A Better Idea? Pastured Pigs

The other day, I cooked a pork tenderloin (at low heat) and was surprised to find the meat “stringy” and not very tender. We had not found that a few years ago when we had used the very same recipe. What has happened to the perfect pig?

Pork had been the meat of choice since Colonial Days in the Plymouth Colony (circa 1623). The dense American forests were ideal for raising pigs. They were allowed to remain “wild” and roam freely most of the year with only penning them in the winter.  They were “finished” on corn that made the flesh firm but tender and they gained weight quickly. Pigs were more efficient than cattle for meat, so cattle were more used for milk, butter, cheese and plowing.

Excerpts from an article from U.S. News and World Report (August 15, 2005) offers some reasons.

“Pigs aren’t porky anymore. Instead, they are as lanky as marathon runners.  However, today’s pork roasts all too often don’t taste good and the meat is dry.” Through breeding practices, searching for a leaner pig began back in the 1970’s when customers began to demand low fat food products that satisfied the flawed low fat movement for heart health. “This alarmed pork producers who launched a now familiar campaign, “The Other White Meat” attributable to pork that suggested that it was just as lean as chicken. It wasn’t just hype. According to 2005 standards, “supermarket pork is 31% lower in fat than it was 20 years ago.”

“All during the 80’s and 90’s, animal scientists continued to try to say that they could get a leaner hog with more muscle” said a meat scientist at Iowa State University. “They lost the taste, they lost the moisture content”, he said.

So what is  the perfect pig?  It depends on the time frame. The feral pig was first domesticated in the Middle East and central Asia 9,000 years ago. It was brought to America in 1493 on Columbus’s second voyage. The 1900 pig was bigger to provide lard that was highly prized at the time. Some pigs topped 2,000 pounds. The typical market pig today is lean and muscled, with a market weight of from 275 to 300 pounds.

Everyone has their own motivation when it comes to changing their diet; to lose weight, to be healthier, to eat or reduce meat consumption, to address environmental or animal welfare, and to enjoy great tasting food.

For some of us, the perfect pig is a “happy pig”.  Fat or lean – the most important aspect is how the animals are treated by us  when they are in our care (my opinion).

Being an “ethical omnivore” is about an attitude towards what you consume and the effect it has on you and others. It also involves how we treat the animals we choose to consume or not to consume. We as “ethical omnivores ” need to know where our food comes from and respect the welfare of the animals in exchange for what they provide for us.

A better idea rather than manipulating their fat content in the ethical treatment of animals may be seeking out and encouraging pastured pigs that are raised with animal welfare standards including compassion and dignity in their own natural environments.  There they can receive better diets that are more suited to their physiological needs rather than attempting to alter their size and fat content artificially to please the food industry profits. After some soul searching combined with my love for animals, I think pork will come off our menu for a long time.

A good book to read about animal-human relationships is Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals. Hal Herzog is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on human-animal relations. He is a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University and lives in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Mohandas Gandhi