A halved pig hangs from the ceiling, held by meat hooks. Enhanced by austere concrete and steel banisters, the scene has an almost grotesque, industrial feel to it. The unusual aesthetic does not seem to intimidate the spectators, who crowd around the cordoned off working area of the butchers. Some stare incredulously, others almost giddy, while a few observe the event with an intensity that suggests they want to make a statement by watching.
Michael Hetzinger, press officer for the Berlin Food Week, admits that a certain atmosphere was created on purpose in order to confront city dwellers with the reality of their own food, and to visualize the dichotomy between eating one animal, while housing and loving another. It is not the only dichotomy however, which this event brings to the surface. Frank Lüske, owner of Biolüske, an organic store in Berlin and customer of the butchers at work, talks about the tension between profitability and consciousness. “For our business it would be great if each customer bought ten kilo of meat a day, but even though we of course want to make profits, that is not our goal.” He is of the opinion that if one decides to eat meat, it should at least be good meat. But many people don’t want to make the sacrifice, which comes with better and thus more expensive meat: Less consumption.
Just like Lüske’s livestock, which is raised in fresh sea air on Mecklenburg- Vorpommern, the pig at hand was raised in conditions, which most farmed animals will never be granted. Four days before the event and after a final, restful night sleeping on hay and eating organic and GMO- free feed, the pig, which is now hanging from the ceiling, was slaughtered. Soon, its meat will be sold in packages and served on plates, and the fewest meat lovers will see the pig in its original form before their mind’s eye whilst enjoying their meal.
Today however, the spectators are told a different story. In the course of two hours, the butchers and a few volunteers cut up the animal into the shapes and sizes familiar to us. The process begins even before the animal is touched: Butchers and volunteers put on chainmail gloves that gives the workers an almost knightly appearance and hints at the native and inherent nature of the work. The knives and saw used to dissect the pig offer a proximity that would hardly be possible if the work was done by machines. But it is exactly because of this, that one can see the pig itself slowly become a range of quickly identifiable and consumable products.
The butchers start with the nose and the head, which can be cooked entirely into liverwurst. They move down the shoulder, which is more muscular and less fatty making a good substance for bratwurst. Next is the stomach and back, which are separated from the spine with a large and grating saw. The back is extremely fatty and can be used to make lard, while the stomach yields a tender and fatty filet or tenderloin when separated from the spine. We learn that this cut is particularly tender, since this muscle is used for posture. Because the pig was not forced into a cramped stall but rather kept on open pastures, this sirloin will be better than any large-scale livestock farming product. When animals can’t move the meat takes on a more watery taste.
The ribs are cut perpendicularly into pork chops, the butt end yields a ham, the hocks what is referred to in Germany as “Eisbein”. Finally the tailbone, often used in sauces, is removed. We, the audience, have experienced food from “Head to Tail”. After the leaner meat is spiced and run through a grinder and pressed into intestine casings, the pig ceases to be and the space that once seemed so industrial is instead filled with a spiced aroma of fried fat and meat. The grotesque is turned into the luxurious, disgust transforms into delight. The crowd, which had originally been drawn by the grotesque spectacle, had thinned during the actual process but was now returning in numbers to try the finished product.
Personally, I feel much more satisfied having watched every single explicit detail of the process. I am aware now that what I eat is not just a sausage; it’s an animal’s shoulder. The tension and contradiction is now resolved and I have a more personal understanding of what I would before have greedily shoved into my mouth. It’s no longer grotesque, but simply makes me more appreciative of what I eat.