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Eating the whole hog

Adriene Hill May 19, 2011

Eating the whole hog

Adriene Hill May 19, 2011

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 He fills their troughs with vegetables and dairy a nearby grocery store can’t sell — think outdated gallons of milk and wilted lettuce.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.

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