Monday, March 30, 2009

Pork Pirates? - Please.

Miami New Times gets all up in arms this week over pig farmers in Miami-Dade County slaughtering and butchering their own pigs. Almost all of the article's sturm and drang is over the fact that these farmers (illegally) kill their own pigs for customers, replete with graphic and dramatic descriptions of the process ("the animals are killed like Mafia capos"; "The air is acrid with the twin aromas of blood and shit"). The only thing missing is to name one of the pigs "Wilbur."

Ironically, the description of the slaughtering and butchering process is almost exactly like what is described as happening in the slaughterhouses down the street - the animal is shot between the eyes with a heavy-caliber pistol (the slaughterhouses instead use an electric stun gun), then immediately the throat is slit, the pig is bled, scalded, shaved, and hung, and organs and hooves are removed. According to the article, the whole process takes 20 minutes. At the slaughterhouse? "They follow national slaughter guidelines requiring that hogs be stunned by an electric bolt and that their necks be quickly slit. The carcasses are then hung upside-down and drained of blood." So what's your preference - bullet or stun gun? Paper or plastic? Yes, it's a gruesome business, but it always is.

The alarmist tone of the article is perhaps best demonstrated by this little nugget, describing a police raid on a farm in west Kendall - "among the meat found in refrigerators was what appeared to be neatly packaged horse flesh." (Gordon Ramsay would be proud.) A full 600 words later it's revealed that "what appeared to be horse meat was found by inspectors to be beef." Well - that sort of changes things a bit, doesn't it?

While getting all worked up over the fact that they're killing pigs on the farm (which, of course, is exactly what they're raised for), the article fails to shed much light on several questions that might be of greater concern: (1) are the animals well-tended? (there are suggestions, but no evidence at all, that pigs are fed slaughtered pigs' entrails, but otherwise no information at all on their living conditions); (2) are there health issues? (not according to "state food safety chief" Dr. John Fruin, who said "If a piece of meat is properly cooked, even from an illegal slaughter operation, there's not much risk"); (3) are there environmental issues? (no explanation at all of what the farmers are doing to dispose of waste, nor, for that matter, how it compares to what the legal slaughterhouses are doing).

Look, there's not much reason to believe any of these farmers are artisans inspired by Michael Pollan's boar hunt and his channeling of Ortega y Gasset as described in "The Omnivore's Dilemma" (although one of them does claim to be raising feral hogs). But - absent further information not elucidated by the article - this hardly seems like the greatest danger to our local foodways. Indeed, notwithstanding the drama, I suspect the more common reaction is going to be "Where can I get some?" rather than "How horrible!"


  1. I just read it. I don't think the writer was condemning these back-alley slaughterhouses.

  2. My grandpa and uncles killed pigs in the backyard, butchered them, and shared all of the meat (every single piece) with the entire family. More people should be exposed to this... bubbles are for plate decoration, not to live in.