry jam, and the just-unveiled sauerkraut the Turners make each year in a stone crock over 100 years old (the secret, they claim, to their successful and delicious saurkraut each year).
It was a solid day of work, but felt like part of a long tradition, too. We cut and packaged up seven animals to be used throughout the year by about ten families. We ourselves brought home one-half of a hog, and are venturing into our first experience home-curing bacon. It's meat that will be a benefit to our cold-climate winter diet, gifts for family at the holidays, and sourced in a way that we can feel good about. It doesn't mean it's easy, but at least we are part of the whole process, all the way from the field to the table.