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Pork: the Source Matters – Michael Pollan and the Swine Flu

Michael Pollan

There are some strong feelings on both sides of the issue of eating pork – I first read that it may not be good for us in the book, “The Maker’s Diet”. While I’m not saying I disagree with the author’s stance, neither am I convinced, and here’s one reason why:

“The pig is one of the oldest forms of livestock, having been domesticated as early as 5000 BC.”

Obviously, pork can be considered a traditional food.

The Source Matters

Our family eats pork, and if you’re going to eat it, too, be smart about where you get it. Buy from a farmer who raises pigs the way they were meant to be raised, outside! I don’t buy our pork, or any of our meat, at a regular grocery store. (OK, with a couple of exceptions: we do buy our grass-fed hot dogs at the store.) If you can’t find a farmer nearby, find healthy meats here.)

Why does it matter? A few reasons:

  1. Who wants to to eat meat from animals who are being fed animal by-products (health risk), or given antibiotics (increases our resistance to them, so they may not work when we really need them) and hormones (which we then ingest and it can cause health issues), or who are given types of feed they were never meant to eat? What they eat and how they live (see below interview) obviously affects their health, and if we eat unhealthy meat, you guessed it: it affects our health, too…
  2. Have you seen the Meatrix? This will give you a good visual, don’t worry, it’s short.
  3. Michael Pollan makes some interesting comments in this interview, which you can read at that link here’s a sad excerpt related to CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Factory Operations):

AMY GOODMAN: How is the Swine Flu connected to industrialized agriculture?

MICHAEL POLLAN: Well, we don’t know for sure yet. We’re still kind of investigating. But the best knowledge we have is that this outbreak came from a very large industrial pork operation, pork confinement operation, where, you know, tens of thousands of pigs live in filth and close contact. And this was in Mexico.

And, you know, it’s very interesting. Last year, eighteen months ago, the Pew Commission on animal agriculture released a report calling attention to the public health risks of the way we’re raising pork and other meat in this country. And they actually predicted in that report—they said the way you’re raising pigs in America today creates a perfect environment for the generation of new flu pandemics, basically because once you get that mutation, which sooner or later is about to happen, it very quickly—you have so many different—so much genetic material coming together, so concentrated, and then so many pigs can catch it, and that this is a—you know, we’ve created these Petri dishes for new diseases. And here we go.

AMY GOODMAN: And what has been the industry response?

MICHAEL POLLAN: Oh, the industry response and the media response, by and large, is not to pay attention to that part of the story. We haven’t gotten a lot of investigation of, well, exactly how do these things evolve and how did these conditions contribute to it.

The other angle, too, is that, you know, as we bring any pressure to bear on American animal agriculture, the tendency is going to be for it to move to Mexico. And indeed, that appears to be the case here, that these are American corporations who have to escape any kind of environmental regulation, have moved their confinement, animal operations, south of the border.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain how these animal operations work.

MICHAEL POLLAN: Well, a pig confinement operation is a pretty hellish place. They are, you know, tens of thousands of animals, kept jammed together. The animals are so close together that they have to snip their tails off, because the animals are so neurotic—I mean, pigs are very intelligent; they’re smarter than dogs—that they will nip at each other’s tails. They’ve been weaned so early that they have this sucking desire, and so they take it out on the tails of the animal right in front of them. So they snip the tails off, not to stop the procedure, but to make it so painful that animals will avoid having their tails bitten, just to make them raw and painful.

They administer antibiotics to these animals on a regular basis, because they could not survive without them. And the waste goes down directly below the animals into this giant cesspool that’s flushed, two or three times a day, out. I mean, they’re just—you know, they’re incubators for disease.

The sows remain in crates their whole lives, so they can be conveniently inseminated, and they have their babies right there in their crates. You know, to go to one of these places is to stop eating industrial pork, basically. I mean, if we could see into this industrial meat production, it would change the way most of us eat.

A Clarification:

Michael Pollan goes on to clarify that the Swine Flu isn’t contracted by eating pork.

The whole interview is very interesting, you’ll want to pop over to read it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

You may have heard about CAFOs – but did you realize what they were really like? After reading more, does it make you want to re-think where you will buy your meat? It’s more expensive, but there are better ways to be frugal.

photo: bpfox


  1. Hi Kelly,

    I agree, it’s all about the source. Although I’ve gone back and forth with my decisions to eat pork, it has nothing to do with the swine flu. I’m more concerned about parasites. Pigs will eat just about anything, and even when raised in the best of conditions, who knows what they’ll get into and what infections they might pick up.

    Even advocates of the traditional whole food diet often recommend to cook pork a little extra. As someone who likes rare meat, both from a nutritional and taste perspective, this is another reason for me to avoid pork.

    Vin |

  2. While I agree that pigs will eat just about anything–including the buckle from the top of my boots–I would say that a good farmer raising outdoor pigs MUST look after their welfare & the end product. Therefore he prevents–like I do–them from coming in contact with potential sources of contamination–rats, bird carcasses, toxic plants, parasites, etc. It is an easy thing to do if welfare & management is the goal on the road to creating an excellent flavored meat. Outdoor raised pigs are robust creatures & I doubt that any of the concerns of confinement hogs need apply.

    There are no guarantees with any of the meat which is raised. Beef can have fluke in the liver, chickens can have salmonella, sheep scrapie. Why does everyone single out free-range pigs as being riddled with trichinella? Properly cooked pork–and yes, that can be a little pink–is pork in which any potential disease problem has been destroyed.

  3. I’m not ready to cut pork from our diet and I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve decided it’s not a guilty pleasure because I put so much effort into ensuring out pork is coming from a great source: local farm, all the best practices, explicitly trust the farmers, the animal was slaughtered on-site and then processed by a very reputable butcher. I feel pretty darn good about the pork in my freezer and even though I had to wait a year for it, it was worth it! If I wasn’t so lucky to have such a great source though, I’ll admit we probably wouldn’t be eating any pork these days (and I need my bacon!).


  4. I have a unique perspective on this subject in that I was grew in the Seventh Day Adventist Church where the eating of pork is essentially prohibited. The reasoning behind that is the lack of cleanliness of the animal and the parasite issue raised by Vin. I was taught — and I emphasize I do not know if this is true or not — that the only way to kill certain parasites in pork is to burn it black when cooking it. Still, I have tried ham and bacon from time to time but because I did not grow up eating it, it never became a habit and I never developed a desire for pork. And of course the parasite issue, which cannot be easily dismissed, is always in the back of my mind. For me, pork is a risk not worth taking for a meat I don’t even care for.

    Charles/Campaign For Real Health

  5. Well obviously I failed to proofread the first sentence in my previous comment. The goofed part should read: “…in that I grew up in…”

    By the way, Hulda Clark has another reason for not eating pork; it contains “phloridzin” a plant substance that (she says) fragments the pituitary gland and has a strong correlation with both cancer and diabetes.


  6. I guess Hulda must avoid apples & pears then…
    Philordzin is a glucoside & flavenoid found in most tree fruits. If–and I really don’t see how pork can have this in it, even my apple finished pigs–pork has this in it, then bully for the pigs. They won’t have hypoglycemia and will be very healthy–full of antioxidants.

    I think there is far more to worry about in meat, pork or other things. I am fine with your religious upbringing & beliefs, Charles. We all have something dietary we wish to avoid for whatever reasons. However, if pork, particularly, were full or parasites and as dangerous to eat as some people proclaim, then most of us would be dead or dying. I fear there is a lot of myth out there spouted by pundits who don’t know much about what they’re talking about.

    I have read that pigs urinate from their feet–a strong reason not to eat pork…Obviously whoever promoted this belief misread/misunderstood the fact that pigs SWEAT from their feet, and the rest of their body–like most animals–and that a small amount of urea–again, found on the bodies of most sweating creatures–is there to help reduce bacterial populations…. Most commercially produced cow milk contains blood–shocking, but true. Many will try to deny it. Fact of life. Will you stop drinking it? Perhaps not. The blood, like the phloridzin in pigs, is the least of our worries in terms of what’s in our food. I’m far more worried about artificial hormones, chemicals & biologically unnecessary drugs.

  7. Podchef,

    Well put and I agree there are many more things to worry about in our food. You would need to take up the Philordzin issue with Hulda Clark though her work on this — again, according to her — was verified in some way with blood work after both eating and not eating pork. Why this does not apply to fruit, I can’t say. As to the my religious upbringing, that part of it wasn’t spiritual as such, it was — parasites, an issue that won’t go away with this meat. And since pork simply does not appeal to me, I don’t eat it. Now if your were to give me a choice between eating, say, organically raised pork on the one hand and store bought donuts made from sugar, hydrogenated fats, white flour, preservatives, etc etc. on the other — I would take the pork:-)


  8. Mmmm, pork, possibly one of the world’s most versatile foods. Think of all the cuisines that feature pork! Except for those who cling to their cultural and religious taboos (the logic for these taboos always escapes me), pigs have nourished people around the world for a long time. I guess that means more pork for us, eh?

    I tried wild boar bacon last week – wonderful!

  9. I agree source is important. We don’t eat a lot of pork, but I do love bacon. I didn’t eat bacon for a long time as I dould not find a convenient source that I trusted. I would get it sporadically from some local farmers, but many of the small processors add things when they process the pork and then I can’t eat it. Same with hot dogs. There was one farmer who did great hot dogs and I would get them when I could. However, a few years back I found a local smokehouse/sausage company in Detroit, MI. They are family owned and have been in business for over 50 years. They have a real wood fire smokehouse and their products are wonderful. They source their meat from Amish farmers in various states that they have built relationships with and the meat is pastured and treated the way I want my food raised. They only add organic garlic, salt, pepper and other spices, no fillers, no nitrates, no MSG, no powdered milk, etc. They naturally smoke the meats and they use natural casings.

    The place is on Michigan Avenue in Detroit. It is called Markowycz Home Style European Sausage. If you live anywhere within driving distance of Detroit, check it out.

  10. I’ve tried to eliminate pork from my diet entirely. There’s so many parasites in pork and the solution of cooking it for a long time doesn’t really seem to help me want to eat all those dead parasites in it. Plus it’s a very fatty meat. When it’s processed it’s even more so. So…I think it’s wise to limit pork intake.

  11. The alteration of meat is a very big issue. There are a lot of illegal and unhealthy methods that companies are using to get the most for their money. I would be very careful when it comes to buying meat at a local grocery store.

  12. Chiropractor, I couldn’t agree more. With the exception of bacon, I make it a point to avoid pork consumption. It just doesn’t seem smart when I weigh the risks involved. Health is more important than taste to me.

  13. A side note: Did you know that in order to “fatten up a pig” farmers mix in corn oil or other vegetable oils with the food. The long chain fatty acids cause the pigs to put on weight.

    In order to raise lean pork they feed the pigs cocconut oil which contains medium chain fatty acids similar to those found in mothers milk. These are burned quickly for energy and are rarely stored as fat. This thins the pigs out. Hum…I wonder if this works for humans??? I thought they said saturated fats were bad!… not all of them are… get educated on the value of high quality fats.

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