Sky Full of Bacon


Sky Full of Bacon 06: There Will Be Pork (Pt. 2)

The phrase “farm to table” is used a lot in foodie circles. In the second half of this Sky Full of Bacon two-part podcast, I’ll complete the picture of what that really means with visits to restaurant kitchens… and to a slaughterhouse.


Sky Full of Bacon 06: There Will Be Pork (pt. 2) from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Mike Sula of the Chicago Reader has been writing about the rare mulefoot pig for the last year and a half (see here). Now the Reader has enlisted award-winning chef Paul Kahan, of Chicago’s Blackbird, to plan an elaborate six-course dinner showcasing the meat of these pigs and the sustainable, humane way in which they’re raised, as a benefit for Slow Food.

In Part 2, Mike Sula and I watch as Kahan and chefs Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe), Justin Large (Avec), Mike Sheerin (Blackbird) and Tim Dahl (Blackbird) prepare for the big night and talk about why supporting and promoting good pork matters to them. And we go to the rural slaughterhouse with Jason Hammel to gain a better understanding of what really lies behind the meat we eat. (Warning: although we were not allowed to film the kill itself, the video does contain frank footage of everything else that goes on in a slaughterhouse.) (19:56)

Mike Sula’s account of the same events
Recipes from the dinner
The Chicago Reader’s complete “Whole Hog Project” archive
LTHforum posts on the dinner, and Chuck Sudo’s account at Chicagoist
Monica Eng of the Chi-Trib wrote a really great piece about her experiences at various slaughterhouses here

P.S. Originally I felt like this one needed some kind of summing-up at the end expressing how I felt after watching my dinner live and die. In the end, as I usually do, I preferred to let the subjects and the images speak, not listen to me yak. But here, if anyone’s curious, is what I wrote and recorded but left on the cutting room floor:

It was an amazing meal. Was it worth the price?

We all joked, before we went to Eickman’s, that we’d come out vegetarian converts.

But in the end, I found myself affected less by the moment of these animals’ deaths… than by the day I spent seeing their lives at Valerie’s farm, free and happy and living naturally.

And I was impressed by the thoughtfulness, even reverence with which all of the chefs approached the meat we brought them.

It’s easy to say meat is bad. It’s just as easy to buy industrial meat without thinking about where it comes from. The hard thing is raising, cooking and eating meat in a way that’s good for the land, pigs and people. That’s what I feel like I’ve seen on this journey… from farm to table.

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About Sky Full of Bacon
Sky Full of Bacon #5: There Will Be Pork (pt. 1)
Sky Full of Bacon #4: A Head’s Tale
Sky Full of Bacon #3: The Last Brisket Show
Sky Full of Bacon #2: Duck School
Sky Full of Bacon #1: How Local Can You Go?

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10 Responses to “Sky Full of Bacon 06: There Will Be Pork (Pt. 2)”

  1. art Says:

    Lions!? I wonder if they have processed any ligers?

    On a much more serious note, very powerful piece. As a chef who purchases, prepares and eats meat I can say that at times I feel like I may not be able to truly articulate my craft in the way that I wish. We, as chefs and consumers have created a system of meat processing where we have taken the processing or specifically, slaughtering, out of the hands of the farmer.

    We’ve had to do this for what seem like obvious reasons to me like ease of governmental inspection, to minimize contamination and to streamline accountability should any one individual or any one business claim illness. And after seeing the facility and the people who operate Eickman’s I can see how clean, smooth and precise the process has become.

    In the past I had purchased some heirloom pork commercially and when I started butchering it once, I noticed there were lots of marks in the flesh that looked like bruising. I asked the farmer himself about this because I was concerned. That’s when he started to explain how things work. He, the idealistic farmer who has raised these heirloom pigs on free range that has never seen chemicals has to load these pigs onto a truck and drive them who knows how many miles to some scary looking abattoir. When his pigs are unloaded they stand in line with all the other pigs which would most likely be feed lot pigs that are used to fighting each other–all the pigs are freaked out and these heirloom pigs have just gotten off of a truck which has probably really confused them and then they get off to be herded up with all of these stranger pigs. These are smart animals, getting smacked in the ass with that tattoo stick is not something they are probably used to.

    Without rambling too much, the point I’m trying to make is that here’s a farmer who set aside this land, he invested in this breed, he grew an acre of corn for these pigs to feed off of, he did everything right up until…that pig has to be taken out of its element, caged in a truck, frightened and confused until it’s zapped?

    We can plant a heritage seed, care for the sprout, feed the soil, harvest the vegetable, bringing it straight from the soil to my kitchen, wash it, peel it, blanch it, dress it and serve it–from seed to harvest. We or the farmer cannot take a mulefoot from seed to harvest ourselves–we can only raise it and then we let the machines do the harvesting. The same thing is happening in Europe as countries like Romania join the EU. Many people in the countryside have a few pigs that they raise and slaughter themselves for themselves and to sell locally. That tradition is ending as we speak. When we talk about preparing this pork as chefs we talk about it with a lot of romance. But the romance is interrupted in my opinion.

    Good piece. It’s interesting the juxtapositions of urban and rural, rustic and cosmopolitan, modern and traditional, and the process of life and death which are all wrapped up in “farm to table” and which you unwrapped for us to see.

  2. Michael Gebert Says:

    Thanks, Art, for the great comment. Don’t know about ligers but they also talked about emus and there was llama meat and various other oddities in the fridge case at Eickman’s.

    Although the tattooing is inevitable (and I put it in knowing that some might recoil at the violent smack) in general the mulefoots were taken care of in a way precisely to prevent the treatment you describe. They were segregated from other pigs in a separate pen, they stayed there overnight to allow them to relax (that’s why it was a two-day process), and generally treated gently. As a result they went gently to the slaughter— which is itself somewhat disturbing— although they seemed to get that something was up, since they were defecating pretty freely in the pen. Yet on the other hand, when one was dead, the remainder didn’t react at all. In general my reactions were exactly like Jason’s— you’re expecting pow, one definitive moment, and it’s not like that at all. And the things that stick with you are other details— by far the most shocking thing was seeing the pig come out of the scalder, suddenly nude of its hair. That seemed like a violation, much more than the death.

  3. Jon in Albany Says:

    Art – you’ve summed it up perfectly.

    I also think Jason Hammel is right. You think there is a going to be a moment, but the whole thing is an experience.

    I have been participating in raising pairs of cows for 4 families. Two cows, each family gets a side of beef. I didn’t have much direct interaction with the cows during their lives, but I fed them I few times, shoveled crap, cleaned their water supply, stacked hay…I knew them well enough to know which cow was friendlier.

    We did our second slaughter/butchering a few weeks ago. About 18 months ago when we were preparing to slaughter the first two cows I made the statement, “I’m either going to have more beef than I know what to do with or I’m going to be a vegetarian with more beef than I know what to do with.” Turns out I had more beef than I knew what to do with. And the beef is much better than what you can buy commercially.

    The experience really made me want to waste nothing. If I am raising an animal to eat, I should use as much of them as I possibly can. This was the second round of cows for me, and I was able to use more than the first time. Experience/education plays a large part. I hope that each time I do this, I learn more and use more of the cow.

  4. Matth Says:

    I’m glad the video didn’t end with a scene of the blood-stained abatteur looking up at the camera and saying, “I’m finished!”

    Great work. Important, too. The importance of discussions of this sort grows on me all the time. This is the best treatment of the subject I’ve seen by far.

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