“This contains images that you might find disturbing”
All photos taken in 2011
Pork is big business here. Hardly a meal appears without its presence in one form or other. Every week I see the trucks packed with strangely quiet pigs, perhaps intuiting their demise at the slaughterhouse. There is an abattoir in Atzeneta tucked at the back and around the corner from my builder’s yard.
Early one morning in 2011 I drove to the front of it, then parked. It was 7am and I was waiting for my builder. Sick of waiting up at the casita for someone who never arrived, I decided that if the builder would not come up to my mountain, then I would come down to him. Early. Before he departed to someone else’s project. I had more than a few bones to pick with him.
The light was beautiful and made even the low-lying grey “barracks” look soulful, albeit in a menacing way. A low murmur of banging and whirring machinery seeped from the building, followed by what sounded like the forceful spray of a fireman’s hose. Ricardo, my builder drove up to the gates of his yard and I turned away from the abattoir and walked towards him. At that point an eerie plaintive wailing rose from what appeared to be inside the abattoir. It was human in its essence, echoes bouncing off what was obviously a vast, hard surfaced interior. The resonance of the unified cries made it seem as if all the pigs that had ever passed through there were crying. The dead, those being slaughtered, and those about to be.
I shuddered. I am certainly not a vegetarian, but being confronted with the bare reality of how my food comes to the table was disconcerting. Yet, at the same time, I felt that maybe it would be more honest to face this process front on. After all, pork loin does not start its life in plastic wrapped polystyrene containers with flabby bits of sopping paper placed underneath.
Many years ago a practicing Buddhist worked briefly for me as a gardener. Gerry was truly the laziest person I have ever met in my life. He also had a bizarre way of practicing his religion in that he ate poultry. Buddhists are supposed to be strict vegetarians. They are not even supposed to kill a fly. Gerry found a nest of mice in the drawer of his kitchen table and let it live there, but he could not resist the pleasure of chicken. “Its alright though”, he told me, “for I kill the bird myself”. It was probably the most work he ever did in his life.
At the time I laughed, but now, as I passed Atzeneta’s abattoir, his words came to me with new force. Finally I understood their weight. Gerry meant he was facing his actions full on and not being a hypocrite. I decided then and there that I would try to discover all the processes a pig goes through before it comes to our plates.
Luckily I was given permission by “Embutidos Centelles” in Atzeneta to photograph the pig’s final journey in both the slaughterhouse and the butcher’s shop. There were a number of hiccups, including being turned away by an angry vet in a blood soaked apron at the abattoir. Nevertheless, a detailed photo study was finally finished. What started out as yet another little story for my blog was not so little anymore. It took on a life of its own, some photos were even used by the BBC. I created a working title, “From the farm to the plate – the journey of a Spanish pig”. Unfortunately not a farm in El Maestrat would let me in so I called that bit a day. It occurred to me that maybe this fragment of their lives was not so pristine. For sure passing a pig farm is not an olfactory delight.
I must say that having spent a considerable amount of time in the butcher’s shop and some in the “matadero” with the “carniceros”, I was very impressed with the cleanliness of the operations from beginning to end. Not that it was easy to stomach. At least there were no screaming pigs as I wrote about above. In fact I now wonder whether I had been the victim of a rather over-active imagination. Either that, or they were on their toes when I was there. That aside, so thoroughly are the animals bled, plucked and boiled that I am surprised any nutrition is left in them at all.
In the past I eyed pig trotters and offal with its related products somewhat suspiciously. Sausages could make me quite queasy, not to mention black pudding. What about those large cured hams you see standing unprotected in Spanish bars, a knife at the ready besides them? I would not say that I am entirely comfortable with pork in all its forms yet, but I am definitely more reassured that a pig is unlikely to kill me. Irony intended by the way, for of course it is man who does the killing. I swear that the pigs I photographed in the holding pen of the abattoir looked at me, knowing what was to come…
I do realize that the subject matter is very sensitive so I am publishing this in two more blogs – one in the abattoir and the other in the butcher’s shop. That way you can choose not to go there! Many of the photos are more disturbing than those here.
With a big thanks to Rufino for allowing me unrestricted access to his first-rate shop “Embutidos Centelles” – elaboracion artesana, Avenida Castello 1, Tel 964370062
For a gallery of photos click here