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Pork Chops, Pig Smarts & Muckraking: An Interview with Barry Estabrook

pigs

Does Barry Estabrook still eat bacon? It’s a question that he’ll likely be getting a lot following the release this week of his latest book, “Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat,” which looks at the good, the bad and the truly ugly facets of the American pork industry.

“I still eat bacon, yes. The big change is—and anyone who has tried pastured pork will say the same thing—it makes it almost impossible to go back to [factory farmed pork] just from a gastronomic point of view, let alone animal welfare and the environmental questions. Luckily, it’s getting easier and easier to find really good pork,” Estabrook tells Modern Farmer in a phone interview from his home in Vermont.

He says he has always been interested in food production, but turned to writing about the subject after realizing the hardships that kind of life include. He worked at a dairy farm during his high school years and as a commercial fisherman off Nova Scotia following college. His impression of these two jobs: “miserable.”

“I spent most of my early years in Ontario. I moved down to Vermont in the late 1980s as the founding editor of EatingWell magazine,” says Estabrook, who still speaks with a Canadian accent. His dry wit is perhaps also a vestige of his Canadian upbringing. For a decade, he was a contributing editor at Gourmet magazine, mainly writing about how food is produced. When the magazine closed in 2009, he continued to write about food production as a freelancer. In 2011, he published “Tomatoland,” a book about industrial tomato production.

The premise of his latest book, “Pig Tales,” is simple. Estabrook sets out to find as much as he can about pigs, from their history with humans to how they think, to how they are raised and slaughtered, in both the traditional manner and in large-scale industrial models. While the premise may be simple, what he discovered was a complex system involving powerful agribusiness and pharmaceutical companies, kowtowing government officials and farmers who have been told the only way to raise pigs is through factory farming. He says this has resulted in the animals, workers, the environment and consumers suffering so corporations can make more money.

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