After our visit to 5 Bar Beef, Frank Fitzpatrick recommended we take a trip up north to Paso Robles to visit a two acre pig ranch run by Jim Harris, formerly of Rancher's Alliance. It was a beautiful ride getting there with views of rolling hills and wineries. We even passed by a gigantic statue of James Dean memorializing the exact spot where he met his death on the two lane highway leading up to our destination. We checked our speed and slowed way down.
Once in the quaint little town near his ranch, we called Jim to come down and meet us, as there was no marker on his plot of land for us to identify where to enter for our visit. Once there, we followed Jim's lead, climbed the wood fence and essentially sat down in the dry grass (we did not get much rain this year in California) and observed these sizable beasts. I was struck by how calm they were with the 4 of us strangers just crashing their party, but Jim explained that they had never been mistreated or stressed in any way so they had no reason to be wary of us and no reason to be aggressive unless you messed with one of their babes.
Noticeably absent was any stench whatsoever. These Duroc Pigs rolled around in mud to stay cool so they were covered in it but the aroma of mud is pleasant in an environment such as this. Jim explained that they foraged for acorns, grass and alfalfa, and the only feed these guys received was local, organic steam-rolled barley, so their waste isn't smelly at all. Also, these pigs have plenty of room to roam around, they are not overcrowded, so they are not standing in their own excrement for extended periods of time attracting insects and infection. Instead their waste is used to complete the circle and fertilize the grass that they eat.
Parasites and worms are not a problem here and antibiotics are rarely, if ever, needed. These pigs have a healthy, natural diet and are not confined so they are naturally able to stave off diseases and infection that are rampant in the commercial pork industry. As Jim said, raising pigs "is not that complicated,(the commercial pork industry) makes it complicated."
Our country's biggest manufactures of pork rip piglets away from nursing at just a few weeks, their teeth clipped in half and their ears mutilated (all without any pain relief) because they are to be crammed into pens with many other piglets becoming intensely stressed from this confinement and are prone to fight (wouldn't you be?). They are never allowed to exercise and as a result to the hormones they are administered to grow faster, factory farmed pigs often develop arthritis and other severely painful joint problems.
Unlike corporate agriculture, Jim does not use hormones to expedite the growth of his pigs, and they are encouraged to nurse with their very protective mamas for several months. It takes about 8-12 months to come to market size, compared to 6 months when hormones are utilized. Not only will this younger age affect the development of flavor of the pork, but the hormones administered to the commercial pigs transfers to the food it yields.
I spent a good couple hours with my camera and these pigs. They were just as curious about me as I was about them and equally as nonthreatening. This gave me pause. We had bought one Jim's pigs after all and were on our way to pick it up at the slaughterhouse. I'm sorry that we eat you, I found myself saying to them over and over as I clicked away. Their eyes were so... soulful, honestly they were, and their intelligence is well documented. At least at this ranch and also for others like it, the pigs get 8 months or more to live really well, but this type of humane ranching can not fill the demand of our country's colossal pork cravings. So the solution to me is to eat less of it, much less of it.
To the vegetarians who voiced their dismay on our Instagram Feed at my posting photos of "cute" pigs from this ranch that would "be killed" and then stopped following us: We are a catering company. It is unreasonable to think that omnivores we serve will ever be persuaded to stop eating meat, and furthermore, they are not the demons here, the shockingly cruel and massively polluting legal practices of factory farming is. If you have the time and energy to criticize those who eat meat, please be more productive and protest horrific practices in the food industry that most consumers are unaware of like our country's egregious and widespread use of gestation crates in commercial pork production (see video describing gestation crates here).
|Photos: Tara Maxey|
It is exciting that we all have the power to make change by who we support when we purchase food. Eat less meat. Seek out restaurants and catering companies and farmer's markets that are conscience of where they source from and be prepared to pay more, humane ranching is more expensive. If you can't find any where you live, speak out. Your demand will spur the wheels to make change in our very broken food policy system.