It was following the great Violet Beauregarde incident of 1982 that I
first came face to face with the reality of pork. As my aunt struggled
to free my hair of chewing gum I had lodged behind my left ear, I sat
and stared, pale and wide eyed at the steaming plate of pig’s trotters
I don’t have a memory of what they were doing there exactly. They were
plonked, in the middle of the table as you would a bowl of chips. Not a
meal, but something to pick at. I remember as I later gazed at my
lopsided new haircut and greenish pallor in the mirror, that I would
never see pork the same way again.
I don’t know why this shocked me so. As a child I remember seeing
plucked chickens that my Nonna had herself dispatched, dangling from the
washing line in the moonlight, patting rabbits destined for the pot, and
helping with the pig carcass that hung waiting to become cacciatore,
cotechini and more.
Sausage making day in particular was eye opening, and real. I learnt
about the origins of food by getting my hands dirty. Into tubs of pigs
intestines we thrust our hands to pick out the slippery casings. As
children we watched our parents and grandparents hoist the pigs body up
high, helped set up the mincer and cut up lemon wedges to cleanse the
casings. We all tried our hand at making a sausage.
I come back to these conflicting experiences to help explain my
relationship with food, and to the pig.
Perhaps it was the wobbly, white flesh I objected to. Coarse, tasty
sausages; fresh, dried or preserved in rendered lard from the same beast
might be more appetising. I can still sense the sneaky thrill of tasting
a fresh sausage that had been cooked up to “test” the balance of spice
and salt in the mixture.
Perhaps it was the pale, rubbery skin. Though now one of my favourite
kinds of sausage is Cotechini, made from skin, fat and a little offal.
Rich and gelatinous, if you are lucky this meal would also include small
rolls of skin, secured with a toothpick like some macabre canape, all
cooked in the red sauce. Want.
It was probably the pigginess of it all. They were feet. Hard to get
past that as a fact. Despite having seeing the pig’s head in a pot, the
liver resting on a plate in the refrigerator and the bones being used to
flavour sauce, the trotters jarred me to the point of refusing pork for
a while. I got over it, obviously.
I now take on the task of teaching my children about the origins of
their food. It is so easy to avoid the subject of meat especially when
you must field questions like “Mummy, do real chickens make the chicken
we eat?” Hmmm. We’re getting there, but I do pine for these family food
traditions that teach hands on. These grainy old photos are of sausage
making days gone by in my family. The memories have been fun to share.
These experiences have contributed to my desire for a food system where
the animal is treated with care and dedication, and respected in the end
by eating it all. Even the feet.