Let's talk about your Christmas ham for a moment. Do you know where it came from?
It's pretty likely that it came from a mama pig that was forced to spend its pregnancy in what's called a gestation crate. This is a tiny cage barely large enough to hold the pig -- it can't move around at all. Many pigs end up with bleeding gums from chewing on the bars while going slowly mad. In the video below you can see what this looks like. It's a lousy existence most pet owners would find unacceptable for a dog or cat, but for some reason, it's good enough for pigs.
In 2007 Smithfield, the largest pork producer in the world, promised to phase out gestation crates by 2017. But now they're whining about this being so expensive and they're already behind on their goals despite earning profits this quarter of $140 million. The Human Society's video shows what life in their gestation crates looks like.
A lot of farmers hate, I mean H-A-T-E, the Humane Society because they believe the organization's ultimate goal is to end meat-eating altogether. That's actually not their stated mission, but I've met Paul Shapiro (from the video) and he does have an annoying naive belief in the appeal of soy-based meat products. Still, I think we can find some common ground on this issue. We don't need to raise our pork this way. And if you're celebrating a religious holiday in the name of someone who preached compassion ... well, seems to me that belief should play into your food choices.
And you do have some choice for more humanely raised pork. I bought my family's ham at our local farmers' market. I've met the farmers and I know how they raise their pigs. But if that's not an option for you, there are still some good choices at the supermarket.
Safeway is phasing out purchasing pork from farms that use gestation crates.
Cargill is about halfway through phasing out its gestation crates. Their brands include Sterling Silver, Rumba, Tender Choice, and Good Nature.
Do you think it's worth it to buy humanely raised meat?