Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Pork Bellies

This posting is utterly off the regular topic of this blog. It was inspired by the fact that I had bacon from a free range pig for breakfast, and it was extremely delicious.

Pork bellies are an economic commodity traded on the stock market. People essentially gamble on the accuracy of their predictions about the future demand, supply and thus price of pork. The traders never actually take delivery of the pork, because during the time they are trading it like a hot potato, the pigs haven't been slaughtered yet, or maybe even haven't been born yet.

That made me think about enormous pig factory farms. By keeping pigs in extremely confined conditions, they're creating inhumane conditions for the pigs, the human workers, and the people who have to live near the effluent. In some places they may also be doing environmental damage to fisheries and drinking water, but are they also devaluing the currency? Would changing the laws so that "standard industry practice" like no longer provides an exemption from prosecution for animal cruelty laws merely address animal welfare issues, or would it constitute tinkering with the economic system itself? Is this the real reason why we as a society don't demand that animals that are made of delicious, delicious bacon are not treated at least as well as convicted rapists? If you treated a single dog the way factory farmed pigs are treated, the dog would be taken away and you would not be allowed to own another animal.

And then I wondered, can people who are forbidden by religion to eat pork or handle pig leather ethically make money in commodities trading if they hold pork belly futures? Is contact with the animal itself unclean, or does that extend to its effects. Pigs aren't soft and furry, and they're very robust, but they're also intelligent and sociable. If I buy factory-farmed bacon, I'm paying someone to abuse an animal for my breakfast pleasure. I don't think I'll do that anymore.

If you haven't had your daily dose of bleeding heart liberal hopelessness yet, see this blog on the myriad ways the planet is doomed.


Aluwings said...

I wonder why eggs not raised in free range (i.e. normal) chicken living conditions, aren't made to carry the label "Factory produced" eggs? Likewise all meat from animals "produced" in factory farming situations.

Chickens are produced by similar practices...

Ward said...

This is an excellent book about food: where it comes from, how it's processed, etc. In addition to sections on how and why corn is such a big part of so many foods, it has a sections on factory farming of organic produce and of animals.

One thing that sticks with me from the book is that there's a term (which I forget offhand) for cows that are found to be still alive after they've been killed and hung up by one leg. According to the book, McDonalds has higher standards for slaughterhouses, including requiring that there be fewer of these still-alive cows and they have their own inspectors who check out the slaughterhouses.

Tyler said...

Downer is the term, I believe.

Sarah said...

Exactly. "downers". Shudder. As I become more aware of where my food comes from, I become more and more inclined to buy locally produced organic vegetables & eggs. Well, that's the ideal. In reality I still buy the occasional chicken breast of unknown provenance.

I'm a vegetarian of convenience - when convenient ( i.e., restaurants ), I don't eat meat. When I need a protein fix and am in the local grocery store, things aren't so easy.

My neighbors recently put in a chicken coop and are planning on eating the egg output of 6 hens real soon now. I admire that kind of self reliance and responsibility, but admit to some laziness.

I've seen the movies and documentation about what goes on in slaughterhouses - and can't bring myself to eat cows anymore. Or factory produced chicken or pork either. You can laugh if you like, carnivores and indifferent omnivores .. but that's what feels best to me.

townmouse said...

Actually, avoiding factory-farmed stuff is win-win - the pig wins (well, until it gets slaughtered), and you win because as you've discovered, the free range stuff is extra delicious. I try and only eat free range pork and chicken, I'm a bit less fussy about lamb and beef because around here (Scotland) even conventionally raised sheep and cows have reasonably free-range lives.

gmc said...

What I find strangest of all is how certain "delicacies" are produced. I'm thinking of Veal where a new born calf is denied a natural diet and immobilized to prevent muscle development to give it's flesh that "pale tenderness" or whatever. A recent google for "veal production" turns up all sorts of articles about how the veal industry is cleaning up its act. Now the calves are living delirously happy lives separated from their mothers milk while they await prime slaughter time.

And fois gras which is apparently produced by force feeding ducks and geese - "beginning when the bird is 8 to 12 weeks old, it is force-fed several pounds of cornmeal two or three times per day through a long metal tube inserted in its throat. The ducks are confined to cages so small that they cannot spread their wings or turn around. ..."


Humans. Go figure.

Rhonda said...

Yeah, veal and foie gras are two things that I just can't bring myself to eat, no matter how tasty they are reputed to be.

Anonymous said...

The quintessential "factory farm" with unsavory conditions that's constantly displayed by the "animal rights" movement doesn't exist, and hasn't for decades, in the west at least.
Or if they exist, they're already breaking the law and face strict fines and loss of business license (and in the most extreme cases jailtime) if discovered (and the first vet to visit them, the slaughterhouse staff seeing the condition of the animals, etc. etc. would trigger an inquiry).

That's because laws are in place to prevent such things.
While the conditions these pigs (and cattle) are kept in are more crowded than free range, they're relatively comfortable.
Animals have padded bedding, room to move around (usually they're not penned in but allowed to roam inside the facility in groups), have quality food, healthcare, etc. etc.
It's no worse than human beings living in an inner city apartment block and paying handsomely for it.

And a main reason these animals rarely get to go outside is because they're too sensitive to diseases through past decades of inbreeding to produce genetic lines that favour meat or milk production but destroyed the animals' immune systems.
It'll likely take decades more (and efforts are underway) to restore that without causing a major loss in productivity.

So don't feel bad for that pig. He's likely have a comfortable if maybe somewhat boring life (but would you complain about boredom if it means you're not having to look over your shoulders constantly for predators and get regular plentiful meals that taste nice too, free healthcare, etc. etc.?).

Chris said...

The local supermarket recently introduced a line of free range, RSPCA approved pork products, chops, bacon, sausages. They taste better, make you feel better for the animal which has been treated better, but cost more. I actually see the 'cost more' thing as a benefit, you appreciate the product more, eat less of it and waste less of it, too.

majroj said...

Well-run ranches and operations don't draw cameras.
A "downer" is an animal which is unable to walk but still showing signs of life...usually...and hauled, forklifted or mercilessly shocked repeatedly to get it to the killing spot.
Kosher ritual slaughter is accomplished with one cut to the throat. Usual US practice is to administer a stunning blow to the head (sort of balistic one-way general anethesia), then slaughter the animal, although the stunner can be lethal as well but there is not enough time for the animal's vital signs to totally cease.
Read Temple Grandin's "Animals In Translation".

As I understand it, sharia law does not forbid dealing, storing and investing in alcohol, which is forbidden, and it can be sold and served to we nonbelievers. I assume similar holds for the "unclean" animals' meat and products.