When it comes to the pig, there are a couple of good reasons for eating snout to tail that come readily to mind: one is the snout; the other is the tail. “Snout to tail” or “nose to tail” eating falls into a rare and surreal space, defying both trendsetters and heavy commerce. To wit, it is always cool to talk about the snout-to-tail movement, yet it remains unexplored terrain for most people—even the ones talking about it.

Once upon a time, in a magical land called Guavate in Puerto Rico, on a path known as La Ruta del Lechón, you could travel for miles through a forest of pigliness. This is the Pork Highway. Let’s do that again: Pork Highway! Has anything ever sounded more magnificent? The miles you travel may be only about three, but it’s packed with pig. And the thing about a pig forest wasn’t just starry-eyed prose; there really is a fair amount of forest.

The lechoneras—where they prepare and purvey the pig—line the strip. Think of them as all-inclusive porcine clubs. Behold the entire pig, crackling in its golden majesty behind the glass. After you’ve ordered as much and as many parts as you want (along with sides of traditional favorites, like things made of plantains, rice, and beans), sit back, eat, and toy with the idea of becoming one of the people who look really happy to be dancing at a pig restaurant. Like many places in this part of the world, where there is even the suggestion of music, there is sure to be a party. And has the world not always needed more pig parties?

But what is it that you eat when you eat of the whole roasted pig? The crisp skin with a tender layer of fat attached is a crowd-pleaser. Morcilla, a blood sausage, may not call to the nonlocal as loudly. Whoever you are, if you don’t start ignoring the way a name or word sounds in your mouth (or in your head), the less good the stuff you’ll actually end up tasting will be. “Ew, innards. I can’t eat a digestive system.” “A tongue? You want me to eat a tongue?” “But these are— What are these, even?” You know what, celery stalker, the pig’s no longer using it. The pig gave its life to feed some of us. Some of us take that sort of thing seriously. Do you sleep better at night knowing a being died so you could have exactly one package of bacon? Do you?

I dream of taking a whole beautiful swine face into my hands. Feeling the shape of it. Smelling its richness. And then shoving as much of it into my mouth as possible. By face I mean mainly cheeks, but I like a good ear or snout more than the next person. Am I aware that I sound like a savage? Yes. Do I care? Less so. As George Orwell said: “Four legs good, two legs bad.” Judge me because I am human. Judge the pig based solely on flavor.

So I ate a pig’s brain to prove to myself how committed I am.

Eating nose to tail is considered respectful to the animal and good for the environment. Likely I have now weighed in heavily enough on the matter of respect. The environmental angle is as straightforward as almost everything is when you think about where we are as a global people. If we make the best, most efficient use of the things we have, maybe we won’t need to use quite so many. Maybe we won’t need so much space or rely on such heavy investment to raise infinite numbers of animals for food. We need to eat fewer things and better. But do not eat a whole creature only because it represents a good idea. Eat it because it’s so good.

So I ate a pig’s brain to prove to myself how committed I am.

It’s good to think about what you can face. For some people, the knowledge that if they choose a fish from a tank they are committing a fish execution is enough to put them off seafood for life. I’m not that person. There may be a name for what I am—and no, it’s not “sociopath.”

My cousin has a pig’s head in his freezer, and it’s mine for the having. He regrets that it’s only a rather small head. For my purposes, this is not such a bad thing. He is also apologetic about the fact that the rest of the pig is missing: what was not cooked by him personally was divvied up among assorted relatives and friends: blood for one uncle; tripe for a brother with a passion for the stuff; ribs as a present for a beloved.

One person’s triumph is more often than not another’s dismay. With cutting boards, bowls, and knives of various kinds assembled, I find that the head does not bother me. My large knife makes easy work of the ears. A smaller knife removes more of the face than I thought I had the skill for. I cut close to the bone and fill a bowl with beautiful fleshy cheek meat.

My housemate sits with his head in his hands, determined to be supportive but possibly holding back tears.

When a small cleaver is brought out, he flees. I cook everything I find. The brain is disappointing, but the point had always been to see if I could work on my carving skills AND eat all the things. I can cook all of it. I can eat everything. I enjoy most of it but am not tempted to glorify anything just to seem more Neanderthal.

I’m still really cut up that no one wants the elegant knife I propose to make from the pig’s jaw. No takers for the teeth earrings either.

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