Thinking about bodies, and the soft flesh and puzzle of bones that enable us to stand, walk, smile, bend, wave hello, and say goodbye.
The first time I broke down a duck, I marveled at the difference between its structure and that of a chicken: the longer body, slenderer breasts, little drums. This time, at Camas Davis of the Portland Meat Collective‘s duck and pig butchery classes in Eugene last weekend, I couldn’t stop thinking about the structures we share with the pig. No, not in the sense that I could never eat an animal with a face or a clavicle or whathaveyou, but rather this unshakeable feeling of being part of the universe, a community of matter. I can’t get over the metaphysical sense, lately, strangely, insistently, of the impermeability of bodies, of all things, and the wheel of fortune that spins these molecules into personhood, those into livestock, and yet others into mosquito netting or Prada clutches or a turnip or cat’s breath or frost. Why don’t we all just dissolve into the ether?
No, I haven’t been taking more drugs. Thanks for asking.
Ever more firmly I believe I can’t eat meat without knowing more about how the process works, but my awe and respect for the workings of a creature, our very distinct matter, is kind of overtaking me right now. I’ve spent an entire year completely (and utterly nonconsensually) focused on broken bodies and death, on dissolution and transformation, so to take part in the slow, careful, respectful craft of turning life into food is quite profound and healing for me. Meat, somehow, even more so.
We broke down a pig and a half, totaling about 400 lbs. of meat, and a duck apiece, then we learned how to make some cured products, including bacon, rillettes, and duck liver mousse and prosciutto.
The classes were wonderful, made even better by the gorgeous facility and commercial kitchen at Sprout! where the Springfield farmers market takes place on Fridays. We were able to take home the meat we broke down, which added yet more value. The Master Food Preservers helped with the class prep and clean-up, and we had a great group of farmers, restaurateurs, home cooks, and teachers who eagerly participated. Although someone confessed that she was initially nervous about sharing a table with me at the duck class, I laid that to rest quickly with my slow hands and jerky knife skills. (Any mystique I might have held as a food guru was soon dashed as my knife slipped around a joint, the duck popped, and I sent a bowl of curing spiced salt flying across the room.)
Not only does one learn how the body works, and that you can actually do most of the butchery with a big knife and a small knife (and a hacksaw for the rest), but Camas teaches about cuts that we don’t really use commercially in the U.S. I’m now on a campaign against loins. No, sorry, the religious right shouldn’t get too excited — it’s a campaign against the soft, mild cuts that privilege the loin parts of the pig. I’ve always been a big fan of the shoulder, but now I see even more possibilities for flavorful cuts of pig meat, thanks to the class.
Now I’m hungry. Check out the full set of photos for both classes on my Facebook page. If you’re local, you might want to follow me on Facebook while you’re there — I accept all friend requests and post local events and happenings there much more frequently than I do on the blog, which has more of a national readership.
And by all means, take one of Camas’ classes. She promised to come back to Eugene, and we promise to love it when she does!