“Of all the cast-off parts, I loved the bladder best. My mother washed it off in clean water, tied off the ureter with a double knot, and tossed it to me. […] Kid to kid, we hurled the bladder as hard as we could huck it, in hopes it would splatter and spill its pee on someone. No luck.”
That’s from Carla Funk’s story “Butchering Day,” or, in Low German, Schwein schlachter. Before the pigs’ heads were simmered, the “eyeballs had already been cut out and given to us to play with, our fingers working the stiffened lids and long lashes to make them blink like our own eyes.”
If you had land just outside of town, with room for a logging truck and a garage and shed or two, why wouldn’t you raise pigs? Grandparents, bachelor uncles, extended family and children came together one Saturday every fall, using every bit of the animal possible. Shot, scalded, scraped, organ meats inspected, then the pig was broken down into chops, roasts, ham and ribs. Boiled heads were for headcheese, Grandma using her sharpened paring knife to get “every scrap and shred of flesh and fat, […] every edible fleck found on that cooked skull. She’d mix the meat together with some of the hocks, adding salt, pepper, and spices, then let it set in pans like a jelly until firm and ready to slice.”
As well as playtime, young Carla had her work stations. “Into the cooker, the aunts dumped cubes of fat, and as the fat melted and rendered down to lard, I stirred with a long wooden stick to keep it from burning.” And next came sausage making. “As Mrs. Banman held open one end of the intestine at chest-height, my mother pored a stream of warm lye water from a pitcher. My job was to hold the other end of the intestine away from the ground.”
Surprising enough to enjoy playing with a bladder, a squishy ball, or eyeballs, like dismembered dolls’ heads, more weird, to me, was the “discount bin” pleasure of the bucket. “That bucket, full of the glibber and gristle and guts, was bound for the town dump, but until the uncles hauled it away, we kids were free to poke around in it.”
David Beers (2017) quotes Funk reflecting on the Mennonite religion and the Vanderhoof community: “Love your neighbour as yourself — that verse rang out in word and deed, from the meals dropped off at the home of a new widower to the communal work in the butchering shed, every family taking home a portion of the lard, the sausage, the headcheese and the hams.”
Her mom still lives there, “raising the chickens that end up in our freezer, growing the garden that we gratefully eat.”
Google Mennonite and pigs/swine and you find some interesting articles. Gary Comstock (1992) asks, very seriously, “Is it in God’s will to raise and eat pigs?”
Comstock says, “In the conclusion to a book called Is There A Moral Obligation to Save the Family Farm?, I argued in 1987 that mixed farms are the most politically viable institution for meeting obligations concerning food production, rural economies, and future generations. […]I did not know what to say about the practice of raising and slaughtering animals, the cornerstone of the family farm’s economy. I was sure that factory farms were not the answer because it is clearly inhumane to confine four chickens to floorless cages and to keep anemic veal calves in narrow chutes.”
Having recently become a Mennonite and then a vegetarian, Comstock is torn about the practice of eating meat. He concludes, “I have tried to write concretely, telling you my story about my particular religious pieties, and my evolving attitude toward pigs. Philosophical considerations moved me to give up meat, but the environmental and theocentric perspective that warrants my view now is different from the animal rights one with which I began.
“My position is somewhat softer now, and does not amount to an absolute proscription against the taking of animal life. Yet, I regret to say, it offers little moral support to those farmers struggling to hold onto their land by raising animals to be led to slaughter.”
Funk says, “Though our clan was not as Mennonite as most, we held onto certain customs and beliefs with a death grip – most of them having to do with God and food – and pig butchering was one of them.”
Conflicts of Interest
The author grew up in a Mennonite darp (village), established circa 1874, (East Reserve, AKA Steinbach) but was sent to church with the neighbours, as our parents declined to attend. When the neighbours got annoyed and switched churches, as Mennonites tend to do, we kids switched too. Pork, including Farmer Sausage (Winkler brand is the best) continues to be a staple of her LCHF lifestyle.
Beers, D. (2017.)“Change Takes a Long Time in Small Towns and Human Hearts.” Memoirist Carla Funk talks about coming of age in Vanderhoof, “Full of logging trucks and God.” The Tyee. From https://thetyee.ca/Culture/2017/09/06/Vanderhoof-Small-Change/
Comstock, G. (1992.) “Pigs and Piety: A Theocentric Perspective on Food Animals.” From https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6a32/72f8d111e02bc5c66ac58d6ed941cc5cd9cb.pdf
Funk, C. (2019.) Every little scrap and wonder. A small-town childhood. Greystone Books. Vancouver.
Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum. Mennonite Life. “Hog Butchering : An all but gone Mennonite Tradition.” From https://www.goesselmuseum.com/hog-butchering
One thought on “Hangry February 16, 2020 Play with your food”