Charlie McManus of Primo Grill prepares to roast a whole pig.
Driving from the slaughterhouse in Kapowsin to Cheryl Ouellette’s farm in Summit one morning this month, it barely registered: dinner – 90 pounds of whole pig, freshly killed and USDA approved — was riding in the jump seat behind me.
On the way to the slaughterhouse two hours earlier, the pig, then 160 pounds and breathing, rode in a wooden crate in the back of Ouellette’s red Dodge pick-up truck. Now, with hair, blood and entrails removed, the pig, now pork, was wrapped in plastic and stuffed in a cardboard box about the size of a bag of golf clubs.
To me, at this time, this little piggy was nothing more than tomorrow’s dinner. Ouellette and I might as well have been returning from the supermarket with a load of pork chops, roasts and ribs. As we drove and enjoyed each other’s company, I pretty much forgot there was a dead pig behind me, a creature, now a product, whose body temperature was about the same as mine.
I love pork, but I had no feelings for this pig. I’d watched it die – a professional jolt of electricity on the top of its head ensured it wouldn’t feel the knife that would slit its throat. As life and blood drained from its body, the pig twitched. Don’t worry, Ouellette said, those are just muscle spasms.
Ouellette hand-raises and hand-feeds her pigs from birth. She says she has a real connection with her animals. This was the first time she had observed their slaughter at this facility, but she assured me the pig died humanely: The pig was out the moment two electric spikes jolted its skull.
I had been granted the privilege of watching this pig’s slaughter. I’d agreed not to take pictures or disclose the slaughterhouse’s name or exact location. For the purposes of this narrative, I’ll refer to the Caucasian slaughterhouse workers as John, and the Latino slaughterhouse workers as Juan.
Inside the slaughterhouse, Juan shepherded the pig through a narrow concrete chute. Juan grabbed the stunner – an imposing device that looks like a garden tool with electrified prongs. As if he was hammering nails into 2x4s, Juan raised the stunner and in a swift arc, he surely planted the prongs into the pig’s skull. Juan hit the stun button. The chute was too narrow for the pig to fall.
In what looked like one motion, Juan pulled the pig from the chute, grabbed a small knife and made a fast 3-inch incision in the pig’s throat. Blood rushed to the concrete floor. Juan hooked a chain around the pig’s left rear leg and hoisted it in the air, where the pig hung on the slaughterhouse’s pig-transport system, bleeding with four others. Juan hosed blood from the floor.
Next, another guy named Juan shepherded the pig into a large vat of hot water, where the pig soaked for 5 minutes to loosen its hair. After that, Juan maneuvered the pig into the tumbler – a large, bingo-like contraption in which pigs tumble like sneakers in the dryer as brushes beat the hair from their bodies. Then Juan hooked the pig through its hind legs and hung it for cleaning. With a long knife, Juan deftly removed remaining hair from the pig’s body.
From there, a guy named John hit the pig with a large blowtorch to remove any hair that the tumbler and Juan’s knife missed.
Then another guy named John shaved the pig’s face, ear cartilage and hair around the jowls that the blowtorch missed.
From there, the pig moved down the line to another guy named Juan, who made a quick vertical cut down the pig’s belly and removed its entrails. Another guy named John, a USDA inspector, inspected the steaming organs. The pig was approved.
Another guy named John hosed off the pig and moved it down the line. He returned in a few minutes and grabbed a hammer whose business end bore a stamp that said USDA approved. John tapped the purple dye into the pig’s left haunch. He took the pig into another room to be packaged.
As we waited for the pig to be brought out and placed in the jump seat of Ouellette’s Dodge pick-up, the owner of the slaughterhouse arrived. He was supposed to have met us earlier. It turns out he was ducking an inspector who was auditing some of his files. There are a lot of regulations and oversight in his business, said the slaughterhouse owner, who deals exclusively in pigs.
I thanked the slaughterhouse owner for letting me watch this pig become pork. He said he still wasn’t sure if he should have let a reporter in. I told him that if PETA ever asks, I’d tell them exactly what I encountered:
A pig that was raised with love died with what looked to be as little pain as possible.
The job was done professionally.
The pork was delicious.