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How much do you like your bacon? (part one)

My friends, Rebecca and Nick, like bacon so much that in December they got their own pigs to raise… and slaughter. And ever since the pigs arrived, they have been talking about all the different ways they were going to eat their pigs when the time came.

Well, last Wednesday, the time came… and Nick called me to see if I wanted to document the process.

Personally, I don’t eat bacon, or much meat at all.

When I get to choose the food I eat, I choose vegetables, partially because I am lazy and meat requires a lot more work than vegetables, but mostly because I don’t want to support the inhumane and toxic practices of factory farming (for more information watch Food, Inc.)

But if I am served meat then I will gratefully eat it. I don’t like to be rude and I don’t like to waste food. And if I know where the meat is coming from and how the animals were raised, then sometimes I actually even choose to eat meat, like heritage turkeys at Thanksgiving, or grass-fed burgers at the Fremont Diner… so I call myself an opportunivore.

Because I do occasionally eat meat, I think it is important that I know what it means to eat meat… to see the process of going from a live animal to, in this case, bacon.

So Wednesday I documented the first step… Killing the pigs. I have documented sheep being harvested before, at Windrush Farm, but never pigs. Pigs are a little smarter and more personable than sheep, so I was a little nervous and not entirely confident I could watch. But really it wasn’t so bad.

Actually I would be grateful if my death were as quick and painless, and if my body could continue to be a part of the life-cycle, instead of having to be cremated or preserved in a box, wasting valuable resources and land.

So I arrived and met the pigs. I gave them both belly rubs until they rolled over and passed out in pure joy.

Then the truck arrived. We met JD and his special truck that is equipped to process animals on site, which is less stressful for the animals because they don’t have to be transported to a slaughterhouse.

Nick was also nervous. He was the one who cared for these pigs every day for the last three months, and he wasn’t sure he could watch them being killed either. But before we realized, JD had already shot the first one and the process of cleaning and butchering began.

The photos posted were taken with my Rolleiflex, which actually make the event look less graphic. If you would like another perspective, or to compare the difference between film and digital, then there is also a slide show of photos I took with my digital camera.

If you would prefer not to know where your bacon comes from then now is a good time to close your eyes…

These were two lucky pigs. They lived a good life and they will continue to live on in the bodies of my sustainably farming friends.

Next step in making bacon: butchering. Those photos coming soon.

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About the author paige green

Paige Green is a documentary and portrait photographer, whose storytelling approach to photography frequently addresses issues involving agriculture, land use, and food. Her work is featured in nine books and has been published in Glamour, National Geographic Traveler, New York Times Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, GQ, Country Living, House Beautiful, and Culture. Paige lives in Petaluma, CA with a house full of boys.

All posts by paige green →

15 Comments

  1. The steam is amazing. Piggles and wiggles would be just as proud as we are. Thank you!! Can’t wait for part II.

    R&N

    Reply

  2. Wow Paige. Amazing. I so respect and admire your approach to the food you eat. Thanks for sharing this hard to look at, but also beautiful event. So cool that people are taking their health so seriously. Way to go Rebeca and Nick.

    I hope you’re still planning to come and document me hunting this fall. I am taking my hunter’s safety course this spring…

    Reply

  3. Thanks for sharing. As a former pork producer I understand how and why the process is done. With so many people having no idea of the how and why we are only left with the idea that the animal we eat is Bambi or Babe.
    I do have a problem with the perpetuation of the “factory farm” myth. I really wish I knew where that came from. A farm cannot be a factory. I know of no farmers, even large ones, that do not care for their stock as good as they do their families. With over 98% of agriculture held in the hands of family farmers, there is very little room for a factory type of farming operation.
    I do appreciate that you now know where your meat comes from. Realistic and beautiful pictures of our food before it reaches the plate are always appreciated.

    Reply

    1. Thank you, Michael, for your comment.

      I am very grateful whenever people want to engage in thoughtful dialog about such important topics, especially when those people speak from experience on the subject. Your comment makes me hopeful that you are right that all farmers do value their animals more than they value profit.

      My knowledge on “factory farms” comes from reading, watching movies (such as Food, Inc.) and driving by the endless cattle stockyards on Highway 5 in California. So I can not speak from personal experience about “factory farms.”

      I did a quick google search of “factory farm” and found several different definitions, photos, discussions and websites. The Webster’s New Millennium dictionary defines factory farming as “a system of large-scale industrialized and intensive agriculture that is focused on profit with animals kept indoors and restricted in mobility.”

      So from my limited perspective, I do believe the farmer did not create this current situation.

      But I struggle to understand how a large scale farmer, who is under the weight of the large bills and demands by the corporations they supply to, can care for their animals, as much as they care for their families, when their animals are crowded into large windowless barns and given antibiotics to counteract the unsanitary conditions.

      Again my only knowledge is from what I have read or watched, so I would love it if you told me all those mythical windowless barns full of animals in cages that are not big enough for them to turn around in do not exist. And I would love to come tour any farms and meet any farmers who you think would be good representatives to help debunk the factory farming myths.

      Thank you again. I am inspired to know more because of your comment.

      Sincerely,
      Paige

      Reply

  4. Paige,
    It’s obvious by the lack of snow in your pictures that you are miles away from me in Minnesota. Although I no longer have hogs you are welcome to stop by if you are coming my way.
    The concept that just because animals are housed in barns with limited space is not caring for the animals is troubling. Many folks to the north of me still suffer from wolf predation, I know of folks in Texas who struggle with attacks from wild dogs. Keeping animals inside also protects them from cold, a pig with frozen body parts is not a good thing. An animal that is too cold or too warm is not producing to the best of it’s ability.
    Chickens and turkeys are very prone to fright. An eagle overhead or a dog barking can send them off into the trees. An upset bird is not a happy bird. An unhappy bird does not produce eggs or meat as well as a happy one.
    The use of antibiotics is not for the unsanitary conditions. I’ve never known a hog that did not love to stick it’s nose into another hogs manure even when raised out doors. When we let pigs pasture with cows they were always digging through cattle manure. Chickens prefer their manure with maggots in it. There are many parasites that are found in dirt that are not good for either the pig, chicken or the human that eats it. Areas that have pigs outdoors constantly must treat their animals for these intestinal parasites. These parasites are the basis for the Jewish prohibition on eating pork.
    Denmark outlawed the use of antibiotics at levels that do not treat disease. They found that antibiotic use went up. It’s easier to prevent a disease than treat it. Some antibiotic use is needed, but only on the advise of a veterinarian.
    Unfortunately trade offs must be made to feed the world. Concentration of animals into an area makes it easier to feed and keep animals from harm. Most livestock producers see more of their animals than they do of their family. Women have made a welcome move into large feeding facilities. The care they give to young animals is on par with what they give their children.
    Look around for a local Farm Bureau Federation. Most will have someone willing to help you learn. Do understand though, your presence may not be welcome because of the diseases you may bring to their herds (Pigs can get the flu from you). Also some of them have been hurt by groups such as HSUS and PETA who are pushing a vegan agenda at the expense of those of us who like meat.
    Show them some of your pictures and express a willingness to learn. Those who search for the truth will be rewarded.

    Reply

  5. Wow Paige, Beautiful photos. Hard subject. Sensitive and honest. Thanks for sharing. And for all you are doing to bring small farming to a larger audience.

    Reply

  6. you have quite a stomach, paige. good for you.
    these photos are beautiful.

    Reply

  7. Paige,
    I found the answer I was looking for in the “factory farms” discussion at
    http://causematters.wordpress.com/2010/03/02/faces-of-factory-farms/
    Michele tells the story as well as anyone. I hope you’ll check it out.

    Reply

  8. Michael,

    This is Nick. The person that raised the pigs. I think the point is not of whether a term is called ‘factory farm’ or ‘family farm.’ The point of my operation is that I never use any type of hormones, chemical fertilizers, chlorine, concrete floors, ammonia and other chemicals in my farming practices- unlike conventional farmers and slaughter houses. Therefore, the product is more responsible (and better tasting) to not just the consumers but to the environment. I’m a very small operation and am able to do such practices at ease. If I were a larger operation, I would continue to do my way of farming because I believe that by being more of a steward of the land- not just a ‘pig farmer’- there comes an awareness of responsibility for life as a whole. Cheap food comes at a big price.

    Try googling the image for factory farms. That is what I am opposed, even if they are run by a family.

    Reply

    1. I do not say you should not raise pigs the way you do. I also appreciate home raised products. The fact is that with the worlds population expected to double by 2050 we just do not have enough land to feed the whole world the way you do.
      As for being more responsible, that is still up for debate. Is it responsible agriculture to continue raising livestock in a manner that cannot hope to feed the world? Is it responsible parenting to not allow your children to be immunized? Should we not use any medical means possible to prolong the lives of our loved ones? Since when is using science to prolong human life good and using science to raise our food bad?
      Hormones are natural, they are part of all life.
      Fertilizers are not chemicals they are elements. Check the periodic table. They are part of the manure your pigs produce.
      Concrete helps with manure control and storage. It helps keep soil borne parasites out of our meat supply. It allows us to sanitize livestock pens using only high pressure hot water.
      Chlorine is in every public water supply.
      Ammonia is in cleaning products and is a natural product found in urine.
      By all means keep raising your animals the way they were raised before World War II. You’d better be sure you cook your meat to a high enough temperature to kill off those parasites in the meat.
      You might want to check out human life expectancy from 100 years ago and compare it to today. Modern science and chemicals are a big part of why we live longer today.

      Reply

  9. Michael,
    I don’t think that this is the proper outlet for a debate. I understand and appreciate your points. I can tell that we don’t see eye to eye on the subject. You go your way and I’ll go mine.
    thanks
    Nick

    Reply

  10. Fascinating story, sensitive photos and informative dialog. thank s Paige! Have a good trip.

    Reply

  11. JT is a zen master. really, he is an incredible artist…

    Reply

  12. […] of this pig, who was raised by my friends, was in fact enjoyed by our community at our Anniversary/Easter dinner. While I did not have any of […]

    Reply

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