Sunday, March 09, 2008

La Tue Cochon (The Pig Killing)

Warning: post contains pictures of a newly slaughtered pig.

Years ago, most families in the village would have raised their own pig for meat, and each year neighbours would go from house to house helping each other with the killing, butchering and preserving. In an attempt to maintain something of that tradition, and the coming together of the community to help one another, each year Beaumarches holds a pig killing in the village square.

We were in two minds as to whether to attend or not. On the one hand, we hope to raise our own pigs one day, so to see the procedure for killing and butchering one was of practical interest to us. On the other hand, we were concerned that what we might witness was an incredibly stressed animal being slaughtered in front of a baying crowd. After some deliberation, we decided to attend the killing.

We got to the village just as the pig arrived. He was in a small trailer, which was driven into an area cleared for the event in the market place. Saturday morning is market day so while all of the following was going on villagers were going about their normal business of buying their fruit and veg, etc. A crowd of about 30 or 40 people had turned up for the killing, including quite a few children with their parents.

The pig was on a comfortable, deep bed of straw in the trailer, and was completely and utterly relaxed. So far, so good. A group of men had several fires going on which were large cauldrons of boiling water. Eventually, the pig was led out of the trailer. He did squeal a bit at this point, but showed no real signs of stress. Chains were placed around his back feet and he was hoisted into the air. He made no noise, and did not struggle. Very quickly, the butcher plunged a long knife straight into his jugular. Whilst this does not cause instantaneous death, the loss of blood is so incredibly rapid he would have been unconscious in a matter of seconds. I’m happy to say that in my opinion the animal was treated with the utmost respect, the kill was swift and clean, and he did not suffer. Having taken our own animals to the abattoir, I feel this was a far less stressful end to his life than theirs.

The blood was collected in a large metal container, and then whipped away to the kitchen in the village hall were a group of women had been toiling since 6 a.m. preparing lunch.

The pig was then lowered into a long wooden trough.

Boiling water from the cauldrons was poured over him

and the men began to scrape off the bristles.

Once the pig was clean he was hoisted up again to be gutted and butchered.

The offal was thoroughly cleaned ready for cooking.

I’m glad we went. I guess it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to watch an animal be killed, but I sometimes think as a society we’ve become too far removed from the animals we eat. Sanitised plastic wrapped packages of meat are a long way from a living, breathing animal. People don’t seem to want to be reminded of the fact that they are eating something that died to feed them. That’s their choice of course, but I can’t help wondering if the £1.99 chicken, and the truly appalling way in which some of our meat is raised isn’t a direct knock on effect of this.

Lecture over.

Once the pig had been butchered and all the offal cleaned and prepared it was lunchtime. A communal lunch had been prepared and we sat with a group of villagers to enjoy a plain but hearty meal. We were the only English people who attended the killing and the lunch. I lost count of the number of times I was asked “Do you do this in England?” Somehow, the very idea is laughable when you think of what DEFRA, the Food Standards Agency, Health & Safety officers and all the other bureaucrats who determine what is and isn’t acceptable would think of it!

We returned to the village hall in the evening for what was really the main event – the eating of the pig. Course after course of pork in all its many and varied forms from black pudding to pork cutlets (some less palatable than others – the tripe wasn’t something I’d be in a hurry to eat again). Over 200 villagers gathered for this celebration, and once again we witnessed their kindness and generosity towards us. A screen had been erected on the stage as France & England were playing in the Six Nations Cup, and even though the Gers is a rabidly fanatical rugby region they didn’t hold it against us when we won :)

We finally staggered home some time after midnight, feeling just that little bit more integrated into village life.


Blogger clarabelle said...

My husband was brought up in the country and his family would keep a pig for slaughter. You might almost think it's a practice harking back to the 19th century, but it's not that long ago! We Brits distance ourselves from how animals are raised and killed for meat, and it's a sign of how cultured and grounded the French are (my France-love-fest continues!) in that they want to celebrate these traditions.

7:22 am  
Blogger Carolyn said...

I have friends who live outside Philadelphia and raise pigs for slaughter every year. A group all go in on the purchase of the animals and then participate in the butchering and resulting food products. I've never been there for the actual kill, but have been there for all the rest. And I've definitely eaten the pork roasts, sausages, and scrapple (a Pennsylvania Dutch treat that I love for breakfast!).

4:44 pm  
Blogger Caroline M said...

It's another world isn't it? Here there would be a pile of papers just to have the pig get to a public place, a full risk assessment in case someone slipped on pig poop or was psychologically scarred from seeing it slaughtered and let's not start on the risks of cooking food for public consumption. It's a wonder you're all still alive.

Was there crackling?

9:00 pm  
Blogger Queen of the froggers said...

That was really interesting. I would have gone and taken the kids too. I think it is so important to see where our food actually comes from (not plastic wrapped in the supermarket!)!

9:43 am  

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