Foodstuffs: The Life of a Pig Raised for Slaughter, Part II

Jul 14, 2016

Concord Monitor reporter Elodie Reed has been following the life of a pig at a New Hampshire farm from its birth to death for the newspaper’s Ag and Eats blog. It’s an attempt to understand what goes into the creation of the meat many of us consume. NHPR’s Peter Biello spoke with Elodie when she began this project, and now it’s drawing to a close. She joined Peter another time to talk about what she’s learned.

You were tracking this pig, Pink 2.0, at Miles Smith Farm in Loudon and you were looking at things like cost, as well as some other things. But let’s start with cost. How much does it cost to raise a pig from birth to the time it’s taken to market?

Up to the slaughter point, it was just over $300. And it’s about $100 to get him processed.

And we should mention that piggy went to market on Monday.

Yes, up in in North Haverhill at PT Farm.

We’ll all mourn seeing those cute pictures of Pink 2.0 on the Concord Monitor blog. As you followed this project, what did you find that you think would come as a surprise to most people who eat meat but don’t really know where it comes from?

I guess what maybe is most surprising is how quick the process is. It’s only been five months since I started this project and it’s already over.

Pink grew really fast. He was a little over 150 pounds by the time we finished up.

People may see animals on a farm and expect them to be there a long time. But in terms of pigs, it’s really a quick process. And that’s kind of how it goes for a lot of farm animals. So if you are eating meat, you’re probably eating an animal that was between six months and a year old.

How many pigs were on the farm where Pink 2.0 was raised?

The number varied. It started at 16, and went down to seven by the time Pink left. So there’re six pigs from his original litter left.

How do you imagine a pig’s experience growing up in this kind of environment is different than being raised in a factory farm?

Well, there’s certainly a lot more space. Once the pigs were maybe a month or two old, they went outside. Carol Soule, the farmer at Mile Smith Farm, has this nice pasture behind her pig shed. They are out there most of the day. When they all do go in the shed, they squish in—but pigs do that on purpose.

They also get individual attention, because there are so many fewer pigs there per caretaker than you would see at a larger farm. When Carol and I would go out on the farm, she would observe the pigs. One of them had a foot problem at one time, and she paid attention to that. There’s just a lot more individualized care, and a lot more socialization.

Carol often emphasized that social aspect—because when a pig does go in to be slaughtered, it’s much less stressful if that pig is used to humans handling it as opposed to not. The less stressed a pig it is, the better it is for everyone. It also tends to have a tangible effect on meat: it tastes better.

You mentioned the idea of “interaction with humans.” Maybe the pigs aren’t quite pets, but the way you wrote about it, and the photos you took, made me think there is a relationship there that is difficult to cut off when the time comes to slaughter.

Carol made the point that these are not pets. They are raised for meat. And I love animals, but I definitely had a different relationship to this pig than I have with other animals I interact with.

Carol makes the point that it is hard, for every animal, to let go of them. But she wants to have that experience with each individual animal because she feels it’s important to her consumption of the meat.

She told me once she wants to share the story of each animal with the people who are buying the animal to eat. I think that’s a really different approach.

Pink 2.0 has been taken to market, but that doesn’t mean your series for Ag and Eats at the Concord Monitor is over. What will you be looking at going forward?

I have one story talking about going to PT Farm and what I saw there.  I’m also going to be going to pick up the meat when it’s dropped off next week. And the Concord Insider crew and I are going to be doing a “Food Snob” segment, so we will be cooking the meat and tasting it.

I’m also going to write a personal piece, because I’m a vegetarian.  So it was interesting going through this process. I actually felt quite differently than I thought I would—maybe a little more detached.

How did you expect to feel, and then how did you feel?

I thought I would feel a lot sadder, and I thought I would be much more bothered by it. But when I was at the slaughterhouse, it seemed like it was a life cycle that was coming to its natural end, at least in this context. When I went inside, I saw where the pigs were being processed—I didn’t see Pink being processed, but I saw other pigs being processed. And it didn’t gross me out, to be honest. I thought that it would really gross me out and it didn’t.

It just seems like that’s what those animals are raised for. They are providing a purpose, and at least knowing that it’s being done humanely makes it less bothersome than I thought it would be.