More on Reviving Lost Skills

More on Reviving Lost Skills

Funny the way synchronicity works — I’ve been thinking a lot about how skills like learning to knit, or sew, or garden, or cook — skills some of our mothers (or in my case, my grandmother) discounted as being the kinds of skills that keep a girl tied to a domestic existence that stifles other opportunity — are for me a fulfilling way of refusing to cede control of my basic lifeskills to the corporate behemoths that seem to have taken over our lives. If I can sew a skirt, I’m not entirely beholden to clothes made in factories. If I can knit a sweater, I am not entirely beholden to some corporate entity for personal warmth. If I can put up my own pickles, I’m not relying on Clausen any more … none of this negates my existence as a cyber-worker, as a person who bought a new car a couple of years ago, as a person who still shops in stores and is in no way living off the grid. I just like knowing that if I have to, I can take care of some of my basic needs myself.

So this morning I pull up the SF Chronicle (another wonder of technology — I can read five newspapers a day) and Georgeanne Brennan has a really fabulous piece about how traditional pig-butchering celebrations are becoming, if not common, at least less of an anomaly than they once were:

The “day of the pig” also has renewed meaning now, when many people are concerned with the source of their food and with humane treatment of animals. Yes, there would be a slaughter, but it would be done with respect for the animal and the food it provides. Using every part of the animal – or as much as possible – would also show our respect for the life given. We would try not to waste a thing.

There’s a real value to keeping all these older skills alive, and in the case of the DIY crafts movement, to re-inventing them and making them hip and alive again. Skills like these brign us into contact with one another — there’s a reason knitting shops have become centers of community for many women (and some men) around the country. Keeping a garden gives me something to discuss with the folks at the farmer’s market in the summer, and because I produce more than I can eat, sharing food brings me into my community in ways I might not experience if I was simply buying all my food at the supermarket. Industrialized food production has been so successful at divorcing most of us from the animal and vegetable nature of our food that it’s no surprise to me that in much the same manner as the absolute conquest of wild nature caused Americans to go back and re-evaluate their relationship to and how they valued wilderness, that the success of industrial agriculture has spurred many of us to go back and re-evaluate our relationship to our food sources.

7 thoughts on “More on Reviving Lost Skills

  1. While we didn’t make a day of it, I have to say that the day our pigs were slaughtered really put food into perspective for us. No one believed we’d be able to do it (we couldn’t, that’s what the mobile slaughterhouse is for). Knowing that the pigs had a great life, ate fabulous food, got belly rubs and lots of room to run around and root in, that makes them taste even better. And knowing HOW they died is somehow comforting; they were eating tasty grain, and then they weren’t. No shocking, no yelling, just … gone.

  2. I find it interesting how squemish the thought of me killing an animal to eat is yet I have no problem with picking up a package of meat off of a shelf. I think if I were in a situation like Northwoods Baby, I too would have to hire someone to come in and “do the job” for me. I am looking into getting some hens for eggs and just the thought of perhaps having to cull one when it quits laying makes me jittery. Perhaps it is our overall value of life that makes it so hard to confront the thought. I recall reading somewhere that some religions require animal slaughter to be carried out in prescribed ways and overseen by a clergy person(for lack of a better term) to ensure that the animal was treated ethically so that the meat would be “clean” for human consumption. Anyone who knows more about this concept please speak up, because it is something I would like to learn more about regardless of what religion is in discussion. Please feel free to email me about it.

  3. Hi Kristi — both the Jewish and the Islamic dietary laws have very specific instructions for the proper slaughter of animals for meat — the Jewish laws are kosher, the Islamic ones halal — you might google for a little more info — i The Jew and the Carrot ( is an interesting blog written by folks who are trying to keep kosher while being conscious of where their food comes from– it’s a blog I just discovered but really like.
    I find the whole issue of squeamishness interesting — it’s not something I struggle with at all — I don’t know whether that’s a result of having dealt with the deaths of so many family members, or whether it’s from growing up around farms and livestock — the sheer number of dogs and horses that were “put down” during my childhood made it clear to me that we will always outlive our animals. What does make me upset is the treatment of meat animals as inanimate cogs in some industrialized production system — I really do feel that CAFOs are sinful — these aren’t widgets — they’re sentient beings who should be allowed to express their animal natures. Joel Salatin is my hero on this front —

  4. Your first paragraph is the perfect description of how I feel, too, which I didn’t realize until I read it. So thank you.

    I live in Bend, Oregon, which is a tourist town plopped in the middle of the desert, and every single thing here is imported from elsewhere — from the Willamette Valley or from China or what-have-you. I’m interested in learning how to live off this here land, this dusty lava rock, at least in a small, symbolic way, just as you describe… There’s a supposedly edible currant berry which grows in such quantities that I could supply myself with jam for a lifetime — but do you know how nervous it makes me to pick and can and eat a berry that NO ONE ELSE eats? I have until June to find someone, anyone, who is willing teach me how to successfully make jam out of that berry. I might have to go to the reservation to find that person!

  5. I don’t, but as long as it isn’t poisonous, jam shouldn’t be any problem. I use the recipe from the Fanny Farmer Cookbook (Marion Cunningham revision) — it’s not even really a recipe, it’s a ratio of how much sugar to fruit (4 cups sugar to 3 cups fruit). Ribes is the currant and gooseberry family, so it should be edible, but you’ll want to check. It might just not be very good — like Juneberries — they’re edible, but full of seeds and not the choicest (or mushrooms, there are a lot of edible ones that just aren’t great). But experiment and see how it goes …

  6. Regarding butchering chickens: it took me several years before I felt comfortable doing it, but now it’s not a problem for me. I handle them gently, kill them quickly, and treat them well for their entire lives (unless you count eating them as poor treatment). Knowing how they lived and died makes it remarkably easy for me to eat them.

    We hired the pigs out mainly because we’ve never done it before and worried about botching the job. Now that we know how to do it, we’ll *still* hire it out because it’s so insanely inexpensive ($36! for the whole job!!) and I like to support the local economy even as I subvert it a bit by not buying my meat at the local butcher. It all balances out, right?

    Schochets are the Jewish professionals who do the slaughtering. Muslims have an equivalent, who ensure meat is halal, but I’m not sure of their title. The job basically entails making sure the death is fast and as painless as possible. The animals and meat must also be inspected to make sure it adheres to food laws. I’m no shochet, but I do believe our animals die with a minimum of pain, and we absolutely respect and thank them for their lives.

    If you look around, you may be able to find places that will do the work for you. Some prison farms have programs (NERC in northern MN), and there may be mobile companies. But if you do some research, you can find very good illustrated instructions on how to do it from start to finish.

    Good luck!

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