You've heard the gruesome stories, you've watched the appalling videos. The litany of factory pork's offenses is familiar to anyone following food. The pigs are closely confined, sometimes so closely that they can't turn around. They have no outdoor access and no sunlight. They have nothing to root in and nothing to play with. The only dirt they ever see is their own feces.
Want details? Google "factory pork" and you'll get a lot of outrage, but read the straightforward account by Minneapolis writer Keane Amdahl, who visited Schwartz Farms in company of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association. Its tone is tempered, its accuracy is uncontested, and its conclusion is unequivocal. Even with their best foot forward, confinement hog operations disgust.
If they don't disgust you, get to know some pigs. Watch them root and run and wallow. Get a feel for what makes them happy, and then go watch one of those videos. (Full disclosure: I have three pigs, but no dog in this fight -- my pigs are for us and for friends, not for sale.)
It's easy to come down hard on pork producers, and I'm perfectly willing to do that, but I think we need to tackle this problem at its source: the demand for ever-cheaper pork.
Let's say you're a hog farmer, and a good guy, and the hog farmer down the street, who's a bad guy, starts using gestation crates to improve his efficiency, and consequently lowers his prices. Your huge investment in hog infrastructure commits you to the business, and you've got a family to feed. It costs you more than the guy down the street to raise a hog, but you can't charge more for your crate-free pork.
It's a tough spot. And that farmer wouldn't be in it if he could charge more for crate-free pork. And even more for fresh-air-and-sunshine pork. The grotesque excesses of factory pork farming never would have gotten traction without demand for cheap bacon.
And who created the demand? If you ever bought cheap pork, you did. I did, too, but I don't anymore.
There's an easy way to put an end to factory pork: stop buying it. Just stop.
Don't worry -- I'd be the last one to advocate a pork-free existence. Not only are pigs the most efficient feed-to-meat converters in the barnyard, there's a good case that they're the best-tasting animal on the planet. And finding a source for pork that's lived well isn't difficult. You can start at Whole Foods, which has a 5-step rating system for their pork producers, all of whom must meet a minimum standard of decency. Or you can go to your local greenmarket and ask the farmer who's selling pork about her pigs. There are also several organizations that certify meat as humane and, although their standards vary, their seals are a place to begin. (Vanessa Barrington wrote a good synopsis in EcoSalon.)
Be prepared to pay more. Maybe a lot more. If you can't afford pork at twice the price, eat half as much. Americans eat almost a pound a week, and it won't do us any harm to cut back.
But stop being part of the problem.