Stop the press! A scandal is emerging in the nation’s supermarkets! Undercover reporters have discovered a shocking truth behind the nation’s food industry. Meat bought and sold in markets up and down the country used to be alive. Ground-breaking investigation has revealed that supermarkets have been sourcing their beef from real life cows, and pork chops from defenceless pigs. Customers are outraged.
The investigation reveals that for decades, supermarkets have been fooling their customers into thinking that food is an infinite resource built in factories. By presenting seemingly endless quantities of all imaginable types of food, supermarkets veil customers from the reality of the supply chain, making food consumption as unceremonious as buying a pen or breathing air. A spokesperson from a leading supermarket has released a statement, saying that ‘customers don’t want to know where their food comes from. By ignoring the truth behind their food’s origins, the public don’t have to face the reality of its effects on animal welfare and the environment.’
OK. This isn’t a real news story. But judging by the reaction of some of my friends to the following story, it seems as though it needs to be.
I really like pork. It’s delicious, juicy, and crackly. All other roasts bow down to roast pork. But for something I like so much and interact with on a really regular basis, I knew surprisingly little about what it took to make it. So I decided it would be good to see the entire pork production process, from sty to stomach.
In September I started volunteering at Stepney City Farm. There, I met these four delightful Berkshire pigs. For breakfast they ate whey and okara porridge. Whey is a by-product of cheese production, usually discarded, but full of protein and delicious for pigs. Okara similarly is an oft unused by-product of tofu production, but is also jam-packed with nutrients.
Their dinner consisted of surplus vegetables, delivered to the farm by a major wholesale company when the food was no longer fit for sale. When feeding them I wondered at the alchemic power of the mighty pig, able to turn boring old potatoes and carrots into succulent pork. A baffling miracle was being performed before my eyes.
When I told my friends that I was planning on eating my dear pigs, they almost exclusively retorted; ‘I can’t believe you could eat something you’ve known!’. I can understand the natural aversion to contemplating an animal’s death, but when I probed my friends further, some of them said ‘I couldn’t eat something if I had seen it alive’ and ‘I’d rather just eat meat without thinking that it used to be an animal’. Now at this point I was really concerned. Do lots of people really want to be so disconnected from reality to forget that meat comes from animals? How might that desire deform our attitudes towards animal welfare and the environment?
We should view meat as divinely provided, a limited resource that we should care for and respect, not least because life has been lost in its provision. Instead, we’re teased into seeing it as an infinite disposable product, designed solely to fulfil our animalistic desires.
Eventually the day came when the pigs were taken off to the abattoir. My fellow volunteers and I lined the path from the pig-pen to the trailer in ceremonial fashion. A respectful solemnity was felt in the air. I wasn’t sad to see the pigs go; I was simply very aware of the labour and sacrifice expended in the effort to get pork on my plate, and took that moment to thank the pigs for that. I was also aware that I had never felt that way about food before, and mourned that fact a little.
Sadly I wasn’t able to witness the pigs’ death, but I was invited to a butchery demonstration by the Ginger Pig. I felt very honoured to be able to be a part of this important stage in the pork production process. I was surprised not to be more moved by the sight of my pigs now dead on a table, though when I picked up half a head I was a little taken aback.
All that was left to do was the bit with which I am most acquainted - the eating! After feeding the pigs for months, it was time for them to repay the favour. And I can tell you, I will not forget that roast in a hurry. But even more memorable was the moment of prayer before we got stuck in. In that moment I reflected on the entire process, from pen to plate. The pigs’ lives flashed before my eyes. I had never looked upon food with such respect and sanctity as I did then. For me this pork symbolised a new way of interacting with the planet, a new economy, a new way of worshipping God. To enjoy this pork was to laugh in the face of gigantic infrastructures, the pollution of creation, the problem of food waste, and the large scale problem of food security. Food production doesn’t have to be manipulative, abusive, and opaque. And I never knew it better than when I had my own pigs on my plate.