Apr 4, 2019

Pig Tales

An Omnivore's Quest for Sustainable Meat
by Barry Estabrook

This book is mostly about the pork industry. It starts out looking at the intelligence of pigs, their resourcefulness and success at going feral in practically any environment, and the idea that pigs may have been one of the first domesticated animals- before sheep, goats or cattle. The author visits different people doing research on pigs and accompanies some people on a boar hunt in South Carolina. Then he visits both a small pig farmer and several large factory operations. The comparison is stark. There are several chapters on different details about the huge operations- inhumane treatment of the animals, contamination of meat, lack of enforcement for safety rules, dangerous use of antibiotics- and how it spreads to people- and pollution of the surrounding environment- often not only making noxious odors that ruin the air quality for people who live nearby, but also cause serious illness. He discusses lawsuits and protests that have ensued. He looks at the economics- why are factory farms driven to produce pork this way. To be fair, he does visit one place that runs to industry standard and keeps it all as clean and humane as possible. But there are many others that push production as far as they can, pressuring workers into dangerous conditions and stressing the animals, to say the least. It's unpleasant and puts the public buying the end product at health risk.

The final chapters make you feel okay about eating pork though, if you can get it from a good source. Estabrook visits a sustainable pig farmer in upstate New York who raises heritage breeds on pasture. He gets their family story, describes the pleasant environment and health of the pigs and sees all parts of the operation- from farrowing sows in a roomy barn to young pigs romping on the land, then the trip of grown eight-month hogs to a clean, small scale slaughterhouse. In the final pages he rides in the delivery truck with the owner to an upscale restaurant, where the pork is obviously admired and appreciated by the chefs. You have to pay a premium for it, though- and he pretty thoroughly explains all the costs involved, how someone can make a decent living running a small pig farm, all the details that give you a quality product, a pig that lived a pretty good life and died without feeling distress- why it all costs more. However this can be done on a larger scale. The author traveled to Denmark to visit a hog farm- not as large an operation as factory farms here, raising 12,000 hogs a year without stinking up the environment or using antibiotics. They have better controls in place it sounds like.

Descriptions of what goes on in the factory operations is so disgusting and alarming I never again want to eat pork from that kind of place, if I can help it. It doesn't make me swear off meat altogether, it just means I will probably eat less of it because I will be a lot more picky about what I buy.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5           335 pages, 2015

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