Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thinking of Eating: Pasture to Plate

The very first post in this series started with a question: Can I eat an animal I've played tag with?

At first it was merely an interesting notion. I'd buy half a pig from my friend Clare at Big Table Farm, something I'd been wanting to do for some time. But I didn't want to simply wait for the time, some months hence, when she'd call to say my half was butchered and ready to pick up from the packing house. I wanted to meet this pig named Roger, and trace his life from his pasture to my plate.

Roasted bones for stock.

I didn't have an agenda in mind. This wouldn't be an attempt to follow the already well-trodden path of other food writers like Michael Pollan or Barbara Kingsolver. I didn't want to hammer home points about whatever-vores, 100-mile diets or the evils of corporate agriculture. It was simply a documentation of my experience, with no expectations of a major life change ("I'll never be able to look a pork chop in the eye again…") or revelation ("Roger came to me in a dream one night…").

The hardest part, as might be expected, had been the moments just before and after Roger was killed in his pasture. The butchering was an exhausting but fascinating process on its own, with 96 pounds of meat to parse. And when it came to cooking this pig I'd met, it was similarly freighted with both emotion and practicality.

Big Table Farm eggs, Roger bacon and cornmeal scrapple.

I'd decided our first dinner featuring Roger wouldn't be a big party, just a quiet family dinner at home. I'd chosen pork chops as our entrée, a simple cut simply seasoned with a smear of olive oil, salt and pepper, the better to taste the flavor of the meat itself. Dave got the grill going, I had a beet risotto simmering on the stove and a green salad with seared figs ready. A bottle of Big Table Farm pinot was opened.

Dave brought the chops in from the grill, and as they rested on their platter, perfuming the air with their meaty scent, we set the table and poured the wine. Each of us chose our chop, I held up my glass and we toasted Roger, thanking him for his good life and for giving us this meal, as well as for what would surely be many other good meals to come. The first bite was succulent and porky, mild and just a bit smoky, certainly one of the best pork chops I'd ever tasted.

Making sausage is fun.

As we ate, I thought of Roger in his field, playing with Don in the long grass of his pasture and sitting under the spray from the hose, enjoying the respite from the day's heat. I remembered him laying in the grass, his face contented as I scratched him behind the ears. That is the face I carry with me, one I am truly thankful I got to know.

In the weeks since that dinner, we've made bacon and sausage, smoked a fresh ham and made pork stock for ramen. We've referred to it as Roger bacon or Roger sausage, in the same way I remember a friend every time I use the gift she gave me. And while that may sound trite or even macabre, it feels oddly natural. We've shared these experiences, and this food, with our larger community of family and friends. And isn't that what it should be all about?

I'll be sharing the recipes with you in coming posts, and hope that you'll enjoy his continuing story. To him I say, thank you, Roger, you were a good pig.

Read the other posts in this series: Roger and Me, Roger Grows Up, Saying Goodbye, The Day Finally Comes and The Meat of the Matter.


Anonymous said...

I have been fascinated by the insights you have shared about Roger and the tales of "pasture to plate". I look forward to reading more about this story. Thank you for sharing it.

Kathleen Bauer said...

And thank you for reading, Anon!

Lorraine said...

I just love your Roger story. What a difference it could make if all of us took the time and courage to change the way we buy and eat meat. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks, Lorraine. It just seemed like a good opportunity to learn something and share what I found. Glad you found it interesting!