Forgive the dereliction of duty–it’s been longer than intended since my last post for our One Book One Marin pick. Continuing on with the theme of the dangerous–or more painful–side of farming, we come to the fate of Big Guy and Little Girl.
Novella Carpenter does a wonderful job of pulling us in; she takes us from the beginning of her pig-raising adventure at the 4-H auction where she acquires Big Guy and Little Girl, to her various dumpster-diving forays in order to satiate the pigs’ voracious appetites. We follow Big Guy as he breaks free more than once from his pen to trot his ways towards a busy intersection, only to eventually be corralled back to his pen by helpful neighbors. In short, we laugh, snort, and begin to enjoy the pigs just as Novella does the same.
At the same time, Novella never ceases to remind herself (or us) that the pigs are, ultimately, for eating. Her musings on what pieces of the pig will make for what cut of meat, as well as what type of food to feed the pigs for the best flavor, remain matter-of-fact and unsentimental. She doesn’t kid us with sappy affection; this is a tough, urban-farming woman who’s trying to raise her own dinner.
Still, one of the most difficult parts of the book to read occurs when we witness the cruel, rather blatant disregard with which Sheila, the butcher, treats Big Guy and Little Girl’s last few remaining moments. We know that Novella is incredibly interested in being through as much of the process of pig-butchering as possible; we know that she had planned to ask Sheila a number of questions related to the process. We know that she wanted to find the most humane, respectful way to kill the pigs because she’s a decent person with a heart. In short, we know that this moment, after months of raising the pigs (which took an enormous amount of sweat and dedication), was incredibly important and meaningful to Novella. And then blonde-haired, impossible-to-reach Sheila dashes all her hopes with one careless hack job. My sympathy went out more towards the pigs, whose last moments I couldn’t and didn’t want to imagine–they had so trustingly piled off of Novella’s truck and into the cold warehouse, than Novella. I was glad though, to see the rage that Novella expressed upon learning of Sheila’s actions. I was also glad that throughout her whole pig-raising experience, but particularly in the post-butchering phase, Novella seemed appreciative of her pigs.
Novella’s Farm City experiences demonstrate just how much of a difference raising and appreciating one’s own food can make. Big Guy and Little Girl definitely contributed to Novella’s farming education. Through her pigs, Novella learnt a great deal about raising and butchering pigs; she gained an apprenticeship and friendship with a master chef through both of them; and she finally got to taste the work of her labor. We can see that urban farming can not only be difficult, it can be downright painful. It’s not a clean, glorious, easy feat; it’s a constantly evolving, fascinating struggle. It’s also an art. We meet masters of the craft (the restaurant owner Chris Lee, City Slicker Farms’ Willow, and more) who clearly love what they do. What makes them, and Novella, stand out is the respect, knowledge, and admiration they share for their craft. They are all committed to understanding where their food comes from, and they all choose to be an active part of growing and preparing their food, rather than passive bystanders. Novella’s experiences in Farm City show us a different approach to interacting with the natural world and understanding our place within it. A little more self-sufficiency could probably benefit all of us a great deal; we’ve just got to be willing to get a little bit dirty to do it.