We take for granted how cheap and available meat is to all of us. Yesterday a group of four Burmese men—people who have fled their country for a better life in America came to our house to butcher a hog.
Preparing the meat for their holiday feast is an important ritual to them. It was something they would do back in their homeland. It is obviously a custom they wanted to share with their families here in America.
Working with them was an interesting study of how these guys coming from a developing society view food compared to us. Their culture relies on rice, vegetables and fruit to provide their needed calories and nutrition. They want to eat more meat, but can’t afford it.
Only one of them—Albert—speaks English. He worked in packing plants when he first came to America. He quickly learned to speak English and now is an interpreter in the school district his children attend.
“Thank You” seemed to be the only words of English the others new. They used those words often. Working with them provoked a great deal of thinking for Daryl and myself.
The sterile environment that packers use to process the meat that ends up in a grocery store was a far cry from this.
They started working in the grass, not wanting to impose on us more than they had. We moved them to an old tarp and they went to work. They started to boiled water in a pot out in the open air, not to clean their tools, but to remove the hair from the hog. It was a slow process until I started boiling water on the stove in the house.
I suspect people used to boil more water when getting ready to deliver a baby at home. They didn’t let even a drop of the water go to waste.
This was a low-tech operation. They did it all by hand—using tools that made Crocodile Dundee’s knife look like a pocket knife. They used our hay hooks to pull the pieces apart while one of them made very précised cuts through the meat, separating muscle and bone into manageable pieces. They washed these pieces with a garden hose, and wouldn’t hear of us bringing more water from the house.
Vegans and those pushing a vegetarian lifestyle will try to scare you into believing that there is a huge issue with fecal matter infecting your food. These guys had no such fear. They used both the large and small intestines. They turned both inside out using a stick from a weed growing near by.
I guarantee none of them will be sick even though fecal matter was within a couple of feet of the rest of the meat. They were reasonably careful and everything got rinsed—with the garden hose—before they packed it away. And I’m sure they know how to properly cook food to eliminate the chance of illness. Something else we seem to have lost here in America.
They started at 4 p.m. and were done by 7:30, everything packed in coolers—even the head and feet. It was backbreaking work done in temperatures that were dropping toward the freezing mark.
This hog died a good death and became the Christmas dinner for people who do not have the means to partake of fresh meat often. They truly appreciated this animal in letting nothing go to waste. Only a small amount of connective tissue was left behind.
Things we would never touch like the pancreas, stomach, intestines and kidneys were all saved to become some delicacy in their Christmas feast.
Even though we didn’t know the words, we caught on to a few jokes they told, the way the razzed each other when one of them messed up. Albert kept telling us things of their traditions as they went along and of their lives here in America.
The whole experience made me more thankful for how easy it is to eat in our country. How rich we are that we can let so much go to waste. It also made me thankful that our world is small enough that we crossed paths with these men who could put so many things clearly in perspective.
Note: The Burmese come here as refuges fleeing a hard line government. They work hard to learn our language and customs, but because of their circumstances they’re very private. These guys drove almost 6 hours to come here because they don’t know any hog or cattle farmers around Garden City, Kan. If you know of someone out here who would be willing to sell them a hog, steer or heifer from time to time or donate one and allow them to process it at your place please let us know. We’re glad to have them, but we know it’s a hardship for them to travel this far.
Ten years later: the rest of the story - This morning I found myself in a reflective mood thinking back to mid-July 2008 and one of the most hectic weekends of my life. I blogged about it at the t...