News of the Swine Flu is becoming a pandemic, spreading faster than the flu itself: “Swine Flu” is a “Trending Topic” on Twitter; the school where my mother teaches in a virtually at-no-risk region of California sent home two letters (in one day!) on the Swine Flu; and 7 of the 32 my “Latest Headlines” tab from the BBC are about the Swine Flu.
With all this talk about swine, I thought it an appropriate time to share about a book I recently heard a lecture on, Nicolette Hahn Niman’s The Righteous Porkchop. Just hearing the phrase “Swine Flu” makes me want to stop eating pork, but according to the BBC Q&A page on Swine Flu, it is OK to eat pork (cooking it to the proper temperature would kill the virus). Nonetheless, the prevalence of Swine Flu encourages me to ask the butcher where my meat came from, and this — knowing where what we eat comes from — is one of the main things I took away from Nicolette Hahn Niman’s book lecture.
As an environmental attorney, Nicolette Hahn Niman (then just Hahn — she hadn’t married rancher Bill Niman yet) was sent by Robert Kennedy Jr. to investigate pollution caused by pork producers. Her research led her to discover the unnatural practices in raising and slaughtering pigs and other animals for food. In her book, she delineates some of these cruel practices and the negative effects they have on the communities and environments where these farms are located.
With all these terrible things occurring, asks Nicolette, ” Can there be a righteous porkchop?” Yes, she says, there can. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago when natural and humane hog farming techniques were the norm rather than the exception. So while comprehending the magnitude and prevalency of the cruel practices of the hog farming industry can be disheartening, we needn’t count it as lost. After all, the biggest obstacle to change, says Niman, is a sense of inevitability of where the situation is heading. One audience member asked, how can we who are not hog farmers or environmental lawyers help bring about change? “Vote with your dollars” was Niman’s reply. If the demand for humanely treated products increases, so will the supply.
This blog didn’t give an “answer” to the Swine Flu (nor did it attempt to) or to the hog farming predicament, but hopefully it has sparked in you a little curiousity about where your food comes from before it reaches the table.