A Hamburger Today

The Nasty Bits: Thoughts On Lungs

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[Photographs: Chichi Wang]

For years I wanted to witness a slaughter. The desire stemmed from curiosity, mostly. I'd never seen any living thing die, except for insects, fish, and crustaceans. It's one thing to watch as a fish flops on the dock after it's reeled in. But pigs are mammals, and eating animals of higher intelligence has always made me stop and think.

I've never believed that meat eaters are morally obligated to confront the slaughter and death of animals in order to justify their dietary choices. Though boneless, skinless, cellophane-wrapped meat obscures the death involved, even the least conscientious eater understands that in the making of a dish containing meat or meat stock, an animal died.

But months ago I began to wonder if requirements for people who are more intimately involved in the consumption of meat should be more stringent. If you butcher animals, cook meat, and develop meat-laden recipes, then are the stakes higher?

Days before the slaughter I began to grow anxious. I knew that I wouldn't be able to anticipate my reaction to the slaughter as it occurred, yet I hadn't expected to feel nervous days beforehand. I wasn't scared of the blood. I was scared of how I would feel after witnessing the event. There was the chance that I'd come out of the slaughter feeling so repulsed that I wouldn't want to eat meat anymore. The chance was slight, but I felt it all the same. Maybe I was just as guilty as any other meat eater who preferred to buy boneless skinless chicken breasts, wrapped neatly in cellophane and styrofoam.

Warning: graphic image ahead...

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What you see here are the lungs of a pig. I saw the pig get shot, get slaughtered, and then get butchered. The whole time, I had the lungs on my mind. For one, I'd never seen a pig eviscerated, and while the other organs appeared as expected, the lungs of the pig literally took my breath away. Once the intestines had been removed, the other viscera all but fell out of the body cavity. Out came the heart: veiny, its ventricles bursting through the thin tissue of the organ. And then, out came the lungs, which looked like a spongy version of the liver: the edges of both the lung and the liver tapered to protracted edges, like that of hand-carved wooden spoons. I'd never seen such fresh-looking, beautiful lungs in my life, and almost immediately my stomach began to grumble.

Someday I want to talk about the details of the slaughter, but for now, I'll just say that not only was I completely entranced by the evisceration of the pig, but seeing the lungs made me really hungry for one of my favorite offal dishes.

The name of the dish in Chinese, Fu Qi Fei Pian, means "Husband and Wife Lung Slices." Though the dish is traditionally made with lung, here in the US you're more likely to find the spicy Sichuanese concoction coating thin slices of beef brisket and tripe rather than sliced pork lungs. Even in Chinese markets, it can be difficult to find lung, which I didn't quite understand until I touched the lungs from the freshly killed pig. Soft and pliable, they started to degrade just a few hours after they'd been removed from the animal. Happily, the beauty of the dish, much like the famed Dan Dan noodles, lies in the tantalizing combination of chili oil, sesame paste, and Sichuan peppercorns. (The only major difference between the sauce for Dan Dan noodles and that of the husband-and-wife dish, in fact, is the addition of beef stock to the dressing.) Swimming in spicy red oil and drenched with the sediment of chili and crushed peanuts, slices of honeycomb tripe and brisket couldn't be more delectable.

When I returned home from the slaughter this dish one of the first things I ate, and as I chomped on the pieces of chewy, bouncy tripe, I wondered what it would have felt like to be the person committing the slaughter. Another day, another pig.

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