I admit it. I like pork in every conceivable version. One of my favorite dishes is the pork jowl sandwich at the Purple Pig (and much else), and I am also a fan of the good old fashioned BLT at Whole Foods in Lincoln Park (though I have not had one since my partner returned to upstate NY). I know, that like chicken, the pig is subject to factory farming and that both the pig, a creature that is quite intelligent actually, and the laborers are treated in horrifying ways. I know that factory farming of pigs, crating them in tiny little pens or crates, with their urine and feces running down slats into lagoons, creating horrifying gases and chemicals that are then spread on farmland in ways that harm not only the land but the waterways, and through both odor and airborne yuck harm hurt local people. I know that.
So, why did I purchase and buy a book that reiterates that -- and then go right ahead and keep on eating pork. No, it is not because bacon is as addictive as heroin. It is not. No, it is not because I do not believe what I have read. It is, likely, because I am ethically lazy. I admit it. I do try for pork that is raised in more reasonable ways, some of which the author of the book I am eventually getting to identifies. But, I am not always that diligent. I should be -- for the sake of the pigs, the farmers themselves, the workers, the earth, myself.
The book I am getting to is this: Pig Tales: An Omnivore's Quest for Sustainable Meat by Barry Estabrook. Estabrook wrote the well-received Tomatoland and is a former contributing editor to Gourmet. He also has a terrific website, Politics of the Plate, which you can peruse by clicking here.
So: what about the book? It is readable, informative, and chatty in a sense, with you identifying with Estabrook as he wends his way through various encountered -- with factory farming, wild boars and the ecology of wild or feral pigs, more sustainable raising of pigs, and more. Perhaps the part that was most interesting to me (no, it did not challenge my ethics in the ways some of the chapters did) had to do with the wild or feral pigs; they are, it turns out, in the vast majority of US states (48 at the time of publication of Estabrook's book), a problem for many (including agribusiness, interestingly and perhaps ironically) because they can do loads of damage to fields and crops (not to mention people), and they turn out to be the source of much of what you encounter in restaurants as "wild" pork. Some of them are escapees and others were let loose by those who wanted to (eventually) hunt wild boar, a practice that started almost the moment of colonization/discovery by Europeans. Who knew? I certainly did not know that they were capable of demolishing acres of fields. Nor that their culling was a part of the source of what I eat.
Elsewhere in the book, I also learned -- particularly from the portions from animal welfare scientists who work with pigs, including about pressures brought to bear against some of them from the powerful pork lobby. Estabrook was savvy in reminding us not only that pigs are smart, but that both pigs and people suffer from maltreatment at the hands of agribusiness. And, I read of activists and lawyers who spend their time trying to get legislation and enforcement with regard to gross abuses from agribusiness that go unpunished and often unnoticed by those in power. Whistleblowers do not do so well in such a powerful industry.
To conclude: I really enjoyed the book, disgusting as parts of it were -- and I recommend it. I will continue to eat bacon and other pork products, but I will, I hope, be a better consumer. Like other books that focus on a single topic, this one reaches beyond the obvious -- and every chapter left me wanting more on that particular topic. The people I "met" and the pigs I "encountered" were memorable and worth the effort. And, for those of you with a passion for upstate NY, yes, there is a chapter devoted to a sustainable pig farm in upstate.
By the way, Estabrook does not end up a vegetarian or even giving up bacon (as his partner feared when he began the project). He ends by noting that he will always want to know where his pork comes from. I agree, though I am, as I said, not that focused some times.
For an interview with Estabrook, click here.