Swine time

When pigs fly and other piggy tales from renowned writer Barry Estabrook

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An investigation of the pork industry
Pigs were made to root, run and wallow.

Updated Jul 4, 2017 @ 5:55 pm

This summer, we recommend packing a little pork into your beach tote alongside your floppy hat and towel. That is, grab a copy of Barry Estabrook’s new book, Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat ($27) for an eye-opening dive into the pork industry.

Much like Estabrook’s New York Times bestseller Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit the book is a masterwork of investigative journalism done in a breezy style that is a guaranteed conversation sparker.

Estabrook looks at how scientists taught pigs to play computer games (research shows pigs have the mental capacity of a three-year-old human) and the crisis of 2.5 million feral pigs roaming Texas, before delving into how pigs are raised commercially for producers like Smithfield and Tyson. He visits vast confinement barns where up to 150,000 pigs are raised on concrete slats and fed a constant dose of antibiotics—leading to possible antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

It’s not just the pigs that are suffering: Neighbors and workers encounter health problems and the water supply is threatened, not to mention the quality of the final pork.

Contrast that with New York’s Flying Pigs Farm, where pigs can run, root and wallow. In other words, the pigs can be pigs, or as Estabrook says, “they exercise their piggy instincts.”

The takeaway: Pork is either the best or the worst meat you can eat: it all depends on how it’s raised. It’s a rousing reminder to know just where your bacon is coming from. Below, words to keep in mind next time you are at the market:

  • Antibiotic-free: Farmers who don’t use antibiotics on their pigs as a matter of course, have to raise their pigs under better conditions to keep them healthy.
  • Pastured: Pigs get to be pigs when raised outside instead of in confinement buildings.
  • Organic: By law, organic animals don’t get antibiotics and are also not fed slaughterhouse byproducts.