For those of you who don’t want to read the past 4 blog posts describing and summarizing the book I chose for my book project, I don’t blame you the first too are very long and overly detailed, I will do a quick summary here. My book was Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat by Barry Estabrook. From the title it is easy to guess what this book is about from the title, pigs. Estabrook is the muckraker that wrote the award winning Tomatoland and in this book he follows a similar muckraking topic, pork products. Estabrook breaks his book up into three sections each focusing in on a different subtopic.
The first being “The Nature of the Beast”. This section describes the smarts of pigs and their feral cousin from the same species known as hogs or wild boars. Testing of piglets revealed that many pigs, not all of them as there are always some low IQ’s of each type of species, had a similar IQ as three year-olds. Some were able to master computer games in a matter of hours as well as tricks faster than any dog. The piglets always needed new toys in their pen or they would get far too bored. The pigs were able to recognize themselves in the mirror a sign of high intelligence. Not only were the pigs smart when trained but in the wild, where they are a rampant invasive species, they are able to outsmart hunters and figure out traps and know how to avoid them. These wild boars damage the environment more than any other invasive species and but many already endangered species in even more danger as the hogs eat anything and everything. The only good that comes out of wild boars is the fact that farms can capture them, if they get lucky, and sell them to a processing plant that sells the meat to high end chefs and people willing to pay the heft price.
The second section is called “Life as a Protein Product”. This section is the largest part of the book and helps the authors main point, industrial pig farms are one of the worst things us humans do to the environment, the animals we farm, and other humans, but there is a better way. The section goes into depth about the horrendous acts of industrial pig farms. Even some of the best cleanest facilities are horrible in the eyes of many animal rights activists. The pigs are confined to small pins and many never see the light of day until they are moved to another area to be slaughtered. The sows are treated even worse. They are constantly pregnant and after there usefulness is done they are killed. The sows are forced to live in a small cage that is sometimes so small their sides press through the bars. They are aggressive and often chew the bars in front of them and lay on hard slanted floors as well as in their own feces. The bars cut into their sides causing abscesses and infections. If the feeders fail workers don’t always notice causing animals to starve to death. All of the pigs are fed low doses of antibiotics to make them grow faster and keep them “healthy”. This causes super-bugs to grow on their meat like MRSA and drug resistant E-Coli. Many Americans get sick and die a year from diseases spread by these terrible farms.
The pigs are not the only ones that suffer, but the people that live around the farms as well as the workers and the consumes and the environment. The workers that fall into the manure pits will die before help gets to them and anyone that tries to rescue them die right along with them. The manure lets off dangerous gasses and chemicals. The workers often have respiratory issues from being in the large barns where the manure builds up under the floor. The health issues are ignored by their employer. In the slaughter houses workers are forced to work at high rate of speeds that are dangerous. Mostly immigrants work in the slaughter houses and are fired when they are injured or complain. The USDA is also getting slack about how the meat is treated and the cleanliness of the facilities. The people surrounding the farms are forced to breath in the liquid manure the farms spray on their crops. The smell is so bad many can no longer enjoy their land. The run off from the sprayed manure pollutes their water sources and kills fish. When the people try to fight back many land in jail or get death threats or nothing is done as the farms pay off the politicians in office.
The third section is called “When Pigs Fly”. This section describes a sustainable and better way to raise pigs. This includes smaller farms with open pastures where the sows are specially selected so they don’t crush their young, but are allowed to be in the same pen as them. The farmers feed their animals plant based products with no animal by products or antibiotics. The farmers still make money, the pigs are happy and healthy, and the consumers get an amazing pork product that is tasty and safe. Everyone wins, well except Big Pig.
Estabrook’s main message was that there is a better way to raise pigs then what we are doing now. I personally agree with him. Estabrook makes some valid points that he backs up with a lot of research and shadowing. Not only does Estabrook do research, but he goes and talks to people directly related to the pork industry as well as personally sees how these hogs are treated. For what he cannot see, as well as to help make his point, he brings in plenty of outside resources. Estabrook lists 55 different sources in his bibliography not including his own interviews and personal experience. This, along with the way the book is written, helps me believe Estabrook even more as well as agree with him. I can honestly say there is not a point he makes that I don’t agree with. It’s hard to argue with a man that covers all his bases.
Big pig is a nightmare that keeps becoming worse every year. The industrial pig farming industry pollutes “the commons”, something we learned about in this class. The manure from the pigs spills over or the containers break hurting the water systems people get their drinking water from. This makes it so their is less for everyone else and prices go up on clean drinking water. If people do nothing about this problem it will only get worse and people can’t do anything if they do not know about the problem. That is were muckrakers like Estabrook come in. They bring to light the wrong doing many try to cover up and hopefully along the way inspire us to do more.