From Sty to Stew: Understanding Hyper-Local Food Systems

You’ve never slaughtered a pig before?” Alia said as he shot me an incredulous look.

I shook my head.

“It’s easy!” he said. “Here, you can give it a try.” Alia offered me the glinting, foot-long machete in his hand.

My heart pounded in my ears as I looked at the 100-pound, squealing pink pig in front of me. I told him, in what I hoped was a nonchalant way, that I would just watch this time and maybe try the next one.

Alia shrugged his shoulders, turned to the pig, and with a swift jerk plunged the machete into the pig’s soft flesh and through its ribs.

After the pig is bled out and the workers are dragging the animal away to be butchered, I kick myself for not taking Alia up on his offer. After all, I did come to Thailand to understand a way of eating that is different from the industrial model I am familiar with in the United States.

On a quest to investigate a hyper-local food system, I find myself on Amee Doyer’s Organic Farm in Northern Thailand. I’ve connected with Alia, the owner of the farm, through an organization called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOF allows people who want to learn about sustainable growing practices to connect with farmers around the world. In exchange for long days of farm work, Alia provides me with food and a room.

For the rest of the day Alia’s question rings in my head: “You’ve never slaughtered a pig before?” His disbelief jolted me. As I ponder his question, I realize that in fact, I’ve never even seen an animal killed until today. This doesn’t make sense to him because everyday at the dinner table I eat meat with his family. For Alia, he must slaughter an animal before it is consumed. For me, I simply buy it pre-packaged at the store.

Alia, a refugee from Burma, has never bought pre-packaged meat in his life. He has never heard of a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation where most of my meat comes from at home. In this hyper-local food system, consuming meat means slaughtering the animal first. For me, eating meat means buying a package neatly marked with weight and price at the supermarket. The idea that the animals I eat were once alive is so disconnected for me that when I do see an animal killed, I am in utter shock.

As I watch the farmers remove the pig’s organs one by one, it surprises me that the countless times I have consumed pork in my life I never connected the idea of pork with the image of a live pig. The industrial food system I am part of has created such a disconnect in my head that even as a life-long omnivore, I have never truly understood that at one point the animal I am eating was as alive as I am right now.

Later that night, Alia passes me a bowl of stew, which includes pig liver, intestine, and boiled blood. I eat my bowl with satisfaction and a new-found sense of respect for myself as an omnivore and for the animal I am eating.

The fundamental difference between the meat I eat at home and the meat I eat here is that this animal was cared for and respected from the moment it was born to the moment it passes through my lips. I know exactly where this food came from and that makes every meaty morsel even more delectable.

Photo Supplement: From Sty to Stew

The pigs are the farm are cared for every day.  There are several farm workers whose sole job is to mix food for and feed the pigs.

Several of the farmers at the farm clean and cut the pig up into parts.  Almost none of the pig is wasted slaughtered.

2 thoughts on “From Sty to Stew: Understanding Hyper-Local Food Systems

  1. Pingback: The Hypocritical Vegetarian on Butcher Shops in Kathmandu | Epic Asia Travel

  2. Shanna Schultz

    Thank you for your article. I am traveling to Thailand in a couple weeks, while I was already filled with great anticipation for the great local foods that I am going to try, this piece gives me a new appreciation for the huge disparity between the local food systems of less developed countries like Thailand to our highly developed and prepackaged food system in the US.

    It opened my eyes and has given me new appreciation for what I will be seeing on our trip.


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