The Pig Who Came to Dinner: A Rant Against Excess

August 29, 2013 · 44 comments

pigsnout_Snapseed

Pardon my French: I have to get this off my chest. Hide the children. Vegetarians, look away.

I have a f**king pig in my downstairs freezer.

I had to buy the downstairs freezer specifically for my f**king pig. Together, they cost me $1325: $700 for the f**king pig, and $625 for the f**king freezer.

The pig arrived last Fall, as pigs usually do; food writer friends of mine — terrific, hardcore food people of the type who are always writing massive cookbooks, and are forever in the throes of recipe creation and testing and throwing spectacular dinner parties — suggested we go in on it, and it seemed like a gosh darn swell idea at the time, since I’m always flapping my gums about the fact that I refuse on principal to eat industrially-produced meat. So we agreed to have the animal raised by a western Massachusetts farmer and on a cool day last October, after the pig was dispatched at a local slaughterhouse and then butchered by a local high-end butcher, I drove up to my friends’ house in the Berkshires with every cooler I own stuffed into the back of my car; the guys helped me pack up my half of the cryovacked cuts, and I drove home.

Just me and my f**king pig.

I backed the car in to my driveway so that it’d be easier for me to get the pig — all 150 pounds of it— through the garage and into the basement, where the freezer stands, between an electricity-sucking wine cooler that is usually empty (don’t read into that) and a second, enormous refrigerator that we bought as a back-up for when we have Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter or Passover at our house, which of course we almost never do. It took me forty-five minutes to lug all of the meat into the basement and another twenty to figure out how to organize it, even though I’m not a Virgo.

There was at least twenty pounds of pork belly, divided up into three pound, square, brick-like packages. There were more chops than I’ve ever seen in one place this side of Costco. There were four trotters and ten pounds of leaf lard, fifteen pounds of pork liver, a twenty-five pound fresh ham, a mammoth Boston butt, two huge shoulders, a ten pound loin roast, four small packages of sirloin, a single rack of ribs, 5 two-pound packages of ground pork, a jowl, one kidney, and an ear. That was nearly a year ago.

InsideFreezer

If you look in my freezer now, you’ll still find the trotters, the leaf lard, the liver, most of the belly, the ham, the jowl, the Boston butt, the loin roast, the kidney, and the ear. Which is a lot of f**king pig. Which made the idea of bringing 150 pounds of meat into a house inhabited by two vegetable-loving humans a stupid f**king idea, and one that I’ll never, ever do again. Even if it is all the rage. Even if it makes me feel just the tiniest bit superior. Even if the f**king pig was a Gloucestershire Old Spot named Hector. Even if it means never having to buy pork at the supermarket again, and never again shelling out my hard earned cash for meat from an animal that lived a short, tortured existence.

The bottom line: for me, having a pig raised and slaughtered for my consumption was an exercise in frippery and excess. And unless you live in a rural area, you have dinner parties every single weekend, or The King Family is living under your roof, it’s a frivolous, short-sighted idea for you too. On the one hand, you might have a day job, a commute, a wife, two dogs, maybe a few kids, a house to look after, an aging mother, an aging mother-in-law, deadlines out the wazoo, and therefore you’re totally delusional if you really think you’re going to take the time to cure your own guanciale from the jowl of your own pig. (You might have noticed: all those nice folks out in Seattle and Portland and the Bay Area and Brooklyn who do this stuff on a regular basis and do it really well, like Paul Bertolli and Armandino Batali — this is their life’s work, in most cases.) But beyond that — unless you own a restaurant or are feeding an army or have shot your own deer or live in the wiles of the great north (or south) and you otherwise have limited access to high quality fresh meat — having a whole animal (or in my case, part of an animal) in a freezer in your basement is dumb, in ways that it took me a while to figure out.

The day I took possession of my partial porker was the day I effectively stopped being a member of my local food community.

It was the day I stopped visiting my butcher on the other side of town for my weekly constitutional: a stroll around his shop, small-talk with the wonderful guys who work for him, a conversation with my butcher himself about the contents of his case —- he might have just broken down a pig or two the day before and, if a restaurant hadn’t gotten there first, there might be fresh shanks; a tail (or two); a ten pound shoulder he’d be happy to cut in half, bone out, and roll; a porchetta laden with fennel pollen; maybe three different kinds of fresh sausages. Depending on the season, the weather, and day of the week, I’d be standing there and pondering dinner: if time was short, I might take home a small boneless loin roast or a tenderloin. It it was the weekend and the temperature had dipped, I’d buy a smallish hunk of butt, for a braise. If I had a yen for Latin food, I’d come home with a sturdy shoulder meant for Cochinita Pibil which I’d wrap in banana leaves and cook for hours until the dogs drooled so badly they looked like they’d swallowed shoelaces.

Butt

And while my butcher and his guys wrapped up my purchases — which always included a hunk of house-smoked bacon and a hockey puck of pancetta —  they’d want to know: So how’s your family? Did you get to the farmer’s market this week? Do you want to try some crazy-ass Hungarian-style sausage we’re just working the kinks out of? If you want to meet the farmer who raised the pork you’re taking home today, turn around and say hello. What are you cooking lately?  Last December, when my town experienced the unthinkable, my butcher shop became the unofficial rest stop for those of us who, in the middle of running errands found ourselves suddenly gasping, and couldn’t put one foot in front of the other: we cared for each other, and for our butcher too, whose wife — a Sandy Hook teacher — survived the school shootings. We’re friends; we’ve shared books and recipes and laughter and tears and stories about family and tragedy and peace and travel, and always, food and sustenance. It goes without saying that I want to support him because he’s a super guy; but he’s also the proprietor of a local, independent business at the physical and personal center of my community, and he provides my town with a service that cannot be quantified. I don’t get that when I head downstairs, sad and alone, to my f**king freezer to sift through the cryovacked cuts, wondering when will be the right time for me to cure the gigantic fresh ham that’s been living there for nearly a year. Not to mention the f**king kidney, the jowl, the ear, or the trotters that now look like two pairs of porcine Jimmy Choos that got caught in an ice storm.

Trotters

Whoever you are reading this, I beg you to look around, and get to know your food community before you a commit to a purchase like my aforementioned pig: are there farmer’s markets for you to frequent, where you can buy fresh or frozen local meats directly from the farmers or ranchers? Are there butchers and specialty shops for you to visit, and people in your town who have devoted their lives to producing food — growing it, raising it, harvesting it, selling it— who will benefit from your business and from the ongoing relationship you will develop with them? My guess is yes, and this is a good sight more important than the flip insouciance of vogue.

So, sure: it was a nice, feel-good, fancy pants idea to bring home half a pig, raised just for me and my friends. But if you’re not a recipe developer or a tester (I do both, but infrequently) or you’re not feeding a cast of thousands on a regular basis, or you otherwise have no access to good quality meat, it’s a better idea to pour the money back into your food community, and support your local butchers and food craftspeople who do what they do because it’s a job they love but also a skill and a talent that you are damned lucky to have access to; it’s a better idea to support purveyors at farmer’s markets, and all the specialty shops who have relationships to the farmers who raise the animals that fancy-ass boneheads like me decide, on a whim, it’d be cool to have living in my basement for a year, covered in a thin, blue rime of frostbite.

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Theresa August 29, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Save the whole hogs for pig roast partays.

2 Leslie August 29, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Donate what’s left of the f**king pig to a homeless shelter and start going back to your butcher!
And use the freezer for pies and jam and whatever else sounds good to have on hand.

3 Kim foster August 29, 2013 at 8:30 pm

I love this idea of staying close to the food system. I feel the same way about gardening. I don’t love it at all. And do not have the gift. But I have a couple farms I love and I make my trips there and talk to the farmers and know everyone by name and they know me (today my favorite farmer asked me where the hell we’ve been because we had been on vacation) it’s nice to be connected. Better for me than spending my day sweaty and pissed among wilting, floundering vegetables.

That said we had out first pig roast this year and even though it was great fun, and we will do it annually, Maybe even bi-annually, we did feel that “excess” that you discuss here. We have a freezer of leftover pig, too. These things have to be weighed. It’s part of thoughtful eating.

Great post. Loved it. And no one really talks about when DIY or homesteading or insisting on making nearly everything from scratch becomes a part of our “excess” :)

4 Jared R. McKinley August 29, 2013 at 9:16 pm

You got ripped off. 700 bucks for a pig? I just bought a pig for 420 dollars, an entire 250 pound Hereford, which I butchered and shared with 9 friends, costing us all about 50 bucks each for over 10 pounds each (I bought butcher paper of which I now have a lifetime supply). I have a manageable amount of meat and so do all my friends. Enjoying your food (and having healthy high quality food) is not excessive. In fact, I suggest purchasing industrial meat is excessive laziness. I know you aren’t suggesting doing such, but just suggesting there are smarter ways of going about purchasing a pig. I learn a great deal about what I am eating by participating more in the production process. Also, I value such things more because I really am closer to knowing the amount of work that goes into my food and am happy to pay higher prices instead of hiding the value of my food by participating in supporting the shortcuts industrial meat takes.

5 Elissa August 29, 2013 at 10:09 pm

LOVE this, Leslie. Thanks.

6 Elissa August 29, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Thanks so much for writing Jared—I appreciate your thought. 9 friends is brilliant-

7 Beckie August 30, 2013 at 8:48 am

Well written! I have learned this mistake as well. What a waste of energy too housing a dead pig for a year in the freezer.

8 carolyn August 30, 2013 at 9:08 am

I just have to tell you what a great f**king post this is. Not just because what you say makes a lot of sense — which it does. Food for thought. But what gets me is how you say it. Your writing is great, and what so many other blogs lack. You’re incredibly talented, and I look forward to reading more. Great job!

9 Elissa August 30, 2013 at 9:14 am

Thanks so much Carolyn–!

10 Brenda Johnson August 30, 2013 at 10:33 am

Thanks so much for this — I’ve gone back and forth as to whether I should do exactly what you did, and now consider myself forewarned. Now off to the farmer’s market!!

11 Jenn August 30, 2013 at 12:19 pm

As a vegetarian, and I know I was warned to look away!, I was compelled to read the reasons you found this a mistake. Living in Brooklyn, one thing I find nauseating, is listening to wealthy, self-proclaimed foodies pat themselves on the back for eating the whole animal claiming some connection to their European ancestry. It’s ridiculous reasoning. They forget their european ancestors did this because they were farmers and most likely poor. My in-laws in Tanania buy a whole goat once in awhile and eat it all because rhey are DIRT POOR and they only eat frim thelandbecause that is all they have. I guess by Brooklyn standards they’d be the ultimate foodie hipsters. To them, they are just trying to survive. I am glad you see the greed and excess in this. I am sorry the pig lost its life for that lesson.

12 erin @ yummy supper August 30, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Even though we are a family of hungry pork-eaters (and one recipe developer too) I have always been terrified of buying a half pig, just for the reasons you are describing. That is just way toooo much meat! I think I would feel saddled, and totally overwhelmed by a freezer full of piggy. And like you, I love going to my local butchers and getting just enough meat. That suits me fine.
Have I told you about the time my parents bought a live lamb (for our annual lamb roast) and the little guy rode with me in the back of the car all the way to the butcher? Crazy.
xoxo
E

13 Elissa August 30, 2013 at 12:37 pm

oh GOD Erin, talk about traumatic—-INSTANT VEGAN

14 Margit Van Schaick August 30, 2013 at 1:13 pm

What you’re really celebrating here. Elissa, is the wonderful magic of COMMUNITY, the existence of which you are so fortunate to have where you and Susan live. When you have it, it adds so much meaning and value to life. It’s what we strive for, and without it, there’s a deep loss. Thank you, once again, for writing about a central truth.

15 Elissa August 30, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Thanks so much Margit—you hit the nail right on the head!

16 Kathy August 30, 2013 at 1:48 pm

As one who has lived in the backwoods Pacific NW for 43 years, I’ve butchered deer on my kitchen table, slaughtered & eaten my chickens, stewed jackrabbit for days to be chewable, raised & canned my garden for years AND raised my own wiener pigs. You did get ripped off. Not only that, no one evidently ( like an old-timer-that’s how I learned), gave you advice.
Raising a wiener pig is easy, cheap, and you slaughter them before they reach huge proportions! I will say that the morning of the slaughter, we did get them drunk on a keg of beer, prior to the deed. They went very drunk,& very relaxed, w/ pig smiles all around.
Oh, yeah–just in case you think I’ve always lived here? Nope. I was raised in San Francisco&the Bay Area. I had no clue…

17 Elissa August 30, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Well Kathy, that explains it: I was raised in Queens and clearly I had no clue either! Thanks for writing and kudos to you!

18 Bethann August 30, 2013 at 1:55 pm

I’m curious if anyone other than Jared R. McKinley disagrees with your assessment of the bulk purchase as “excessive.” You see, I am concerned that in your moment of frustration re a full freezer (which incidentally is much more efficient than a partially-filled one), you have mis-characterized bulk local meat purchases. There are many people, in cities and in rural areas, who can and do benefit from these sorts of purchases. There is a lot to be said for them, in addition to your angst over your particular pile o’ pork.
It could also be helpful to explain not just what is left and how distasteful it is to you, but how you would have liked to see it work out differently. For example, are there cuts of meat that you would have been more likely to use? Are there some experiments you just won’t ever try, and thus, perhaps, those cuts should just be made into burger or stew meat, to ensure they get used? That information would likely be very useful for people considering such a purchase.
I ask because I am a huntress, gardener, home-preserver, etc., etc. While I do NOT do it as a living, but as a way of living, I find I cannot relate to your concern of excess. When I do consume store-bought meat, rather than meat I’ve killed myself (whether it’s a deer, fish, or even a farmer friend’s chicken), I feel the wastefulness is greater. Of course, there is the extra packaging, the possibility of the animal not being raised or killed the way I would like, and the potential for it to have come from far too far away. But, I also feel there is a missed opportunity to know the lifespan of the animal, to get dirty and bloody, and come to a mortal understanding of what it means for that life to end. And yes, it is a lot of work, but so it is with any food. When we do it ourselves, we gain a deeper understanding of the true cost of that work.
As I said before, I’d love to hear what would’ve worked better for you. Perhaps a 1/4 pig would have been more reasonable. Perhaps no esoteric cuts that our grandmothers might know how to use, but we no longer do. Perhaps going in on it with a friend who does have that knowledge would have worked better, as you might have scheduled some processing or cooking sessions to learn together.
And perhaps you did indeed do all of these things, but today, you just wanted to vent. That is something anyone who’s ever faced a mountain of local food and the associated panic/guilt of doing something-anything with it before it spoils can 100% relate to! And, please don’t misunderstand – I am absolutely in that category, so I would never pass judgement. :)
I have meat in my freezer from a deer we shot in 2011, and when we found those last few cuts the other day, my husband was kind of upset that we were adding in more meat on top of it. I got a little crazy with the canning last year, mostly from veggies we bought in bulk (Grade 2 is usually cheaper, just because of cosmetic blemishes). We still, even with another harvest season looming, have enough pickles, jam, and tomatoes to last almost another year. My husband is kind of in your camp – he feels it’s wasteful. I guess I just don’t understand why we can’t keep eating it, until it’s gone. We don’t have to can as much this year. I’m sure you won’t buy any more pork for a while. :) But that doesn’t mean the food we have put up isn’t good any more. What is wasteful about eating it over a slightly more extended period of time than initially anticipated? And, why not invite a horde of folks over to help eat some of it? Local food, handcrafted in a kitchen, and shared with friends, is my favorite thing about having a hand (as well as a fork) in the process.
Also, as Mr. McKinley noted, I do understand you STRONGLY support going to farmers markets and local butchers, and other local producers. So do I. And, from an economy-of-scale perspective, you probably are right that there is improved efficiency (thus arguably less waste) in concentrating consumption and production at a local rather than an individual level. However, in our present society, the likelihood of everyone having that intimate of a relationship with their meat is lessening all the time. So, my concern, to re-state it, is that your distress over too much of the wrong kind of meat may dissuade folks from even making the shift partway.

19 Elissa August 30, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Actually, the reason for my concern is not, in fact, the amount of meat that I brought in versus what I’ve eaten; the reason for my concern is that the whole animal-in-the-freezer thing is, for many people (and do note, I did call out hunters & rural residents as exceptions) simply trend gone haywire. I cook far more than the average bear, but I am admonishing myself here as probably having gotten sucked up into the trend vortex, the result of which was 1) too much meat in my house for my needs, the result of which generally speaking is nearly always waste; and 2) separation from my community. The former is manageable because I’ll always find something to do with what I have — I never throw food away and if I can’t manage to finish what I’ve got (from the freezer or the garden) it goes to the neighbors, friends, family. The latter, however, is simply sad, and representative of so many like me who mean(t) well, but ultimately shot themselves in the foot. So, there’s a lot of reparations to be made where my community butcher is concerned. Thanks so much for writing.

20 Halina August 30, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Really great post. We all make mistakes, some more f**king crazy than others but don’t beat yourself up about it too much. Fellow posters are right, one of the joys of cooking is sharing. Most of these cuts are un-usable to so many because of their size. There are so many opportunities still to re-engage with your community (and counter balance your lost butcher socialising moments!) by cooking some of those bigs hunks of meat, maybe for a local charity event or something? That pig deserves to have a happy end one way or another. Thanks again for sharing that experience.

And there is still time to

21 Halina August 30, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Really great post. We all make mistakes, some more f**king crazy than others but don’t beat yourself up about it too much. Fellow posters are right, one of the joys of cooking is sharing. Most of these cuts are un-usable to so many because of their size. There are so many opportunities still to re-engage with your community (and counter balance your lost butcher socialising moments!) by cooking some of those bigs hunks of meat, maybe for a local charity event or something? That pig deserves to have a happy end one way or another. Thanks again for sharing that experience.

22 David Farris August 30, 2013 at 3:32 pm

I have a lamb, or parts of it know, from Central Ilinois, in my freezer. I really enjoyed your post but am jealous reading you have leaf lard, my Southern soul longs for biscuits and pies savory an sweet.

23 Elissa August 30, 2013 at 3:39 pm

I share, David!

24 Linda August 30, 2013 at 5:19 pm

I don’t eat meat anymore, but pork was always my downfall, prior. Bacon, North Carolina style barbeque, stuffed pork loin… You’ve gotten many good suggestions. What about offering them to the Sandy Hook survivors, or do a back to school cookout for them?

As to your butcher, surely you have still been seeing him for beef, lamb, duck, and so forth. With your cooking wizardry, I can’t imagine you limiting yourself to pork exclusively.

And with the stresses you and Susan have been through, I hope you’ll cut yourself some slack. Certainly not the worst thing in the world…

Sending a hug!

25 Jessica August 30, 2013 at 7:51 pm

I’ve bought pigs, too. And some chosen cuts of beef plus charcuterie. I typically buy about 30 pounds at a time. It fits in one shelve of my freezer. The delivery guy helped me puzzle it together to have it fit neatly.
Yes, it can be pricy but I’ve noticed that we do eat far less meat this way. They can also supply poultry, eggs and lamb (which we don’t eat so that’s that).

26 elizabeth August 30, 2013 at 7:56 pm

I positively love this post. Your writing, whatever it is about makes me so happy.

Please just donate the pig to an organization or group that will make good use of it immediately. It is honoring the pigs sacrifice of it’s life to feed you, Let it go with good wishes.

27 Elissa August 30, 2013 at 8:50 pm

thanks so much Elizabeth—

28 Kristina August 31, 2013 at 1:49 am

Gosh, I am a huge fan of your writing, and your stories. I look forward to the emails I get every time you put up a post and I read them with relish. But I have to respectfully disagree with you on this point about the pig. I had a very similar experience but in the end could not feel more different about it.

A few years ago my mother and I bought a pig. She found a farm in Oregon near where my uncle lives, visited the farm, and saw the 8 or so pigs being raised in a clean and healthy outdoor environment where they were able to forage. She met the farmer. We felt good about how they were raised and what they were fed (yes, sure, maybe a little smug too). I’d actually wanted to be there for the slaughter and butchering (to witness, and to learn about the process) but work prevented me from going. It was humanely slaughtered and then butchered and packaged for us by a local butcher. My mother drove home from southern Oregon to Los Angeles after a family visit with 150 lbs of meat in her car.

I also bought a freezer for my garage, which was once full with pork but now also very much used for other things. So to me that was not a wasteful expense. It took us a little over a year and a half to eat all the meat. Our cost was about half yours.

Here’s my takeaway from the experience; pasture raised pork is a taste revelation. In comparison, commercially raised pork has no flavor. This was a better product for me, for the environment, for the pigs, AND it cost less per lb overall than if I’d bought it in a grocery store and certainly less than a specialty butcher.

By the way, even though I have a full time job, we DID make bacon and guanciale and sausage from our pig. We rendered the leaf lard. I too didn’t know what to do with the hams and ended up slow cooking one with Cuban spices and making tacos out of it (recipe on my blog if you still are looking for what to do with it). My mother smoked hers and they were amazing.

As for the community issue, I don’t have a friendly local butcher like you do. Sure, I could find one selling similar quality meat here in LA, but I can’t say I’d develop the same relationship and honestly, the expense is well outside the range of acceptable for me. Truly it’s not just a little more expensive, it’s exorbitant. Cost is a critical factor here for me too.

I don’t have a big family (just me and my husband), but somehow we managed to eat all the meat no problem so waste was not a problem. Granted, my mother and I “split” the 150 lbs of meat, but since we were both at almost every meal where the meat was served, it’s more like a 3 person family used all the meat. Yes, we do entertain a fair amount and cook at home a lot. Yes, I have a food blog so the purchase and the subsequent cooking and recipes from the pork was excellent fodder for the blog, but that’s not why I did it. For me it was an affordable and accessible way to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to sustainable meat eating.

I don’t at all feel like it’s frivolous or short-sighted. Nor was it frippery and excess. I don’t feel “fancy” but rather, I felt more connected to my food. Buying an animal direct from the farm is something many people in rural communities have done for generations. In the cities we’ve lost the ability and contacts to do this. I don’t feel bad about it at all. I’m ready to do it again and want to look into buying half a grass-fed cow as well.

As someone else said, don’t beat yourself up about it. Don’t feel guilty. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t do it again. But also, please don’t presume that those of us who have done the same should or do feel as you do about it.

29 Elissa August 31, 2013 at 11:54 am

Hi Kristina- I suppose this conversation is what it’s all about, and I very much appreciate your thoughtful response. I want to know about the experience that others are having, and indeed, I’ve known many people like yourself who a) don’t have a friendly local butcher like I do; b) who are enthusiastic home cooks producing remarkable meals (not to mention cured products) from the animals they buy; and c) are doing it sustainably and with an eye to cost. And I have profound amount of respect for that. Moreover, if it has made you feel more connected to your food, brava. Would that everyone were so lucky, and so connected.
That said, I know many (many) more people who have ventured down the whole animal road with the best of intentions — serious food people like myself, with a dedication to sustainability and knowing where my meat comes from — who have also wound up in the same place: suddenly disconnected from the food producers who serve our community, and laden with excess (and how sustainable is that?).
Still, if you can make it work for you, that’s wonderful, and I wish you well. Thanks for writing. Elissa

30 Susie Middleton August 31, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Uh-oh. We just slaughtered the first of our two pigs (it’s hanging right now before butchering…the second one we were originally supposed to sell off the farm but now are planning to keep — ) that’s 4 halves…will let you know how it goes!! (Fortunately there’s a lot of bartering that goes on around here!) All of the above makes for a great conversation, though…

31 Annie September 1, 2013 at 12:27 pm

I can relate to some of your frustration. I raised my own pigs a year and a half ago and still have a LOT of meat taking up most of my freezer. More than you do, I am sure, but it’s a chest freezer and I’m a little afraid to investigate fully. And this is after I have had a number of parties and given away a good deal of the meat to friends. I am having a party next month for 20 or so people and will definitely be making pork again. Unfortunately, I developed gall bladder disease so now I am pretty much unable to eat any significant amount of stuff like meat.

Really it sound like you did pretty well in using the pork. Though maybe you needed to have the meat broken down into smaller cuts for the two of you. (a 25 pound ham? Good grief) And 1/4 pig instead of a half. Is there any way your friendly local butcher could cut those massive things for you?

Would I raise my own pigs again? Maybe (if I could talk my husband into it) but I would definitely butcher them while they were smaller! 250 pounds and up is too big, but it is great having quantities of meat for parties. Going forward, and realizing how much (or little) meat I actually eat, I would be more likely to just buy from local producers, which we are fortunate to have quite a number of here. Though I am going to butcher the 5 extra roosters we hatched out this spring and never found homes for. Soon. Very soon.

32 Charlotte September 1, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Hi Elissa — a word from the middle of the pack on this issue. My sweetie and I buy a local pig once a year, after the county fair. Our local packer (Montana still has these, in part because of the big game hunting industry) buys the kids’ 4H pigs that don’t win the big championships — the regular pigs. For about $300 a year, we get a whole pig (not a behemoth like the one you seem to have bought) cut, wrapped, bacon and hams and hocks smoked. Since I’ve still got a big ham in the freezer, this year, I had them cut both hams into slices (an easy dinner for the 2 of us). This is not fancy artisanal butchery — the one year I tried to get a whole side to make pancetta, they gave me 1 pound packages of sliced side pork, and we get all ground pork instead of sausage because their sausage mix is too salty. It’s not commodity pork, it’s not fancy, but it’s a pig that was raised by hand by a local 4H kid — the hardest part of the county fair, those kids learning to let their animals go at the end. However, feels good that we’re contributing to a local kid’s college fund. About every other year, we’ll buy a lamb, but I like it better than Himself does, and last week I ordered some grass fed beef from a local producer who will sell me individual cuts without requiring that I buy a quarter or a half. I wish our local butcher sold more of this kind of meat, but he pretty much sells commodity meat. We’ve got one local, non-chain grocery store that has a pretty good meat counter, but even so, in the middle of ranch country, finding non-commodity meat is still a bit of a hunt.
Now, because so many people hunt around here, nearly everyone has a freezer. We’ll trade some of our pig for elk or venison, because neither of us hunt (or if we’re lucky, antelope, my favorite). In a way, trading from our freezers is a big part of the food community around here.

33 Jennifer September 3, 2013 at 11:34 am

Dear Elissa,
I’m a longtime reader, first=time commentor — I love your writing!

Before we purchased our first significant fraction of a large animal (it was 1/4 cow), we tried to reasonably estimate our red meat consumption. Buying a local grass-fed cow (we’re in Colorado) allowed us to see how the animal was raised, and having it butchered at a local processor allowed us more confidence that both the animal and the workers were being treated humanely. (I love that the processor keeps the door open between the register and the cutting room, so I can look in — or walk in, if I’d like!) We’re a family of four including two near-teenaged boys, so although we eat beef only once or twice per week (often for Sunday dinners with guests) we’ve just finished last year’s fraction. This year’s freezer-full should be arriving in late Sept/early Oct…

However, because we mostly eat this beef as our red meat (and several meals a week are vegetarian), I can’t quite bring myself to buy a half pig TOO… Guess I should spend the next year making notes when we eat pork, and see how much we get up to.

Thanks for the thoughtful conversation-starter!

34 Andrea September 3, 2013 at 2:58 pm

On a much much smaller scale I have the same thing going on in my freezer. Last summer my husband bought all the fresh lima beans at the farmer’s market every week for weeks. Of course, there being only two of us in the house plus our lima adverse kid, we could not keep up the consumption. I have a freezer full of lima beans. At least 10 lbs. of them. And he bought fresh ones last week at the market again. And they aren’t even his favortie vegetable. I guess he was worried about a world-wide shortage of the darn things. If you need some, let me know. I have cornered the market.

35 Elissa September 3, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Thanks Andrea—I’ll definitely keep that in mind! What compelled him?

36 Stephanie-Oh September 4, 2013 at 10:49 am

About that leaf lard, use it for pie crusts. It makes the most tender, flaky crust. I usu. go half butter, half leaf lard for my crusts. I buy 5 lbs. every year in October, prior to the Holidays, so I have it for the my pumpkin and pecan pies and it lasts all year in my freezer. Everyone compliments my pies. Love your blog…you do some pretty fine writing!

37 Amy September 4, 2013 at 8:02 pm

Hi Elissa
Firstly, I must tell you, I am using your book for part of my Master’s thesis on food blogs turned into food memoirs and I am really enjoying every word. Although, it is making me very hungry for cheese and bread!
Secondly, even though I am a vegetarian I find myself in the butcher shop several times per week buying meat for my family. I have a close relationship with the butcher at my local farmer’s market (he and his mum run the stall together) and he always recommends the best cuts or meats for whatever I am creating in the kitchen that week. I also frequent the local butcher shop near my boyfriend’s house for our weekly meat needs. The relationship and conversation with these providers is part of what makes the cooking and eating of even the simplest meal so pleasurable. I think the idea of selecting a beast and ensuring it is raised and slaughtered kindly is wonderful, but the storage of the meat is cumbersome and you miss out on that key relationship and connection to your local food community.
I hope you enjoy going back to your butcher. I’m sure he’s missed your weekly chats too.
Amy

38 Elissa September 4, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Thank you so much for writing, Amy–I’m honored to be included in your Master’s thesis!

39 Adri @ Life Nourished September 6, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Thank you for the much needed perspective. I’ve been wanting to take the plunge on an organic meat bulk buy for a while but was indeed scared of the excess. I agree that sometimes we need to look closer rather than farther.

40 Kathryn September 6, 2013 at 2:34 pm

I have never purchased an animal in bulk, but I do know others who have, nor do I have a relationship with a local butcher. I think the latter is a product of living in south Florida. But one of the things that struck me is you don’t talk about the economics of it. Costco exists because 90% of the time it’s cheaper to buy in bulk. What about the people who want to have a ‘grass-fed’/organic experience but are on the edge of being able to afford it? Saving a $2-$3/lb from buying in advance (and smaller size packages) might keep them from otherwise buying hormone filled meat.

I understand the point you’re making that you got sucked into the trendy aspect of it, and that half a pig for two people is entirely too much meat. However I think denouncing bulk buying all together is a rash conculsion. Just a thought…

41 Ashley Bee (Quarter Life Crisis Cuisine) September 13, 2013 at 11:31 am

I often ponder whether or not I should someday go in on a side of beef, when I have more fridge space to speak of, but this convinces me I probably wouldn’t even use a fraction of it. A fun, funny read, thank you :)

42 Jennifer September 16, 2013 at 10:09 am

Have you talked to your butcher about curing your pork for you? You mention not having time for your ham or jowls. We (my aunts, uncles, cousins) buy three ~300lb pigs twice a year and butcher them ourselves. Each household winds up with a half a pig ; some make this last a year, others just 6 months. We grind and mix our own sausage, but take the bellies and hams to our local butcher shop where they cure and smoke it for a really reasonable price.
It takes some planning, but I have found if I try to cook one or two meals a week with pork, my family of three uses most of our half a pig in six months. I am a hunter also so I put a few deer in my freezer every year and rarely purchase any meat. I use a spreadsheet to track what I have in my freezer at all times as well as how much I need to cook before more gets added. The first column lists the cuts I have, the second is how many and then the third totals them and divides by how many weeks are left until the next addition. Right now it tells me I need to eat venison 3x/week, cured pork (bacon and sausage) 1/week, and fresh pork (chops, roasts, etc.) 1/week to empty my freezer by deer season and our next pork purchase respectively. My meal plan for the week has 1 bacon and eggs breakfast, two vegetarian dinners, one evening to eat out, no purchased lunches; and no meat to buy from the grocery.
To me it sounds like some of your meat was packaged and frozen in too large of chunks. I don’t put anything in my freezer that is bigger than a single batch (I typically cook enough for dinner and next day’s lunch). If I’m cooking for company I just get out two packages from the freezer, they thaw more quickly and are less “intimidating”. Something like that Boston Butt would likely not make it into my weeknight meal plan and would likely still be in the freezer the next time we get pigs, so it would get offered to co-workers or donated.

43 Nicola October 9, 2013 at 6:17 am

Hi Elyssa

Just found your blog and loved this post. I had a similar experience with a cherry tree. The idea was you rented the cherry tree for a year and then when the fruit was ripe you went and picked it. It only cost $60 and you got pounds and pounds and pounds of cherries. I bought this as a present for my beloved. Romantic huh?

Well of course I’d bought it around the time I gave birth, which meant when we got the cherries we had a 1 year old. We lugged 20- 30lbs or so of cherries home, I bought a cherry stoner, preserving pan and piles of piles of jam jars (which quickly tipped the tree into non-bargain territory) and we started eating. I tied the baby into the high chair and started preserving. It took a week’s hard labour to preserve those cherries we couldn’t eat by which time I never wanted to see another cherry again. Which was unfortunate because I now felt obligated to only make cherry desserts. Everyone got cherry jam for Christmas and eventually the pickled cherries went too sour and had to be chucked.
One cherry tree is too many cherries for one small family.

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