Sky Full of Bacon

Some Pigs

The craziness referred to in my previous post is this: I am shooting the steps leading up to the dinner at Blackbird on Sunday night where three mulefoot pigs, acquired by the Chicago Reader— no, not as part of the Creative Loafing deal, but in relation to the series of stories Mike Sula wrote about this rare breed— will be served to a bunch of people paying $150 $125 a plate and benefitting Slow Food.

What this has meant is, on Tuesday we drove up to Argyle, Wisconsin, a little southwest of Madison, met the farmers involved, and then helped load three pigs into a crate on the back of a pickup truck, a feat of slapstick comedy which the Three Stooges could not have done better at, and drove them to Eickman’s, a processor in Seward, Illinois, to spend their last night on this earth.

Wednesday we were met at Eickman’s by Jason Hammel, chef at Lula, and watched the slaughter process.  I was not allowed to film the moment of killing, which I’m not entirely sorry about, but believe me, I could make a plenty gory video out of what I did get.  However, the point is not to be shocking, but to deal honestly with the fact that not only do creatures die to provide meat for us, but breeds like the mulefoot won’t survive unless there’s a market for them and farmers willing to raise them as a business.

Wednesday Jason drove back with three iced pigs in a pickup truck and we delivered them to the side door of Blackbird, just as people in nice clothes were arriving at the front for dinner.  If anyone bothered to look down the alley, they should have had a perfect view of Hammel and Blackbird chef Mike Sheerin hoisting the fat pink pigs up into the freight elevator, like Scorsese characters preparing to dispose of a fellow mobster.  We returned around 11 as Hammel, Sheerin, Paul Kahan, and Paul Virant of Vie arrived for a late night butchering party.  Afterwards we went to the hot new Kahan place, The Publican, for Belgian beers after its closing hours; I’m sure we’ll be among the few ever to see it empty.  Or among the few to do so after having hacked three whole hogs into sections.

Today we’re visiting The Publican and Vie to see what they’re doing with their sections, and will hopefully do the same at Lula tomorrow.  Then Sunday I’ll get to shoot at least some part of the service, though I have no intention of being the annoying guy on the floor with a camcorder.

The challenge in all this will be that the slaughter section, no matter how tasteful and rationally presented, is bound to be uncomfortable— and to make everything else done with the meat seem barbaric.  We’re all so far from where our meat comes from that, like good Germans, we’ve successfully put the machinery of death out of mind and can pretend that it has nothing to do with us.  Seeing slaughter didn’t make an instant vegetarian out of me, but what I hope it has done is make me a little less of a hypocrite about the meat I eat.  If I’m going to demand an animal’s death, I should demand a decent life for it as well. Industrial food is very good at keeping unpleasant ways of raising animals out of sight of most of us who eat them; this video— or videos if it gets split into two parts— will be about confronting that and the challenge of making it humane.

Oh, and about some really great Chicago chefs making fantastic food.  You see why it almost has to be in two parts, as there’s way more than just one simple subject here….

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