Pig Butchery

Nick Maxwell of Nostrana removes the head of the pig

The kitchen tucked into the International Culinary School of Portland is swollen—quiet. People are stacked on barstools, swirling their stemless glass of pinot noir to ease the tension. To-be chefs of the culinary program are skittering through the crowds, dropping plates of porchetta stuffed with Swiss chard and pine nuts beside each place setting.

At the front of the kitchen, Executive Chef Cathy Whims of Nostrana has the sleeves of her camouflage turtleneck folded, a sort of impatient grin on her face. Beside her, Nostrana’s butcher Nick Maxwell is hammering a thick machete into the spine of pig. Guests watch, take a bite of the delicious fatty rim of the pork loin, and enjoy it. Love it.

But there’s a distraction. A man is waltzing around the room, sneering at the pig carcass splayed open on the center table and at the guests who are carefully comparing the tastes of porchetta made from pigs of three different local farms—Laughing Stock, Tails & Trotters, and Sweet Briar Farms.

The man turns, his eyes squinting from the severe camera light. “I am here at Livestock: the marriage of authors, butchery and culinary art…” He pauses. “These people get it, but I just don’t.”

The room is swollen—quiet. The reporter brings spitfire Anna Sachse, a freelance writer chosen to read as part of yesterday’s Livestock: The Butchery of a Pig event, before the camera. She recites a couple lines from her essay, F**ing Vegetarian.

The reporter’s heard enough. As he beelines for the door, he proudly proclaims something like, “You guys are watching a pig get cut up while eating a pig,” shaking his head. “I don’t want to know where my meat comes from!”

And he’s gone. The room is swollen—and buzzing. Lisa Donoughe, founder of this unique carnivorous tribute, wipes her brow. “Well! I bet we’re the first ever live pig butchery on the news!”

I’m irked at first. I picture this man sinking his teeth into a McRib sandwich, licking the stickiness from his fingers, and shudder. Here I am, in the core of what it means to be a conscientious meat eater. I’ve got Paul Atkinson, owner of Laughing Stock Farms, in front of the room explaining on one hand, how hard it is for local farmers to achieve sustainability, and on the other, how he recycles expired local dairy products as feed for his pigs, and follows each animal from birth to butcher to client.

I’ve got Camas Davis, food writer, former food editor of Portland Monthly, and the founder of the Portland Meat Collective—a soon-to-be network of Portlanders who can purchase meat from local farms in a cost-effective way—chiming in with helpful tips on storing whole and half hogs.

There’s a woman in back who works as a butcher, and a man to the left that has ambitions to turn Portland’s grass farmlands into bean crops to sell as feed. The pot is filled deep with food writers. Winemakers. Environmental activists.

And here I am, an intern at Portland Monthly who’s just sticking my toes into this teeming water body that is the Food World, and I get it.