Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Wild Pig Chase

I read an article recently that told me about a new-to-me (yet very old indeed) beer delivery style called firkins. It turns out Pipers Pub in Pittsburgh, a Scottish ale house on the Southside, serves Scotch eggs and dishes out ale pumped from firkins. I got really excited for both the beer and the sausage-covered eggs.

And then I remembered I'm not eating just any sausage anymore. I'm only eating pastured pork sausage, mostly from my freezer. I emailed Drew from the pub to see if he could tell me whence his sausage came. Thus began a chase that I followed most of the afternoon. What better fun when I have work to do instead?

My first stop was the sausage supplier in Erie, PA, where Drew told me Piper's purchases pork. I phoned them to ask about their pigs, the diet of their pigs, and where the pigs live.

They don't have any pigs. A smoker-cough woman transferred me to the meat facility, where another smoker-cough lady informed me that they just package the meat and ship it to restaurants. They actually procure their meat from a number of different sources.

Smoke lady wouldn't give me the names of these companies, but was begrudgingly willing to phone some of them if I could better explain what I was trying to figure out and if I told her how many pounds of sausage I needed to order.

I sighed, and realized it's a lot harder to trace the origins of an animal than I thought. Poor Drew might have thought he was buying PA pigs for Pipers. Little did he know his pork paraded in from all over the place. Michael Pollan was right: it's darn near impossible to trace our meals back to the ground it grew from.

Imagine all the hands involved in one Scotch egg from Pipers Pub? Countless pork farms raising hogs, sending them to numerous slaughter houses, who send the meat to various packaging companies, who ship it to distributors, who sell it to restaurants. It was starting to make my mind explode.

I emailed Drew to tell him about the chase and was surprised to get this email in response:
I will see what I can find out. It might take some time but I am curious to find out for myself.

I don't know about you, but I am heartened by his interest in his meat suppliers. So my pig chase left me with both hope and gloom. Sadness that the way things operate seem so complex, it's impossible to feel connected to the food that fuels me. But hope because other people care about these things, too.

Maybe Drew, as an actual sausage purchaser, will have more luck from the smoke-lady.

4 comments:

PeaceLoveMath said...

Don't think I didn't notice all your p-words, missy.

Em said...

Something that continues to amaze me is that such a complicated food distribution system works at all. Like, how did we ever decide that having 20 different steps and 2000 miles between pig and plate was a better idea than 5 steps and 20 miles?

Andrew & Becky said...

I might be biased, but you should tell them to get Troegs on firkin. Hopback amber ale in particular, mmm.

ellenclev said...

whoa! I finally figured out how to get around the google/Blogger sign in, which never ever recognizes me and makes me run through hoops just to send a message.

Michael Pollan has been on lots of npr shows-Fresh Air and Leonard Lopate (maybe he's just on wnyc.com). I think you can get them on line. It all sounds so reasonable and now you have found out why it isn't. Change will be slow in coming..but at least people are talking about it more (and maybe even doing something??).

Katy, I think your next crusade should address hospital waste. I sincerely believe that the largest users of plastic, and the largest number of plastic items being thrown out and added to land-fills, HAS to be hospitals. Surely there is a way plastic medical waste can be sanitized and recycled. Get to work!