I bought a pig.
I convinced Lily to buy one, too. Hehe.
It all started because I was tired of getting hassled at the meat counter at Whole Foods. It was hit or miss as to who would be filling my pyrex container, if he would sigh, roll his eyes, sprinkle some meat into my container, versus really packing it in there and offering encouraging support. Plus, you can’t always know where the meat is coming from, and I wanted to support my local food producers.
There are the vegans, vegetarians, and even omnivores out there who will argue correctly that eating meat is hard on the environment. It is! Our family, however, eats meat, and this post shows how we’ve now chosen to do it. I believe this way has less of an impact than commercial meat production: the meat is produced locally, outside, humanely, and in an organic and biodynamic way, without plastic packaging.
Two towns over lives a custom butcher shop. When I walked in, the familiar aroma of a real meat shop greeted me. It smelled just like the meat lab at Chico State where I studied Animal Science. Big Jim, with his bald head and bar handle mustache, the smell of concrete floors moist from being cleaned, fat, smoked meats. I half expected someone to come behind me and jab their fingers in my ribs and update me on how thick my backfat was today. Jim loved to say, “Its not sexual harassment. Its just plain harassment!” and laugh like he always did at his own recycled jokes and stories. He would smell sweet of red man tobacco.
Anyway, this place was like that. I had read online that Bud’s Custom Meats wrapped their custom slaughter in butcher paper, rather that plastic vacuum seal bags, and I was on a mission to obtain some for myself. They hooked me up with Clark Summit Farms, a family farm that raises commercial and heirloom breeds of livestock on pasture near the Marin-Sonoma county line. It was slaughtered at Marin Sun Farms, another local business, and finally, cut and wrapped per my specifications at Bud’s.
I asked for everything from that carcass. Of course I was excited to have my holiday ham and breakfast bacon on hand, but I wanted all of it. My mother’s boyfriend is starting an interest into patéééé making, so he got our liver and caul fat. His friend wanted the pig heads, I’m assuming for head cheese. The organs would make for interesting culinary experiments or to Lily’s mom for dog food. I wanted bones for stock. They even gave me the tail! I have no idea what I’m going to do with it, but it was a pleasant reminder that my pig had a tail, and hadn’t been docked at the farm– usually necessary when raising pigs in confinement.
I also got packages of fat. I had said yes to the fat when they asked if I wanted it. I didn’t have a plan for it, but when I unloaded it into our freezer, it occurred to me that I had a bunch of FAT! Jeez.
Okay, so I have this pig because I don’t want plastic and can’t eat beef. Then I also painted myself into the corner with this no palm oil thing, and soaps and personal care products were all of a sudden a bug a boo in our household. Here was my answer!! In the FAT!!
Here I’d been purchasing expensive coconut oil alternatives to palm oil products to make my own laundry soap. I was buying hand soap and shampoo and bulk with my own jars. Somehow, this switch from palm oil wasn’t feeling right when it made me turn to other high-demand fats. I began to worry about the coconut oil industry and the impacts it has on the environment. You can see where one could go with this train of thought and it isn’t pretty.
Anyway, fat from animals if often discarded to the rendering plant. Here was a surplus from my pig and it was made locally!
I decided to make soap! Again, other’s have made soap before me and there were ample resources at my online fingertips. I posted the links to the ones I used below.
I learned how to render lard from my pig fat. Then I used a soap calculator to measure my yielded lard. I used lye, and I didn’t blow anything up! I used some pretty-smelling essential oils to mask any piggy smell I wasn’t sure it would or wouldn’t have.
So it was a crude micro-experiment in my kitchen during nap time, and I was pleasantly surprised that in the end, I had something resembling soap in shape, smell, and texture! I’m far from completely replacing all of my soap needs, but its a start.
I’m laughing, because I’m now even more excited about all of the potential in my pork fat than I am about the bacon! Well, okay, maybe not the bacon, it is bacon after all, but you get it.
Some basic soap making how-tos I used:
This is video on soap making with lard. If you want to know just how much I geeked out when I cut my soap, watch this… its a pretty equitable exhibit.