Monday, November 1, 1999

Piggie in the Middle (Do a Pooh Pooh)

Back in the days I used to work for that big faceless corporation, Kmart, I worked with a affable young chap named Ernie Gonzalez. Ernie was wise beyond his years, especially when it came to his knowledge of fishing lures, and though not college educated his media savvy taught him enough to use sayings that many years later have stuck with me. One of the things Ernie was fond of uttering was, "Son, it's a hog." I often found for a man of so few words, Ernie sure had a lot to say.

Last Tuesday I woke up at five o'clock in the blessed morning, forced myself out the door and drove for two hours down to Albert Lea only to learn that there are too many pigs in this state. Now I'm just as big a fan of humanity as the next person, indeed some of my best friends are people, but to hear such a blunt stating of the obvious was more than a tad disconcerting. The lesson learned actually had nothing to do with a study released the same day showing one out five Americans is obese. Oink! Oink! (And don't get me started about the supposed coincidence that the number just happens to match the number of dentists who prefer sugarless gum for their patients that chew gum. Obviously to me at least, there is an uncomfortable correlation.)

Contrasting the crankiness that inevitably results from dragging yourself from beneath the warmth of your covers, driving in the dark to some God forsaken spot, fighting the traffic at such an unnatural hour, was a sign just outside Albert Lea that read, "Hope- One Mile." How many weary travelers do you figure have driven by that sign, and at the spur of a moment took the exit to find out if the sign lived up to its unassuming promise? I was tempted to turn off but there was somewhere that I was supposed to be, pork related news waiting for me.

At a hearing of the House Agriculture and Rural Development Finance Committee, representatives from Hormel said the supply of pigs in the state outweighs the demand. Unfortunately so long as that situation exists (and it appears to be a rather problematic and complex issue to address- with no easy apparent answers) the difficulties pork producers are facing will inevitably continue.

Pork consumption in the state has been on a steady increase in the 1990's due in part to the industry's successful "The Other White Meat" advertising campaign. The increase followed a decade long decline related to a general lessening in the amount of meat people ate- a movement based on cholesterol conscious Americans trying to eat more healthy meals, and also due in part to the rapid increase in the amount of chicken consumed. And as the results of last week's obesity study show our ever changing collective diet most certainly seems to be working (looked at one way I guess we should all be happy that as a nation four out of five of us are not obese). Yet the amount of pork consumed appears to be leveling off, the increase at this point appears to be from our population growth- not so much that people are eating more and more of the meat.

So where does this leave Porky? The answer isn't very pretty. It leaves him a much maligned uncloved hoofed over populated piece of meat who we're merely interested in for his chops. We certainly aren't interested in his well being. Hogwash you say? Well, as an example just look at last year's pseudorabies scare- the basis for action was based almost entirely on the economic impact, not overriding concern over the health of the foaming of the mouth pigs. Years of negative imagery in our literature, in our media portrayals tend to bias our view toward the animal. Go ahead, call up someone tonight and call them a "swine," see if they ever go to dinner with you again. Is there any more damning symbolism than that innocent little piggie bank we all had as children? We are taught at the earliest of ages that what is inside the pig is where the money is at.

To learn this lesson doesn't come without extracting a price. Believe me I am not what is known in the utmost inner circles as a "sow lover" because I'm certainly known as a guy who enjoys his bacon. Fix me a pork chop Susie and I'm almost in hog heaven. And what about the now fairly old study that shows that 67% of pigs, particularly those that build their homes out of straw and sticks are now homeless? Only those that have homes made out of bricks remain properly sheltered.

Similarly there's that ever-puzzling analogy of the pig that went to the market, and another that stayed home. The third pig, the story goes, had roast beef, while the fourth had none. The last piggy, this party piggy, went "wee wee wee wee" all the way home. I'm never been quite sure what to make of that tale. But as I arrived back from my day in Albert Lea somehow the meaning of it all seemed just a little bit closer.

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