The Happiest Pigs Live on a Diet of Muesli and Fresh Air


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The Happiest Pigs Live on a Diet of Muesli and Fresh Air

Recently, I joined some of Berlin's culinary luminaries to embark on the necessary first step of the Schlachtfest—a traditional German feast that revolves around the slaughter of a farm animal.

We've distanced ourselves from our food to such an extent that we have no idea where it comes from anymore. For many of us, it's inconceivable that the packaged chicken from the supermarket was once running around clucking, and had to be killed to become a meal.

But sometimes you have to look your dinner in the eye. Recently, I did just that—traveling to the outskirts of Berlin, along with a handful of people from Markthalle 9, to kill and butcher two pigs.

Schlachtfest 2:10

It was the necessary first step of the


—a traditional German feast that revolves around the slaughter of a farm animal. While mostly outdated except in rural parts of the country, the practice has been revived by Kavita Meelu—a.k.a. Kavita Goodstar, who helms Berlin's

Street Food Thursday


Burgers and Hip-Hop

—along with Susan Choi and Stefan Endres of

Mr. Susan

, a Korean-ish casual restaurant based in the Kreuzberg neighborhood. Together, they choose a whole animal to slaughter, and invite local chefs to cook it.

WATCH: Kavita Goodstar on Chef's Night Out

I joined them, along with sausage expert Hendrik Hasse, at sunrise one morning to drive out to the municipality of Rietz-Neuendorf, about an hour outside of Berlin. We arrived at the Hirschaue property, where we were met by owner Henrik Staar, his father (known only as "Papa Staar"), and two butchers, Manuel and Martin. In the freezing February cold, we walked around the sparse compound, where the pigs are kept free-range year-round. This 570-hectare property is one of 239 German organic farms that invite consumers to view actual farming practices first-hand.


It's also an opportunity that, according to Haase, is still largely unknown to the public. "Too often, we eat meat without knowing where it comes from, who slaughtered it, and how," he said. "We should visit and support those who still slaughter with dignity, and who get their hands dirty for us while practicing the art of the true butcher."


Papa Staar sat on the tractor, flanked by the two butchers dressed in work gear: white pants and rubber boots. The three of them then began rounding up the herd of pigs, who wouldn't let anyone get in their way of feeding. Staar breeds a special kind of pig known as the Märkisches-Sattelschwiene, a cross between wild boar and the endangered German saddle pig. They take longer to mature than conventional pigs, but produce a beautifully marbled meat, due in part to their diet of fresh grass, walnuts, muesli, and whatever they are able to forage in the forest.


With zero fanfare, Papa Staar picked out a pig, pulled out his gun, and shot the animal in the neck. All but two of the other pigs then moved toward their fallen cohort, rather than running away, as if to investigate what had happened. The procedure was then repeated, with the survivors running curiously toward the carnage again.

Everything happened very slowly. Papa Staar sat back down on his tractor—just part of his routine—as the two butchers spiked one of each of the pigs' back legs onto hooks. They then slit their throats so as to let them bleed out, and then chauffeured them along to the butcher's shop. We walked behind the tractor, trailing the blood that continuously dripped from it.

The sight of the pierced, hanging animals was shocking for a second, but we quickly got used to it. It felt like harvest time: a quick trip to field to pick some ripe fruit and vegetables.


In the butcher's shop, Manuel and Martin began to remove the bristles from the pigs with a scythe-like piece of metal. For the final touch, a torch was used to take care of the last strip of hair—a pig with a Brazilian.The hooves and the eyes were then removed. Manuel and Martin propped up the animal, which weighed almost 500 pounds, in order to cut open its belly and remove the innards. The lungs and heart looked like sculptures.


Then, a veterinarian came in to examine the animals for any diseases. He made a few piggy jokes and gave the OK, at which point the butchers began cutting up the animals into pieces.


In more industrial settings, pigs are typically penned up and then driven to slaughterhouses many miles away. The pigs from the Hirschaue property don't have to endure this torture.


Staar says he uses a gun to kill his pigs so that they experience no fear and die immediately. Not only is it more ethical, it also ensures that the pigs don't release stress hormones that taint the quality of their meat.


From here, our pigs are bound for the second part of the Schlachtfest experience: a massive feast at Markthalle 9, cooked by Mr. Susan, Lode & Stijn, Simon the Sausage Man, and Kantine Neun. In keeping with both German tradition and the nose-to-tail ethos, the chefs will attempt to use as many parts of our pigs as possible. Not only does it showcase these beautiful free-range animals, it also proves that raising pigs sustainably and ethically can translate into a superior product.


Death's not easy for the dying, but there are worse ways to go out than as a multi-course meal.

All photos by Hendrik Haase.