Growth is a double edged sword. Unchecked, growth can be cancerous and destructive. It is this type of ceaseless expansion that has put our society into the precarious environmental and financial positions in which we currently find ourselves. On the other hand, growth can be regenerative and life-giving. Following a forest fire or a bitter winter, the first green shoots to emerge from the earth bear witness to the earth's ability to restore life in the wake of disaster.

My goal for this blog is pretty simple and open-ended: I want to document and share with family and friends my efforts to incorporate an ever increasing degree of self sufficiency, voluntary simplicity, and environmentally-conscious design into my life as a would be urban homesteader.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Flashback: Hog Butchering 2009

The Crew: Buster, Jon, Uncle Rick, Me, Tater Tot, Dad, Uncle Dean, Wingnut, Alex, Jackson, Erik, Rob *DT is missing

Last Fall, on the day after Thanksgiving, while most Americans were participating in the vulgar ritual of conspicuous consumption known as "Black Friday", I had the pleasure of helping my family to butcher 3 hogs that my dad had been fattening up since the previous Spring. It was a lot of work, but it didn't seem hard working with brothers and cousins and uncles. I vaguely remembered butchering from when I was little, but that was almost 25 years ago. It was fun and gratifying to be involved in the process as an adult.

By the end of the second day, we had 6 hams, slabs of bacon, ribs, shoulders, a tub of chops, mountains of sausage, gritswurst, sackwurst, and a bucket of rendered lard. Everyone got to take some home, and there was a ton in my parents chest freezer. My uncle Dean smoked one of the shoulders for our Christmas get together. It was phenomenal. We've have the bacon a few times. It was good, fattier than most store bacon, but good none-the-less. My mom baked one of the hams for Easter. It was awesome. The sausage has made its way into breakfast and pizzas on multiple occasions. The lard makes the most amazing (if dietarily incorrect) fried chicken and pie crust. Theribs are going to be barbequed when school is over. As for Gritswurst, if you don't know what it is, then you haven't lived a full life.

All of the delicious food pales in comparison, though, to the great memories and sense of accomplishment that came from doing honest, meaningful work with friends and relatives. My children, who witnessed the entire process from start to finish, now have an understanding and appreciation for where their food comes from that virtually none of their peers do. Our culture's disconnect from the source of our sustenance is one of a handful of issues that form the root of most of the problems we face as a society. Giving my kids the chance to experience this sort of thing connects them to our family's history, and gives them the grounding they will need to thrive in a future where we will have a much more visceral connection to our food. I sincerely hope that butcher day (and things like it) be come a more regular feature of our family's life.

One last treat before the excitement begins...

The kettles were cooking early in the morning

The hogs were hung from a tree for skinning

Rob is trimming out a slab of ribs

The cuts of meat awaiting packaging

DT prepping a ham for wrapping

Yours truly sewing up a ham so it can hang and cure

Some of the fruits of our labor


  1. Mike, what a great post. This is the kind of thing anybody who eats meat needs to be exposed to. To truly know where your pork chops come from is truly a life lesson. By the way, what is grist wurst?

  2. AA,
    You're right, being exposed to this sort of thing is key. The funny thing is, when I showed some of my students these pictures, they were disgusted. My response was, "If you really want to be grossed out, I can show you footage of the factory farms, CAFO's, and processing facilities where all the meat that's in the grocery stores and fast food restaurants comes from." I didn't have any takers.

    My wife and friends are all pretty much the same way. They've literally said, "I don't want to know where the meat comes from". What that really means is, "I already know it's gross, and if I actually see it, I might have to make some inconvenient changes in my lifestyle."

    As for Gritswurst, it's basically an oatmeal sausage that's made by throwing all of the bones, organs, and head into a kettle of water and cooking them. You then pick the meat off, run it through a grinder with a little fat. Add some oatmeal, salt, and pepper and viola! You pan fry it for breakfast until the edges are crispy and serve it with a thick slice of homemade bread and apple butter. That sir, is heaven on a plate. My wife won't touch the stuff with a 10 foot stick.