Prince Edward Island, Canada
It’s one thing to say bacon is magic and swoon over the deliciousness of pork, but it’s another to view the full process of the delicacy.
Today I did something I’ve always felt I needed to do but hadn’t had the opportunity.
I watched a pig die.
MacQuarrie’s Meat is the last small abattoir in Prince Edward Island and has been a family business for over a century. It is also one of Chef Rouge‘s favourite suppliers and he asked if I wanted to come to a pig slaughter.
It’s clear when you arrive this is not a cold, mass industrial slaughterhouse. Walking into the small office I’m warmly welcomed and people show concern when they hear I want to see the kill. Am I sure I don’t just want to come in afterwards and witness the butchering part? After explaining that it’s important to me as a meat eater to see how pork is produced they agree to take me into the kill room and warn me I’ll need to walk around the pig.
I have to walk around the pig.
MacQuarrie’s is not a big commercial factory but a small community abattoir, they only work with 10-12 pigs a day at maximum capacity. The pig is brought into a small room and has no idea what lies ahead. It’s a much different process than a bigger abattoir where masses of pigs are herded in, stressed by the sound of other animals in the area.
My emotions are shielded by the camera lens as I’m intent on documenting why we should support small community agribusiness. Huddled in the corner while a rifle passes and a few seconds later the pig who was sniffing around falls dead to the floor.
It’s that fast.
Travis, who is only 23 and will be breaking down the pig, comes in and “sticks” the pig – cutting its throat to drain the blood. It’s probably the most disturbing aspect to see as the pig is dead but the nervous system sends the corpse into violent seizures sending a spattering of blood around the room. It reminds me of the backyard water sprinklers I played in as a child. I quickly duck the spray but Chef Rouge catches some on his cheek. There is a lot of blood and it can be intense. But this is food.
Travis is young but skillful and once the body stops moving he has it up on a bench and within seconds it no longer resembles an animal but meat to be butchered.
Travis is focused as he breaks down the animal and all I see is craftsmanship. He appears to have an emotional distance from the animal and is one of the sweetest guys you could meet, as he asks Chef Rouge how he’s doing while he carves through the flesh. Instead of being queasy by the sight of organ removing and draining blood I’m fascinated by the process.
It’s a quick process and Travis puts the pig up on a hook, he cleans up and we walk out to the meat cutting room and the men ask me how I feel.
I thought it would be a difficult thing to witness. That I’d have trouble eating meat again. Instead it reaffirmed my commitment to know where my food comes from. I feel completely comfortable eating anything from this shop.
At MacQuarries they want to treat the animals as humanely as possible. Yes stressed animals produce tough meat but it’s also clear they have respect for the animals. This pig walked into the room never knowing what was about it happen, it wasn’t stressed and with a rifle it didn’t suffer. If I’m going to eat meat I want it to be from places like MacQuarrie’s, which make it as quick and painless as possible.
I would far rather know my meat came from something here than a large abattoir where pigs are crammed in, stressed by the loud noises and processed by people who have no connection to the animal. They are not butchers but meat cutters and they don’t have the skills of someone like Travis.
MacQuarrie’s may not be the cheapest meat in the store, but I think we’ve all come to realize that our desire for the lowest price could be hurting us in the long run. We need to support our small community businesses now or we may not have the choice between a place like MacQuarrie’s and a meat factory.