Friday, September 28, 2007

The Porcine Persona—Some Highly-Forgettable Pig Facts

Most people I know love pigs. (Note that I am also speaking in the non-gustatory context here.) There's just something charming about the looks and personalities of these wonderful animals. If you are a "pig person" like I am (again in the non-gustatory context), here are a few facts about our porcine brethren (and sistren?) you may find interesting:

· The pig was among the first animals to be domesticated, probably as early as 7000 B.C. Pigs were first introduced to North America in 1539 when Hernando de Soto brought them to the Florida mainland.

· Pigs are remarkably smart. Professor Stanley Curtis of Pennsylvania State University has taught pigs to play computer games by using specially-designed joysticks and offering food rewards for winning results. The pigs like it too. "Nine times out of 10 we have to terminate the session," he says. "Otherwise, they may play all day."

· 277,000 pigs are killed every day in American slaughterhouses.

· A 250 lb. live weight hog will yield approximately 120 pounds of "take home" meat. By-products from the rest of the animal might show up around the average American home in these products: antifreeze, artist's brushes, bone china, buttons, cellophane, cement, chalk, crayons, fabric dye, fertilizer, floor waxes, glass, glue, insecticides, insulation, matches, ornaments, plastics, porcelain enamel, rubber, upholstery, water filters, and weed killers.

The University of Nebraska offers these helpful hints to America's youth: "One basic task involved in the 4-H Swine Project that continually provides difficulty to many 4-H members, leaders and parents is properly ear notching project pigs. While for some this is a matter-of-fact task, others have great difficulty understanding the purpose or practice of notching. …If pigs can be notched when their tails are docked, or at 1-3 days old, the task is much easier. If you allow pigs to become large (100 lbs), the task can become considerably demanding mentally and physically. …When combining ear notching with other pig processing, consider doing the notching last, as it tends to cause more bleeding than other procedures, such as teeth clipping, naval care, injections or tail docking."

"The main job of a pork producer is to make sure the pigs are healthy, comfortable, and well fed." —from the National Pork Producers Council's "Farmtastic Voyage" presentation for kids.

· The PIGVISION Institute in Melbourne, Australia has a project they call PORCONTROL (Pig Operated Remote Control), which will install the switch (button) of a pedestrian traffic light in a piggery in Australia, and link it via the Internet with a set of traffic lights in Europe. During a 24-hour event, which will be run in conjunction with an art festival or symposium, pigs in Australia will effectively stop traffic in Europe.

· From "Ask an Expert" from Porknet at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: "Pork from boars, or uncastrated male pigs at slaughter weight, may have an odor during cooking that is very offensive to many people. This is called a 'boar odor' or a 'tainted' odor. This is the primary reason for castration of male pigs destined for slaughter…"

· Speaking of odors… Manure Matters, a newsletter addressing livestock environmental issues, is now available on the web at (Wouldn't you love to get a business card from the editor of Manure Matters?! I wonder what their corporate logo is?)

· The National Pork Producers Council brags that a three-ounce serving (that's tiny!) of "pork tenderloin" has only 4.1 grams of total fat. They don't mention the fat in those cuts of "pork" much more likely to show up on the average dinner table. The same size serving of "ham", for example, would have 12.9 grams of fat (60% of its calories from fat). Three ounces of "bacon" would have 15.6 grams of fat (77% of its calories from fat).

· Pigs may not get representation in the hallowed halls of Congress, but the people raising them do. The Pork Industry Congressional Caucus (Pork Caucus) is an informal bipartisan group of 26 Senators and 48 House members considered to be "pork industry friends", and who routinely assist the industry on important legislative, regulatory and political issues. I guess this is where the term "legislative pork" comes from.

· According to the lore of the Maine seacoast, it's bad luck to paint a pig on a boat. The boat will sink.

· Since pigs are genetically engineered to grow fast, casting for the title role in the movie Babe posed a special problem. Pigs were trained in several groups because they could only be filmed while they were 16 to 18 weeks old. To make all these animals look alike, makeup artist Carolyn Tryer glued a small tuft of dark hair to the piglets and dyed their lashes black to highlight their eyes. Many vegetarians praised the "subliminal vegetarian message" in the film, and actor James Cromwell (Farmer Hoggett in the movie/a vegan in real life) appeared at a number of animal rights events, including a tribute "Pignic" sponsored by the Farm Sanctuary in California. After seeing the movie, Oprah Winfrey was inspired to publicly question her consumption of "pork".

· In 1996, the year after the movie Babe came out, per capita annual consumption of "pork" in the United States was 45.9 pounds, down from 52.1 pounds in 1980. …Hey, that's a start!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pigs are frequently not fully slaughtered (dead) before they are boiled alive to finish processing.

And what about all those highly developed "fetal pigs" being dissected in biology classes, beginning in middle school?