- Pig Tales: An Omnivore's Quest for Sustainable Meat by Barry Estabrook
In Pig Tales, award-winning author Barry Estabrook takes you on a narrative journey, immersing you in the smells, sounds, and stories of the people and animals entrenched in United States hog production. Estabrook states that his goal in writing the book was to learn everything he could about modern hog production. So, a reader might be surprised but fascinated to find the first two chapters focused on hog behavior in labs and the invasion of feral hogs across the United States. However, once you start the third chapter, you become privy to Estabrook's masterful strategy. By giving you a window into these animals' lives—how emotionally complex, smart, and incredibly resilient they are—he creates the context for you to understand the paradox of industrial hog production. We have taken an animal that is amazingly resilient (key for farmers and food security) and turned it into an animal that is incredibly fragile and vulnerable to disease, and we have turned their manure (an asset) into a toxic public health disaster. I strongly recommend readers engage with the book in chronological order and in its entirety. You will learn so much more by doing so.
In addition to the paradoxes of production, Estabrook provides a window into the (often) invisible lives of the people who live next to or work in pig industrial food animal production (IFAP). As a public, we have become knowledgeable about the inhumane treatment of livestock in IFAP facilities, which has led to some improvements via policy and practice. Estabrook makes a contribution to popular literature on food animal production by providing readers with an up-close look at the daily life of the women and men who face horrific abuses and crippling injuries in pig slaughterhouses and processing facilities. He brings you into the living rooms and onto the front porches of families who have had IFAP forced on them as neighbors. Here we witness how the IFAP-sourced bacon we serve our families at breakfast negatively and severely impacts the health and well-being of other families and communities. He also provides critical and terrifying coverage on the role of IFAP in creating antibiotic-resistant strains of bacterial infections that threaten the lives of all of us.
Estabrook makes another important contribution by detailing a range of alternative models, from modified [End Page 147] IFAPs to hogs raised in the woods. Estabrook explains that these models are viable alternatives to "traditional" IFAPs. However, he notes that without certain key components, like local slaughterhouses, they are likely to fail. This last point is critical, and one that I believe scholars and practitioners of animal production should delve into more deeply. Many farmers whose humane and sustainable pork is sold at elite restaurants and grocery stores suffer from poverty. They can barely pay their mortgage, have no other option but to send their kids to failing rural schools, lack affordable health insurance, and have no college or retirement savings. This is not a result of a failed business plan or poor financial management, but the result of farm policies that make it impossible for non-IFAP farms to compete and succeed. We need to engage the public on this problem as masterfully as Estabrook guides us through the depths of industrial hog production.