Portland, Oregon, consistently ranks as one of America's greenest cities. Environmentally friendly lifestyle choices are everywhere, and especially in the way locals eat. Farmers markets pop up on city corners throughout the year. The best menus in town tout the virtues of “locavore” cuisine. And the idea of farm-to-table eating extends far beyond buying organic vegetables: for carnivores, sometimes it means coming face-to-face with your meat before it appears on your plate.
Portland's first annual Livestock Festival, which took place over two nights in November, paired live demonstrations of whole-hog and cow butchery with another Portland cultural favourite: literary readings about food politics.
"It's butchery in the context of art," said Lisa Donoughe, executive producer of Livestock. About 50 people came to see Cathy Whims, executive chef of Nostrana in Portland and a 2009 James Beard Award Finalist, and her restaurant's butcher, Nick Maxwell, as they artfully—and almost respectfully—sawed the head and trotters off a 70-pound gutted Yorkshire-Berkshire pig, while three west-coast writers offered wildly different perspectives on the idea of animal flesh. (One essay, titled "Fucking Vegetarian", came from an apologetic herbivore.)
An overhead camera projected images from the small kitchen on to two large screens in the back of the room, giving guests a close-up view of how one very cute pig becomes ham, pork belly and ribs, complete with use of hacksaw, mallet and an array of butcher's knives. The process is surprisingly loud but bloodless.
"Locavores want to move beyond produce into thinking about meat, where it comes from, and how they can be a responsible part of the farm-to-table process," Donoughe said after the event. "I feel like there are lots of opportunities to attend lectures and discussions, but by creating an experience that was both art and literary yet real and in-your-face, seeing a whole pig butchered live, it would force a deeper conversation to happen."
And while the literary readings provided a diverting background to the butchery (like a foodie "Eyes Wide Shut"), the heart of the evening was really an affecting presentation of an animal as it was handed from the farmer who raised it to the butcher who prepared it to the consumers who devoured it. For the record, it was delicious.
Image credit: twicepix (via Flickr)