Sunday, October 26, 2014

Squeal Like A Stuck Pig, Bleed Like A Stuck Pig

"Squeal Like A Stuck Pig, Bleed Like A Stuck Pig" - This blog has nothing to do with one of the most cinematic memorable scenes from the 1972 film "Deliverance"

This blog has to do with the question that parents may be asked along with the classic queries of "Why is the sky blue?" and "Where do babies come from?".  In this case the question is "Where do pork chops come from?"

WARNING:  The following narrative and photographs contain elements that some people may find disturbing

Living in Northeast Thailand, I am often witness to many unique cultural events, celebrations, and activities that are far different than my experiences of growing up and being educated back in New England.  I always strive to share these different the unique culture here in Isaan accurately and hopefully non-judgmentally.

Earlier this month, my wife and I drove out to Ban Maet to participate in the preparations for the celebration of Ok Phansa, the end of Vassa (Buddhist Rains Retreat), the following day. The start of the day was the typical offering of food to the Monks at the forest Wat of Luang Por Pohm Likit.  Later I was to photograph the local men making a basaht for the making of offerings to the spirits the next day.

As often happens here, which makes life so interesting and rewarding, things were not exactly as originally described or scheduled.  Shortly after completion of the morning merit making at the Wat, Luang Por Pohm Likit received a phone call. One of the local men wanted Luang Por Pohm Likit to let me know that they were going to be butchering a pig.  He thought  that I might be interested in photographing the process.  Duang translated to me and I was quickly off to the nearby location which was also where men were going to construct the basaht.

I arrived at the local policeman's small country farm just in time for the start of the big butchering process.

In addition to growing rice, papaya, coconuts, and various vegetables as well as herbs for personal use, the policeman also raised pigs.  Off in the corner of his property, he has a cinder block enclosure with corrugated metal roof where he raises approximately 30 pigs.  Inside the enclosure are cinder block pens where the pigs are segregated for various purposes.

I followed two of the men across the rice paddy to the pig pens.  I was surprised to find a clean facility.  There were several hose stations for rinsing the facility with water.  The effluent flowed by gravity from the facility down to the lower land on three sides of the compound.  Although the facility was clean and the pigs were clean, there was no doubt that I was in a pig pen.  On our trips to Tahsang Village down Highway 2, we pass by a commercial pig farm.  Just about every trip past the facility either Duang or I will say to the other "Why, why you not shower today?"  There is no mistaking the smell of a pig farm for anything other than what it is.

Ask not for whom the rope is for, it is for thee
There was one pig all by himself in one of the pens.  When we arrived at the compound, all the pigs were curious about our presence.  Many of the pigs rose up on their hind legs to peer over the low block walls to have a better look at us and more likely what we were up too.  The pigs were quite animated and vocal.

I stayed outside of the pens, observing and photographing the process.  One of the men slowly and cautiously entered the pen with the single pig.  His caution was more out of not wanting to disturb the pig than for concern for his safety. He carried two ropes.  One rope had a running bowline to form a noose.  The man rotated the grain feeder to distribute some food to occupy the pig.  After a few attempts, he managed to secure the noose around the pig's neck.  The pig was definitely not happy.  The pig squealed very loudly and desperately tried to break free from the control of the noose.

Getting hog tied

With the help of two other men, the pig was cornered and wrestled to the ground.  With considerable effort the pig was hog tied thereby immobilizing it. All the other pigs realized that something was going on and became highly agitated.  The air was filled with loud squeals and grunts.  Even more pigs rose up to view over the top of the separation walls between the pens.  Panic was rampant in the pens.

Pig Getting A Shower to Cool Off
The trussed up pig was lifted and placed on a two wheeled cart to be transported to the killing site.  The pig was highly agitated from its ordeal.  One of the men poured a few pans of water over the pig to calm and cool it down.  This is necessary to protect the quality of the meat. The men tried to keep the pig calm and cool - difficult to achieve when the pig is tied up, man handled and unable to move.

Pig Being Transported to Butchering Site
The pig was carted to a spot alongside the narrow country road just to the side of the gate to the farm.  I walked over to where the pig was laying on its side.  The pig was conscious.  The men positioned themselves around the pig.  One man placed a metal bowl near the exposed throat area of the pig.  One man stepped on the bound front legs and another man pulled the pigs head back to better expose the pig's throat.  Having seen the recent beheading of a man by ISIS on the Internet, I fully expected that a man would draw a knife across the throat of the pig to quickly kill it. I was wrong - very wrong.  A man took a rather small knife and stuck it into the neck of the pig.  He thrust the knife deeper and deeper into the neck with a twisting motion looking to sever the pig's jugular vein.

Sticking the pig
Blood flowed from the wound into the metal bowl.  The phrase "squeal like a stuck pig" immediately and unforgettably took on an entirely new meaning and significance for me. Once the jugular was severed, the blood squirted with each beat of the heart into the bowl.

Pig Bleeding Itself Out
The pig slowly died - bleeding to death as each heart beat pumped more blood into the metal bowls placed at the wound in its neck.  The squealing continued but slowly declined in volume and pitch, becoming overwhelmed by the sounds of labored breathing.

As death approached, one of the men held the pig's mouth shut while another man pumped the pig's side with his foot to help force more blood out of the dying animal.

It had taken 7 minutes for the pig to die.  I thought that this was not the proper or even best way to dispatch an animal.  However in researching to write this blog (Mother Earth News) I learned that sticking a pig without first shooting or stunning it is considered to be the most humane method of killing.

The dead pig was then transported to an area inside of the property next to a very large vat of scalding water over a wood fire. The carcass was placed on the ground near a section of recycled corrugated metal roofing that had been washed down with hot water and rinsed with cold water.

Not far from the butchering section, a polyethylene tarp was placed on the ground and freshly cut banana leaves were placed on the tarp along with a wood cutting block and a small spring scale often found in local food booths.

Scalding the pig

Pans of scalding hot water were poured over the carcass to facilitate the removal of hair.  After the scalding water was poured over a section, two men used knives to scrape the hair and epidermis off of the carcass.  The combination of hair and skin easily came off the carcass.  Once the entire pig had been scraped and cleaned, it was placed the recycled roof panel and washed completely and carefully.

Scraping the hide to remove hair and skin
Washing off the scraped pig
The ears were the first item cut and removed from the pig.  The ears were promptly placed in the big vat of scalding water were many other various parts of the pig were destined to be placed. After a while the ears were removed from the water, placed on bamboo skewers and positioned to grill along side of the wood fire.  After grilling, the ears were removed, cut up into bite sized pieces to be enjoyed by all people involved in the process.
The butchering of the pig did not proceed as I expected it to.  I thought that the carcass would be rigged from an overhanging tree limb, hoisted head down, and the first cut would carefully made from the anus to the chest to allow the abdominal bag, containing the internal organs, to spill out and be removed.  Thailand not like America - once again.  Here in Isaan the pig was placed on its legs in a prone position.  A strip of hide and underlying fat were cut from each side of the spine exposing the loins.  The fat was removed from the strips of hide at the near by banana leaf station.  The fat was then cut into six sections.  The hide was taken away for processing.  The loins were removed and taken to the cutting block on the banana leaf covered tarp where they were weighed and cut into six equal weight portions.
Work continued step by step to remove the outer cuts of meat from the pig.  Most of the cuttings were taken to the banana leaf area for weighing, trimming, and placing in the six piles.  Some cuttings were immediately placed in the vat of scalding water.
The last major portion of the pig to be removed from the carcass was the entrails.  The gall bladder was removed and hung from a branch of a nearby shrub - I later learned that the man would make "medicine - good for old people" out of it.  The intestines were hauled a short distance away to the banks of a ditch where two men occupied cleaning them out for either cooking as is or for use as sausage casings.  Many of the other offal were placed in the scalding water to join the head and brains.  Very little if any at all of the pig was wasted although I do not specifically know what was the disposition of the penis, testicles or tail.  All other parts were identified and accounted for. I assume the missing parts ended up in the "stew pot".
Processing pig intestines
The processing of the pig was completed at the banana leaf tarp station.  Each of the various cuts and organs was weighed an cut to create 6 equal weight piles on the tarp.
The piles were then placed in individual plastic bags.  Duang and I decided to buy one of the bags - roughly 10 kilograms of meat for 500 Baht (22 pounds for $16.66 USD).  We kept a couple of the cuts and gave the remainder to Duang's mother out in Tahsang Village.  That night I sat down for dinner to enjoy my fresh, extremely fresh, pork chops knowing fully well, perhaps too well, where my pork chops had come from.
I am often impressed at the ability of the local peoples to make do with their limited resources be it weaving their own fishing nets, fish traps, cultivating rice, weaving their cloth, and so many other activities that demonstrate their independence as well as self reliance.  Raising pigs for sale and consumption is another one of those activities.  It was a experience that I had not had before except for the butchering of a rabbit in Rhode Island almost 40 years ago.
Like so many of other people from my old world, I was not knowledgeable, experienced or even cognizant of the activities that created so much of what I took for granted in my life.  Here in Isaan, in Allen's World, so much more is up close and personal.
It is here in Isaan, that I saw the answer to the question of "Where do pork chops come from?"
The phrases of "Squeal like a stuck pig" and "Bleed like a stuck pig" also have a deeper and greater significance to me than before. 

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