I love eating pork. It’s a prominent protein in Vietnamese cuisine and huge in Louisiana food (he-llo cracklin’). While I know that pork comes from pigs, I have very little contact with them. Earlier this month through Animal Agriculture Alliance sent me and 11 other bloggers to North Carolina, where we met people who love pigs and pork. I wasn’t sure what to expect on the trip, but certainly got a behind-the-scenes look at pig farming and pork processing. Which made me appreciate the pork that I pork I put on my dinner table even more.
I grew up in a rural area, but have never stepped foot on a livestock farm before this trip. Our first visit was to a Prestage Farms sow (female pig) farm, where we had to scrub in and out just to step into the sow houses. By scrub in I mean we to get naked, shower, and put on fresh coveralls before even seeing a sow. We humans were the dirty ones. We couldn’t risk bringing in germs into the houses full of momma pigs and their piglets. Those piglets were adorable!
The Animal Agriculture Alliance team and Prestage farms promised us complete transparency during our trip. We bloggers didn’t hold back with our questions and they answered all of them. We learned about pig artificial insemination–my friend Ilina even got to knock up a sow!
On our first full day, we toured 3 farms in order to see the different stages of the process: sow farms, which included breeding and farrowing (birthing); the nursery, where piglets grow until they reach 50 pounds; and the finishing unit, where they stay until they reach the market weight of 275 pounds.
What stood out for me during our tours was how much those involved in the farming process loved and respected the pigs. The first thing I noticed walking into the sow farm were how the workers petted and talked to the sows. They gave them behind the ear scratches and chatted with them. Mark Daughtry, a sow production manager and contract farmer, spoke about the moms and piglets with so much compassion and love. I could tell he was proud of the piglets he raised–like a proud mom he was!
At each farm, the story was similar. The families spoke about their pigs with respect and compassion. They loved what they did and the animals they took care of. Farming wasn’t just an income, it was their way of life. Many of them went to college and graduate school in order to better prepared to take care of their farm and animals. They are more educated than I am!
Most people don’t want to think about where their meat comes from because they’re afraid of what they will learn. If we don’t learn where our food comes from (not just a generic farm), how do we appreciate what we put on our table?
I grew up with in big immigrant family whose weekend get togethers consisted of slaughtering, defeathering, and cooking chickens and ducks. We didn’t do it to get back into touch with nature or eat like our cavemen ancestors did. My family prepared their food this way whenever they could because it was a cheaper way to get their meat. The only waste I remember from those family gatherings was the feathers. Every single part of the animal was turned into a dish. After the food was prepared, we all sat down together to eat and make merry. Adults at their table, and we kids had our on dining area on a blanket on the floor.
Because of that, I’ve taught my kids at a young age that the food they eat comes from plants and animals. How farmers spend their time and energy raising the food that we buy at the store or farmers market. We talk about this whenever they waste food or wrinkle their nose up at some animal part that sounds too, animal-like. I ask them to at least try the new to them dish.
I’m glad to see that these farmers respect their animals and the process of raising them so we can have bacon for breakfast or pork belly for my banh mi sandwiches.
I’ll be back to tell you about how Smithfield makes their bacon!
This trip was sponsored by Animal Agriculture Alliance. The opinions expressed here are all mine. I wasn’t paid to write this post – I wasn’t even asked to write it. My travel and lodging were provided to facilitate the experience.