On a recent morning in Portland, Ore., Camas Davis was teaching nine high-school kids how to butcher a pig. A 17-year-old named Mady called dibs on the front trotter, slicing through the skin near the pig’s ankle, then using a hand saw to cut through the bone. Nathan, 15, moved up the leg and worked through the hock, while Karina, 16, eyed the shoulder. Pushing up the sleeves of her red cardigan, she placed her blade between the fifth and sixth ribs, scored the flesh, then gave the knife a long pull, separating the shoulder from the carcass, but leaving intact the coppa — a muscle around the pig’s neck — in case anyone wanted to roast it.
The kids were wearing aprons over their jeans. When it wasn’t their turn to butcher, they gossiped and texted friends photos of the dead pig, which was splayed out on a jigsaw of white cutting boards, its head sitting nearby, gazing on; its eyelids had been sliced off during an inspection for parasites. On a counter, industrial plastic bins were marked: bellies, loin/chops, shoulders/roasts, hams, bones/trotters/hocks. The students took turns removing the pig’s feet and breaking the animal down into four “primals”: shoulder, loin, belly and ham. Then Davis stepped in to show them how to butcher it into the cuts they’d seen at the grocery store and the ones they hadn’t. She picked up a leg, peeling off the skin with her blade, removing the “H-bone,” and then turned it toward her students. “Instead of muscling through this,” she said, “I’m going to use the tip of my knife to feather through the fascia,” the pig’s connective tissue. Davis held the knife in a butcher’s grip and delicately separated the muscle groups to reveal a roast. “Now it’s your turn.”
Butchery is a new course being offered by the Oregon Episcopal School, an independent preparatory academy that prides itself on “inquiry-based learning.” Each year, the week before spring break, called Winterim, is reserved for experimental education projects. Some students go dog-sledding in Minnesota. Others play Dungeons & Dragons or opt for an intensive course in the art of hat-making. Recently, an English teacher at the school, Kara Tambellini, read an article about the Portland Meat Collective and proposed a course on butchery.
And so Davis, who has taught butchery to mothers and young professionals, to beer brewers and bike messengers, but never to high schoolers, devised a weeklong curriculum that covered the basics. This included a field trip on a Friday, when she took the students to a local farm to meet and select a pig, whom they named Wilbur and then, realizing she was female, renamed Wilburess.
Read the whole article. It’s four pages long and wanders in interesting fashion through all the turns of animal protein and being a student charged with learning about butchering. Along the way you will bump into a fair piece of discussion about how alienated we are about our food – as individuals and as a society.
I don’t mean to offend the vegetarians and vegans who read my blog. Over the years, I’ve been through a number of discussions you will find in this article. I’d like to encourage some reflection in general about where our food comes from is all.