While I spend a goodly amount of my working life laboring over a food photography set, tweaking the highlights on parfaits or pot roasts, I really love getting into the places where the food is created (I frequently refer to myself as a ‘culinary paparazzo.’)
I like pigs. And I love pork. Moo Shu, Carolina barbeque (North and South), baby back ribs, bratwurst, chicharones, BLTs … you get the picture. In good conscience, I felt I couldn’t keep tucking into my rib tips without bearing witness to the whole process that brought them to my plate. I spent some time in the slaughterhouse and meat packing plant of Slagel Family Farms in downstate Illinois (a fifth generation farm).
Led by Louisjohn Slagel, the family keeps the slaughtering, butchery and meat packing all under one roof in the small town of Forrest (population 1,225), while the farm is a couple of miles outside of town. An FDA inspector was on the premises of the plant when I visited; everything was running cleanly and efficiently. As I photographed each stage between pig and pork chop, the inspector eyed me warily. But since I was wearing the requisite beard covering, along with the rest of my safety gear, he said nothing. Slagel breathed an audible sigh of relief.
The experience was a long way from my customary food adventures, but I’m better for it. For anyone truly interested in where their food comes from, I’d suggest you take a similar tour.