In March I had the opportunity to visit a hog farm and then present at the Swine Summit hosted by Vita Plus. In my never-ending quest to make healthy choices and understand how food is produced, I knew this was a great opportunity to learn, and boy did I!
Before I started down this get-to-know-some-farmers journey, I had no interest in visiting a hog farm. My sister married into a hog farm family nearly 20 years ago and I’d never once been on the farm. Now, I find that embarrassing. While I’m not sure her in-laws really understood why I was so keen to visit now, they quite kindly showed me around.
I arrived with some preconceived notions – mostly formed by labeling and the media:
- I thought all non-organic pork was loaded with hormones.
- I thought all non-organic hogs were fed antibiotics in their food every day.
- I thought it would be dirty and smelly.
Okay, the third one is true.
The farm I visited isn’t the most modern. In fact it hasn’t been updated much since the 1970’s. But let’s face it, farming is a dirty, exhausting, unrelenting job most of us wouldn’t have the stamina to survive. People who farm have a love for the land and a deep commitment to the animals in their care that doesn’t stop because the weather is bad, it’s your birthday, your kid’s wedding, or the prices are so low you are losing money. They get up every day and do the work that puts food on our tables.
Farmers, especially those in animal agriculture, have come under fire a lot lately. I suspect many of the people shouting about the treatment of animals on farms or haven’t taken the time to get to know a farmer well enough to be invited for a visit. We are so removed from the people who produce our food we are willing to believe they are so different from us that they would be cruel or try to poison us. Farmers are the heart and soul of our country, to think anything less is degrading and simply wrong.
Yes, I worry about antibiotics and hormones in my food – because the media tells me it is a problem. If you bother to ask a farmer, he or she will tell you that pork can’t go to market with antibiotics or hormones in it. There are tests conducted to be sure.
Guess what? Pigs get sick. They are evidently very susceptible to respiratory infections. If a pig gets an infection, it gets treated with an antibiotic and then monitored. That pig cannot go to market until the antibiotics are completely out of it’s system. When I was in the hog barn, my host pointed out a pig that was coughing indicating that pig was going to be treated. He said, “Hog farming looks a lot different than it did when I was growing up on this farm. Even more different on the modern farms, but if you can keep the pigs from getting sick, you can keep from giving them antibiotics. We often have whole groups of pigs who stay healthy and never need any.” Keeping the pigs warm in the winter and cool in the summer and protected from drafts seems to be the key – which is why most modern farmers keep their pigs in very well controlled environments. My host shared they haven’t used hormones in decades because keeping the pigs healthy and monitoring their diet works better. Even if some farmers do use hormones to help the pigs convert feed to lean meat more efficiently, those hormones must be out of the pig’s system before it goes to market.
I know most of you won’t get the chance to visit a hog farm – so I invite you to take a tour with Chris Chinn a farmer I met on Twitter through AgChat. See how she and her family cares for their animals:
We are all so scared about what is in our food. It is a very good idea to ask questions of the people who are doing the job every day rather than listening to someone in the media or reading a book.
You should feel safe in picking up a package of pork at your local grocery store. The farmers who produced it are doing their best for your family and theirs. If you’d like to get to know some farmers and be more connected to the people who grow your food, please join the conversation at FoodChat and Twitter conversation hosted by AgChat the third Tuesday of each month. Follow @FoodChat on Twitter.
At this point, I know enough to know I don’t know enough and I’m delighted to have such a rich resource and will continue to visit farms, ask questions and learn. I invite you to leave a comment if you have information you think I should know or questions you’d like to have answered.
… and tonight, we’re having pork chops!
Eliz Greene survived a massive heart attack while seven-months pregnant with twins, struggled to lose the 80 pounds gained during her pregnancy, and searched for a way to hold on to the perspective and passion she found in her near-death experience. Drawing on her background as an adaptive movement specialist, Eliz developed simple strategies and tips to help other busy women be more active, eat better and manage your stress.
As the Director of the Embrace Your Heart Wellness Initiative, Eliz travels the country energizing and inspiring audiences in keynotes and workshops on women’s heart health. She writes one of the top 50 health and wellness blogs. Find more at www.EmbraceYourHeart.com.