Saturday, July 12, 2008

Pork Week's Blind Spot

This week was Pork Week at, and it marks either one of the most brilliant editorial decisions ever made or the beginning of the end for Salon—only time will tell.

The four articles and one video in the series are a frequently self-congratulatory celebration of pork from pastured, organic, preferably acorn-fed animals.  There’s a personal essay about making bacon—as in, starting from the entire stomach of a pig—and what it’s like to “hold an animal’s insides in your hands, big and fresh and smelling of nothing but flesh and fat.”    There are Q&As with celebrity chefs who slam wan pork chops and hail bloody offal.  There’s hand-wringing about the proletarianization of bacon. 

There’s a short video profiling Veritas Farm in New York, where two former Wall Street workers now breed heritage pigs whose meat they sell for $10.50 per pound.  One of the owners, Paul Alward, describes the typical industry method of raising pigs:

Usually, commercially, the mother would be locked into a crate and the babies couldn’t have access.  And the first thing they do when a pig farrows is take the piglets and pull their teeth and dock their tails with a pair of pliers and you clip their back teeth out, cut their tails off, dock their tails, and give them an iron shot...the main reason to dock tails commercially is for cannibalism, and they start chewing each other, and becomes a problem.

Veritas pigs, by contrast, seem to be deliriously happy, if the video is to be believed.  They wander around the farm, their floppy ears falling over their eyes.   They lounge on piles of hay as their owners scratch their bellies.  They roll around in patches of mud, emitting satisfying baritone grunts.  I defy anyone to listen to those grunts without wanting to  go kidnap a Veritas pig and keep it as a companion for the rest of its days, just to be able to listen to the noises it makes (and to rub its ears).

It’s no wonder, given how appealing these creatures are, that the journalists narrating the video devote only one sentence—something about killing the pigs “as humanely as possible”—to the topic of slaughter.  And this is the irony of Pork Week, and of the movement that places such extraordinary value on the provenance of meat:  everyone talks about the welfare of pigs and the glory of getting in touch with innards, but few people talk about the killing. 

But I wonder:  Would it be so easy to laud free-range pork if more people witnessed the slaughter of pigs, “humane” as it might be?  I support the work of farmers who take great strides to ensure their animals’ well-being, and it is glaringly obvious that the pigs at Veritas are infinitely better off than the miserable pigs on factory farms.  But it seems to me that, as much interest as locavores take in the origin and quality of their meat, they are willfully ignoring one crucial part of the process.

On a side note, my favorite new piece of information gleaned from Pork Week is that notorious vegetarian-hater Anthony Bourdain (who has also called vegetarians “the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit”) has dubbed “bacon the ‘gateway protein’ for its astounding ability to lure vegetarians back into the carnivorous fold.”   That sounds like a challenge to me, so I bought a package of bacon at Monoprix last night.  I doubt that eating it will make me want to keep eating pork for the rest of my life, but, in case I falter, just show me some of the footage of Veritas pigs frolicking in the mud.  That ought to bring me back to my senses.

Image © Morozova Tatiana |

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