Big Pork Small Towns
November 12, 2012 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Yeah.. this is one of the reasons I now refuse to frive through rural Iowa. It never was a place I would move to/live in, but I have In laws in the State, and frankly I'm a big believer in seeing as much of the country as possible, even spaces you may not wish to build your life in, know where your food comes from. Over the last decade and a half the hog confinements have mushroomed up all over the place and they are godawful blights upon the face of the earth, water, and air, second to strip mines and suchlike. Small communities become unlivable and you drive through with your windows open at your own peril.
posted by edgeways at 10:01 AM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Pigs? In there??
posted by theodolite at 10:19 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yet another example of the corporate singularity. We need to start fighting back.
posted by limeonaire at 10:37 AM on November 12, 2012

It's like Upton Sinclair never happened! One more step in the race back to the Gilded Age! I love the way that we fetishize the "American Farmer" (and, for that matter, the "American Soldier"), but the moment they stop being symbols and start being people with needs and wants, the message loud and clear is fuck you, there are always more where you come from.

And by "love" I mean "hate so much I'll probably have an aneurysm." One more reason not to eat meat, although, honestly, most of our vegetables, grain, fruit, probably tell a similar story. Well, without lagoons of pig shit.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:39 AM on November 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

Super farms are needed in UK, says leader of National Farmers Union
Britain urged to ape countries such as the US and Saudi Arabia and build farms housing tens of thousands of cows or pigs

Oh, I really hope not.
posted by vacapinta at 10:44 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is not new information. That being said, some rather good fiction has been written about the subject.
posted by PuppyCat at 10:47 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I love the way that we fetishize the "American Farmer" (and, for that matter, the "American Soldier"), but the moment they stop being symbols and start being people with needs and wants, the message loud and clear is fuck you, there are always more where you come from.

Just repeating that. I was about to compare our "support" for family farms with "I support the troops", but you said it much better. What these people support is an idealized nostalgic symbol; they have no use for the real thing. In that way it's markedly similar to so-called communism's perpetual invocation of The People as an abstract deity, while treating actual persons like ants. In many ways we really are no better.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:47 AM on November 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

In many ways we really are no better.

Honestly, I would say worse. There are plenty of communist leaders who have tried to work for the Good of the People as they saw it, whether heir policies succeeded or not, while I have seen few if any American politicians in recent years who seem to care at all about real flesh and blood American farmers rather than symbols.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:00 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I understand that the point of this study is focused on corporate pork processing and its effect on the agricultural community, but I think that some of the change has been driven by demographic and economic shifts in farming in general.

We have a good friend whose family had a mixed farm that raised corn, beef, and pork in Indiana. They got out of the business about 15 years ago because corn - particularly with the subsidies and with the increase in ethanol production - proved easier and more predictable. Their decision was made in part when the kids in the family grew up, went to college, and moved off the farm. Small-scale pigs are labor intensive and the old model of each generation staying rooted to the family farm is changing. In fact, now the family leases most of the farm to others because the current generation is getting older and there's nobody behind them to do the work. While the kids feel sad about that, they are a doctor and an engineer, respectively. I don't think we should mourn them having the opportunity and mobility to choose their own career.

I am sure that the scaling up of hog production and processing has had a "push" factor in getting small farmers out of that market. But the economics of corn and soy, and the changing demographics of farming, have clearly had a "pull" factor too.
posted by AgentRocket at 11:42 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

P.S. Interestingly enough, we have been to the local 4H fair a few times in their county. Though there's little local pork production, many of the kids still show pigs. Our friend told us that the large majority of those kids effectively "rent" the pigs. They buy one pig from a hog farm in a neighboring county a month of so before the fair, work with it, show it, and then sell it back to the hog farm afterwards.
posted by AgentRocket at 11:46 AM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

I came here to say what PuppyCat said.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:53 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

PuppyCat: If by "rather good fiction" you mean a book that after reading it you say to yourself, "Well that would have been a complete waste of time, but I did learn a lot about the industrialization of hog farming."

I'd also like to add, "Mmmmmmmmmmmmm, Bacon!"
posted by spock at 12:37 PM on November 12, 2012

> I have seen few if any American politicians in recent years who seem to care at all about real flesh and blood American farmers

Really? Because I think exactly the opposite. There's a suspicious, disproportionate amount of "concern" (in the form of subsidies and tax breaks and general dialog) among politicians for "farmers," as a sort of abstract class, which seems to ignore the fact that there are very, very few farmers—in the sense that the general public would understand that word—in the United States, and hasn't been for a long time.

The political dialog in the US would be a lot more honest if the word "farmer" were abolished, along with all its historical/emotional baggage, and replaced with "food production capital owner", "food production manager", "food production laborer", etc., because those are a lot more representative of the current system as it actually exists. At the very least, it would make it clear that politicians' concern is almost exclusively for the owners of food-production-related capital, typically as representatives of the capital-owning class in general, and very infrequently for laborers who happen to be involved in food production.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:44 PM on November 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

This made me think of, but I'm not going to dig up the URL for it again - the video of the Jarvis Bung Dropper on YouTube.
posted by mrbill at 2:42 PM on November 12, 2012

Hog Lagoons. Any discussion of industrial pig farming is kind of moot without it.

I can't remember exactly which hurricane it was, but one hit the Carolina's pretty hard, causing lot of flooding, including the lagoons, or, as it's more bluntly known, giant waste pools of pig shit, plus all of the by-products of the antibiotics and medicine the farmers force into the pigs because of the sheer number of pigs in such a tight space. The shit washed out into the ocean, and for a couple of weeks(?months?) there was a massive dead zone off the coast of the Carolinas.

Pork, it's the other white meat, surrounded by giant, giant pink ponds you don't want to swim in, live near, or smell.

god help me, I love pork...
posted by Ghidorah at 3:21 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

As we increasingly have business discussions that mimic the ones we had at the end of the Gilded Age, this question comes to mind: Isn't this the "default" ending anytime corporations are allowed to become so large? 4 processors for the entire country? How else could this end?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:36 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

As someone who grew up in Smithfield, Virginia, the Ham Capital of the World and Home of the World's Largest Ham Biscuit, let me say fuck you, Smithfield Foods. Fuck you for illegally dumping pig shit into Pagan River 22,000 times. Fuck you for perfuming the entire town with the smell of pig offal with your bi-monthly burnings. Fuck you for keeping your workers working at pittance wages and the residences adjacent to your campus a squalid ghetto of filth.

That being said, I left Smithfield in 97 so things may be a lot different now, however I still feel industrialized pig farming is one of the worst environmental blights on the American landscape.
posted by daHIFI at 5:14 PM on November 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

Really? Because I think exactly the opposite.

Wait? The opposite of what? I rarely see any American politician defend the interests of "farmers as people" rather than "farmers as symbols" or "farmers as a shorthand for agribusiness." I think we agree, don't we?
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:05 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

You're probably thinking of Hurricane Floyd. I think a few other storms produced hog lagoon flooding, but Floyd was the worst (the flooding in Floyd generally was terrible even by hurricane standards, it basically destroyed at least one entire town).

Eastern North Carolina is, like Iowa, a hot spot for industrial pig farming. As people have pointed out, it smells terrible, and it doesn't really add much to the local economy. I grew up driving past hog farms on a pretty regular basis, but I've never met anyone who had any actual connection to one.

It's a double shame because pigs and pig farming are actually part of the region's heritage. I love pig, I grew up eating pork products in ways that have cultural resonance (barbecue, eating pork for New Years, ham for Easter, etc.) and I hate that a thing that should be a source of regional pride is something that pollutes the countryside and impoverishes the population. I'm not one to be particularly swayed by the claims of animal rights activists or vegetarians, but shit like this does make me think twice about picking up meat from the grocery store.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:34 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Related: Pork's Dirty Secret. The link is broken, but the article is reprinted here.
posted by homunculus at 7:52 PM on November 12, 2012

That would probably be the one I'm thinking of, Bulgaroktonos. I remember seeing pictures of the overflowed waste pools. It got into the rivers, lakes, and everything, and is just about one of the more toxic things invented.

You're right about the local heritage thing, and it's a goddamn shame that's another thing being ruined by the race to the bottom. One of the things I treasure about living in Japan is that farmers have seen the rabid following that wagyu gets, and now almost every prefecture here has some sort of high-end, heritage brand of meat. Akita is becoming famous for it's heritage chickens (they are delicious, and the difference between them and a factory chicken is stunning), Tokyo and Chiba are both working on pork (Tokyo Black Pork, from black haired pigs, and a group of farmers in Chiba are bringing Chiba Imo-buta (pigs raised on sweet potatoes, as a kind of version of Iberico, with the feeding on acorns) to market. Especially with what happened in Fukushima, people here are much, much more concerned about their food and where it came from, and how it was grown/raised.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:21 PM on November 12, 2012

« Older The loss of translators...   |   Dear Mr. President: An open letter on the state of... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments