FROM HEARD TO HEART
Gathering at a long table in order to celebrate the butchering of two pigs is a delicious event. Witnessing the two animals die is the other side of the story. How does it feel to see your dinner being shot? Passionate foodie and writer Per Meurling recalls the feelings he had on a cold February morning in Brandenburg.
Text by Per Meurling / Photography by Wurstsack
I love pork chops and sausages. I love them almost as much as a bacon breakfast. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize I love pretty much everything about pork. But as passionate as this love is, I have to say it's not as great as my love for the farmers and producers who dedicate their lives to raising the quality of animal farming. My love and respect for these people is also why, on a cold February morning, I found myself on a Brandenburg field with 15 other Berlin city slickers, listening to the sound of a gunshot echo across the meadows. I had just watched a farmer kill a pig with his rifle.
But let’s rewind a couple of steps. Most of us consume various forms of animal protein on a daily basis. Yet hardly any of us have witnessed the reality of the meat industry, and therefore have no idea what it means to raise an animal only to take its life. As in many modern production processes, there is a massive divide between consumer and producer.
But when it comes to food, I always find myself questioning whether this divide has more severe consequences than others. Shouldn’t we be more interested in the origins of the things
we actually eat?
Then again, I really don’t blame anyone for being a little scared to learn the exact origin of that juicy pork chop on their plate. I think it’s
pretty scary myself, and I’m a food writer who has a nerdy obsession with food and spends nearly every waking moment thinking about it. So if I’m slightly scared of watching an animal die, how does the average consumer feel about it? Eating meat is one thing, but it’s a whole different thing to actually watch an animal loose its life in front of your eyes. As a massive opponent to the cruel world of industrialized agriculture, and a supporter of quality thinking within meat production,
I always felt that I owed it to the animals and my meat consuming self to witness a slaughter.
So when my friends at Markthalle Neun told me about their plans for the Schlachtfest project, I knew my chance had come. Everyone I told about my upcoming trip to the pig farm was eager to comment on this very polarizing topic. Most warned me to brace myself for a terrifying experience. My mum told that she used to live next to a pig farmer, and how, to this day, she can still hear the pigs screaming. A friend even briefed me on the tremendous intelligence of pigs and how they can sense their impending deaths.
All of that made it hard not to feel scared. After all, I’m a huge animal lover and I find pretty much every pig to be adorable. How would I react to those screams? And what if this whole experience changed my view on meat consumption forever? Should I really go? In the end curiosity prevailed over fear, and so, on a winter Monday morning, I found myself leaving Berlin in a van on a mission to slaughter two pigs.
Upon arrival at the Gut Hirschaue, an estate that specializes in high quality game and pork meat located about 100 km southwest of Berlin, I quickly realized that this was no ordinary pig farm. I was amazed to see the abundance of space the animals had access to; the field was huge and the pigs were able to roam freely. The farmer told us a lot about the way they raise pigs at Gut Hirschaue.
I was surprised to learn that the pig’s feed is composed of select home-grown grains, and that they live a much longer life than the bulk of the industry allows. The farmers were also particularly proud of their killing method. The fact they have a butchery on the premises allows them to shoot the pigs right on the field, thereby eliminating stressful transport. This sounded crazy
to me. I asked the farmer how on earth they would be able to shoot them without scaring the living daylight out of the other pigs. He just told me to watch.
When it was finally time for the killing, the
farmer entered the field with his two assistants. The pigs were very accustomed to their presence and gathered around the farmer, expecting treats. And then, from a safe distance, we witnessed one of the most peculiar things I’d seen for a while.
The farmer picked one of the pigs that suited the age and size requirements, gently ushered it to the side, and very calmly shot it pointblank in the head with his rifle. Considering one of their comrades had just been killed by a loud rifle shot, I expected this to be the moment the rest of to pigs ran for their lives. But no, to my neverending amazement, not one of them took off. Their reaction was limited to mere curiosity as they crowded around the pig that was no longer moving. This meant that the farmer could just go along, pick another pig, and shoot that one too. In 10 minutes these men had entered a huge field of pigs, shot two of them, and left with their kills hanging off a tractor.
I was stunned to see the total absence of stress during all of this, and how the pigs were so used to the process that they weren’t scared by it in any way. There were no screams, no aftermath, no visible effects at all really. It could only be described as totally normal.After the slaughter we went on to butcher the pigs, and this was another event that differed a lot from my expectations. It wasn’t smelly, weird, nauseating, or really anything in that direction.
The butchers were methodical and professional, dissembling the two pigs piece by piece, and making sure that every cut was taken care of. It was a tremendously interesting experience, and I learned a lot about the animal and where the different cuts come from. In true nose to tail eating spirit, the chefs were going to use every single piece of these pigs during Schlachtfest, and after witnessing the whole process, it felt like the
ultimate way to honour these beautiful animals.
I walked away from the events of the day feeling like I had just witnessed the most normal thing ever. I hadn’t felt such a sense of calm for weeks, and as more time passed, I realized that I had changed. Like most others there that day, I felt strangely enlightened at the same time as my prior hesitations became very distant. It could even be described as a beautiful experience as it clearly showed how slaughtering animals doesn’t have to involve suffering. Of course, I know that this encounter with slaughtering wasn’t in any way representative of the vast majority of the meat industry, where Germany alone kills 178,000 pigs every day under terrible conditions. In the end, killing an animal in order to eat it is an act that must be judged by each person. Speaking for myself, I learned that the fears and doubts I had before the slaughter were a transitional state of mind mainly caused by a lack of experience.
To witness these animals die, and to know the exact origin of the meat I ate at Schlachtfest, was a very special experience that vastly increased my respect for quality meat.
I recommend that everyone do the same.
If nothing else, it will most certainly change the way you look at your pork chop. But if you’re not quite there yet, a visit to Schlachtfest, where you can taste high quality and stress-free meat, is a good start. Each dinner party in the series focuses on a single animal that has been raised and slaughtered in Brandenburg according to the highest possible standards. Along with the people behind Markthalle Neun, a few chef crews have assisted in the project — mainly Mr. Susan, Lode & Stijn, Kantine Neun, and The Sausage Man Never Sleeps.
Schlachtfest is a culinary celebration in its purest form, and the objective of the project is to promote awareness around quality meat consumption. Following ancient customs that celebrate an animal’s slaughter, the events in this series pay homage to it throughout a night of feasting, where the chefs prepare different cuts of the animal. For the duration of the event, the whole Markt-halle belongs to the guests, and the party moves from station to station as the chefs prepare their dishes consecutively while guests eat family style. The farmer always joins the evenings as a guest, and the setup encourages a lot of social exchange. The whole thing eventually culminates in a party with an abundance of sausages and live music. Joining one of the events might change you, just like it changed me.
PORK NECK STEW WITH TOMATO & BLACK CUMIN
A recipe by Lode & Stijn — serves 4-6
500 gr. Pork Neck (cut into cubes)
3 Onions (cut into cubes)
4 Potatoes (cut into cubes)
4 Tomatoes (cut into cubes)
2 Bulbs Fennel (cut into cubes)
2 Cloves Garlic ( nely chopped)
28 oz. Canned Tomatoes
1 tbsp. Black Cumin
1 tbsp. Lard
1 tbsp. Dried Marjoram
Dill, Spring Onion and Parsley for Garnish Crème Fraîche to taste