Pig Tales: An Omnivore's Quest for Sustainable Meat – Barry Estabrook

Review From User :

Immigrants with shit filled diapers, piglets operating computers and crazy Danish people seeking to do things right. Barry Estabrook's journalistic endeavor to educate the average american bacon fetishist and artisan of such unparalleled jokes as "I love pigs....THEY'RE DELICIOUS. hee hoo hug!" is a comprehensive overview of all you need to know about pigs.
To begin with Pigs are intelligent--very intelligent in fact. Previously unbeknownst to me, pigs are emotional beings with individual personalities, who are capable of remembering individuals for long periods of time, recognizing themselves in mirrors and as previously stated, operate computers (an ability that many parents lack). But I'm not here to preach the Pig Gospel or be one of those annoying people who says "I hate humans, humans are awful blah blah fart"--and neither is Estabrook. Instead the two of us are here to present the facts that are at times shocking to consider. After all, pigs are not all cute and cuddly, in fact, in their wild form they are a highly dangerous and incredibly successful invasive species whose strength and violence are purported to have killed black bears. Brought to North America as a failed Canadian hunting venture, wild piggies braved cruel canadian winters and eventually swarmed to just about every state and country on earth.
As I said before, some pigs are cute, but the wild ones are undeniable assholes and pests. Not only will they fuck you up and kill you, but further these large beasts love to uproot vast quantities of crops and land in the night, causing a considerable amount of stress and anger for american farmers who wake up to fields which look as though they have been ravaged by large machines.
Aside from the plentiful and interesting information that this book provides on the amazing things that pigs do, the main focus of the book is on "Big Ag" and the ways that large corporations perform horrible acts not simply upon the pigs they slaughter, or the communities that they endanger, but also the poorly treated mexican immigrants that they employ.
Starting with the conditions of pigs in large factory farms, Estabrook provides information that most of us are probably already aware of and yet somehow remain to be unfazed by (myself included) e.g. small crates, high usage of antibiotics, cruelty, unbearable stench and unanesthetized castrations etc. YUMMY (i still eat meat I'm imperfect). The new and more shocking information that he adds involves how these companies treat waste. For instance, in most large scale factories pigs shit in their undersized crates and the excrement falls through slats into a disgusting "lagoon" of piss and shit products. The book goes on to cite instances in which employees have fallen into the lagoons, dying soon after. In parts of the south and the Carolina's pig shit is literally raining from the sky as corporations spread the waste across the land as manure.
And if all this were not bad enough, there are the horror stories of vulnerable immigrants and the dangerous jobs that even Donald Trump would shudder to watch Mexicans face. One man described the pace as so "relentless" that "women on the line wear adult diapers, particularly when they are pregnant or have their periods" and that he had "stood beside three men...who defecated in their trousers" (206). If that wasn't convincing enough for you and you still hate pigs and Mexicans enough to let them shit all over themselves, perhaps the description of another immigrant, a single mother of four will twist your nipple and persuade you. She describes having to " remove stainless-steel meat hooks from hanging hog carcasses as they sped past. She had to stand on a narrow platform above a container full of entrails, and several times nearly lost her balance. When she requested a transfer, the boss told her that abandoning her job was a firing offense" (203). WHAT THE FUCK. What year is it m'lord
In the end, Estabrook provides examples of a growing number of farms that are attempting to raise pigs right and treat them with respect rather than using them as 'instruments in a machine.' But even then, the pork produced in the correct way ends up costing about five times that of the average holocaust produced meat that is affordable to the poor and immigrants. While the book attempts to end on a positive note and does highlight the fact that some progress is actually being made, the bottom line seems to be that whatever progress is made the poor will continue to suffer.
As usual, being presented with such horrendous information seems somewhat useless as the book gives no real suggestions as to what people like me can do to stop this from happening. The answer isn't as simple as ceasing to eat pork--in fact, Estabrook never once suggests to do so or stops eating it himself. So long as you buy the expensive and well treated pork, there isn't a whole lot wrong with doing so. But when immigrants and the poor are living in locations where shit is literally raining on them from the sky, when they are disrespected and mistreated by cruel corporations, when government agencies fail to do their jobs and protect workers, citizens and the environment then the question that still remains is: how can I, a regular person stop the powerful abuse of large scale agricultural operations and make sure that both pigs (as intelligent creatures) and lower class workers (also as intelligent creatures) can both receive the quality of life and treatment that they deserve. I don't have an answer for that. I really enjoyed this book and recommend it but I'm unsure of what to do with all of this alarming information.


Barry Estabrook, author of the New York Times bestseller Tomatoland, now explores the dark side of the American pork industry. Drawing on his personal experiences raising pigs as well as his sharp investigative instincts, he covers the range of the human-porcine experience.
Expand text… He embarks on nocturnal feral pig hunts in Texas. He visits farmers who raise animals in vast confinement barns for Smithfield and Tyson, two of the country’s biggest pork producers. And he describes the threat of infectious disease and the possible contamination of our food supply. Through these stories shines his abiding love for these remarkable creatures. With the cognitive abilities of at least three-year-olds, they can even learn to operate a modified computer. Unfortunately for the pigs, they’re also delicious to eat.

Estabrook shows how these creatures are all too often subjected to lives of suffering in confinement and squalor, sustained on a drug-laced diet just long enough to reach slaughter weight, then killed on mechanized disassembly lines. But it doesn’t have to be this way. It is possible to raise pigs responsibly and respectfully in a way that is good for producers, consumers, and some of the top chefs in America. Provocative, witty, and deeply informed, Pig Tales is bound to spark conversation at dinner tables across America.

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