Eating the whole hog

Fat the pig at ReRide Ranch, outside Los Angeles.

Fat the pig is a Berkshire breed.

ReRide Ranch in Lake Hughes, Calif., was started in 1897.

Kai Ryssdal: I don't know the last time you were in an actual butcher shop as opposed to the meat section of your local grocery store, but butchering is back as foodies embrace the full use of the animal in question -- from nose all the way down to tail. Boutique butcheries are popping up that feature animals raised naturally and cuts of meat that extend well beyond chops and loins. Restaurants are in on the whole animal trend too. Maybe headcheese is going to replace cupcakes as the it-food? Or maybe not.

From the Marketplace Sustainability desk, Adriene Hill has the story.

Lefty Ayers: This pig is called Fat, the other one is Fatter.

Adriene Hill: Lefty Ayers raises pigs outside of Los Angeles at ReRide Ranch. He gives two of his Berkshire pigs, named Fat and Fatter, a little love.

Ayers: We pet them, they're like a couple big pets almost.

Ayers feeds his pigs natural foods. He avoids antibiotics. He fills their troughs with vegetables and dairy a nearby grocery store can't sell -- think outdated gallons of milk and wilted lettuce. The pigs have been good for business. Once chefs, butchers and food bloggers found out about his animals, which are high-end breeds, finished with acorns and prized by epicureans...

Ayers: It was kind of goofy, the way people were acting to us. I mean, we didn't know how to react. They say I'm a rock star. You know, it's like what does that mean, I'm a rock star? We've just got some pigs.

In a matter of days Fat, the pig, will be slaughtered. And wind up on the butcher table at McCall's Meat and Fish in Los Feliz, a hip neighborhood in Los Angeles. Store owner Nathan McCall did a little tweeting last time they had one of Ayers' pigs and...

Nathan McCall: We had a line down the block and we sold out in a matter of hours.

McCall's is one of a growing number of gourmet butchers opening around the country. The chop from Fat the pig will cost $18 a pound -- about three times as much as grocery store pork. McCall says his customers want, first and foremost, good food. It's hard to ever call meat really good for the environment -- it takes far more resources to grow animals than plants. But some customers come in thinking about sustainability. And there's a sense among dedicated meat eaters -- if you're going to eat meat, the most ethical way to do it is to eat all of the animal.

Chef Chad Colby teaches a pig butchery demonstration class at the L.A. restaurant Mozza.

Chad Colby: I just referred to it recently as pig tetris.

Tetris, like the computer game where you have to fit the pieces together. Pig tetris is coming up with ways to cook and sell all the parts of the pig. Some bits are easy: loin, belly. And then some are tougher: like the spine, feet, and tail.

Colby: I cook it all off the head and make what we call a nose-to-tail salami, and that becomes the pig tetris finale.

Entire pig eaten! At least the parts that are edible. Colby says he's able to cook and sell parts of the pig that factory farms turn into pet food. Of course, eating all the parts of an animal isn't new-new -- it's common in lots of the world. But it's novel to diners in the U.S., who are starting to think more about where food comes from, who want to know that their bacon started out as Fat the pig, raised by Lefty Ayers the farmer.

Andrew Freeman is a restaurant consultant.

Andrew Freeman: Chefs find it adventurous and fun. But it's really good for the environment and for ecologically to use the whole animal.

Whole animal eating is also sustainable in another way: it can be cheaper for restaurants and butchers than bringing in just parts, helping keep them in business.

I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

About the author

Adriene Hill is a senior multimedia reporter for the Marketplace sustainability desk, with a focus on consumer issues and the individual relationship to sustainability and the environment.

Fat the pig is a Berkshire breed.

ReRide Ranch in Lake Hughes, Calif., was started in 1897.

Log in to post7 Comments

This is definitely not new as David Spalding above suggests. I did this for several yrs when I lived in Ala. But as for feeding scraps to the hogs, in the South it is illegal (unless you re-cook everything.) I had a contract with several grocery stores, but in the end, I was too small time to purchase all the cooking equip. so I gave it up. I am sure that the butchers in the story inspect the hogs prior to sale etc. and are inspected regularly. The British Swine industry suffered enormous losses from farmers feeding "swill" to their hogs during the early 2000's.

At Beth Hartford-DeRoos: As a single mother and graduate student, I am always faced with this dilemma. Sustainability and humane treatment are very important to me. But more times than not I find myself being unable to purchase the meatsI want because the cost is so high. Kudos to you for keeping people like me in mind!


Like the Chinese's version of waste not want not, the feet are turned into delicious pickled pigs feet (a special treat for new mothers), and my Grandmother made a wonderful stew from pigs tail, lima beans, peanuts and black eye peas.

How conscious are the consumers at this Los Feliz shop when they don't slaughter their own food animals? Would these people want to eat Fat and Fatter, if they had met them and seen them killed? Pigs are smarter than dogs and just as loving and engaging. Meet your meat!

In spite of being a long-time semi-vegetarian, i have to take issue with the statement that it takes far more resources to produce animals than plants. While this is technically true, it omits a critical part of the equation: the energy that goes into sustainably raised animals produces more than just meat. Much of it is transformed into manure, which, used properly, is then transformed into vegetables. In fact the best way to create a sustainable food system is not to eliminate meat, but to incorporate it into a balanced cycle of production. So i'll let the meat-eaters delight in the head-to-toe salami, and i'll relish the thought of this summer's delicious manure-fed tomatoes!

The thing that concerns me is how some elitists are the ones getting the whole healthy meats that they can well afford, while the poor are expected to buy junk meat.

Thankfully where we live we can raise our own organic meat animals. Which we share with friends who are 'working poor'. I wont share with someone who is middle class or well off.

Thus I always encourage my rural peers to consider raising one or two extra hogs, lambs, steers, and share with church members, neighbors, elders whom you know are salt of the earth type people, but also not well off.

We have never ever wasted any part of the animal, and never will.

Also recommend the Current TV specials Kill It Cook It Eat It, for those who should know how to kill, slaughter and then cook various meat animals.

This is new? Maybe "what's old is new." Look up how scrapple is made, and from what, but don't do it before dinner. The olde Pennsylvania Dutch knew how to make something scrumptious (an acquired taste IMHO) from stuff you don't even want to see.

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