There are so many parts of meat processing and animal body parts that we just don't see, and most of the time we don't want to see. They don't come nicely sterilised in bland colours, sitting on a manky bit of absorbent cushioning (the dreaded sanitary towel) in the supermarket. But why do we struggle to face up to these things? Is it because rather than a pale, lifeless piece of meat, we can actually recognise parts of ourselves in them? Are these bloody organs just too familiar? In Jonathan Safran Foer's book 'Eating Animals' he puts this very aptly - 'at stake in the question of eating animals is not only our basic ability to respond to setnient life, but our ability to respond to parts of our own (animal) being...Whether we look away from the animal, our plate, our concern, ourselves or not, we are exposed. Whether we change our lives or do nothing, we have responded.'
That is actually a pretty big confrontation in our cosy, sterile modern lives. Seeing these parts of an animal therefore becomes uncomfortable. Normally we choose to look away and ignore the things that are harder to see, searching for alternatives that are presented in a more 'aesthetically pleasing' way.
When I was in Tuscany we made the most wonderful soppressata. This is made using all the 'leftover' bits from the pig. In went the full head, along with any other off cuts and organs that weren't going to be used for anything else. The satisfaction of seeing the efficiency of this process soon took over any kind of squeamish thoughts. Soppressata is also known as 'head cheese' which frankly I think sounds revolting. Normally the head is boiled along with the heart, tongue and kidneys. The meat is then packed down into a sausage or block, and seasoned with salt and spices. The end result is delicious - even if the contents boiling in the pan don't look so hot.
We have the power to look away from these things, but I wonder if we are simply abusing our power to our very own detriment? We are happy to be slightly more adventurous with our food choices in restaurants, as we absent-mindedly pick from the menu and minutes later a beautiful plate of food is presented in front of us. Crispy pigs head croquettes - easy to tuck into, but perhaps not one you fancy trying in your own kitchen with its snout poking out of your saucepan.
Sometimes I have conversations about this process and I feel like I'm being an irritating little fly that needs swatting away. I've learned it's because some people find this conversation with me uncomfortable. It makes them question their own responses and judgements, which much of the time they really can't be bothered to do. It makes life more difficult because it upsets the status quo.