Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Hog Heaven

While in a short line at the local convenience store today I happened to see this California Lottery scratch-off game. For a buck, it was hard to resist. The cheesy-looking pig here is happy with mud and money, but there is a much longer association of pigs with luck, something most often seen in vintage postcards, especially German ones. You can see a few examples here, where there is a brief discussion of pigs as lucky charms. Alas, my ticket wasn't so lucky--I got nothing...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Pigasus and the Yippies

The photo above shows the arrest of Pigasus the Immortal, the Yippie candidate for the U.S. Presidency, at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago on 23 August 1968. There's a full account of this brilliant political stunt at the Porkopolis site, which you can find here. Suffice to say that Pigasus comes up a lot when you look up the Chicago Seven trial. Here are a few choice lines from Phil Ochs's testimony, with William Kunstler asking the questions:

MR. KUNSTLER: After you arrived in Chicago did you have any discussion with Jerry [Rubin]?
THE WITNESS: Yes, I did. We discussed the nomination of a pig for President.

MR. KUNSTLER: Would you state what you said and what Jerry said.

THE WITNESS: We discussed the details. We discussed going out to the countryside around Chicago and buying a pig from a farmer and bringing him into the city for the purposes of his nominating speech.

MR. KUNSTLER: Did you have any role yourself in that?

THE WITNESS: Yes, I helped select the pig, and I paid for him.

MR. KUNSTLER: Now, did you find a pig at once when you went out?

THE WITNESS: No, it was very difficult. We stopped at several farms and asked where the pigs were.

MR. KUNSTLER: None of the farmers referred you to the police station, did they?


MR. FORAN: Objection.

THE COURT: I sustain the objection. ...

MR. KUNSTLER: Would you state what, if anything, happened to the pig?

THE WITNESS: The pig was arrested with seven people.

MR. KUNSTLER: When did that take place?

THE WITNESS: This took place on the morning of August 23, at the Civic Center underneath the Picasso sculpture.

MR. KUNSTLER: Who were those seven people?

THE WITNESS: Jerry Rubin. Stew Albert, Wolfe Lowenthal, myself is four; I am not sure of the names of the other three.

MR. KUNSTLER: What were you doing when you were arrested?

THE WITNESS: We were arrested announcing the pig's candidacy for President.

MR. KUNSTLER: Did Jerry Rubin speak?

THE WITNESS: Yes, Jerry Rubin was reading a prepared speech for the pig---the opening sentence was something like, "I, Pigasus, hereby announce my candidacy for the Presidency of the United States." He was interrupted in his talk by the police who arrested us. ...

MR. KUNSTLER: Do you remember what you were charged with?

THE WITNESS: I believe the original charge mentioned was something about an old Chicago law about bringing livestock into the city, or disturbing the peace, or disorderly conduct, and when it came time for the trial, I believe the charge was disorderly conduct.

MR. KUNSTLER: Were you informed by an officer that the pig had squealed on you?

MR. FORAN: Objection. I ask it be stricken.


THE COURT: I sustain the objection. When an objection is made do not answer until the Court has ruled. . .

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Get Ready for the Year of the Pig!

February 18th, 2007 will mark the start of the Chinese New Year on the Western calendar. 2007 is the Year of the Pig, lunar year 4705.

This celebration should not be confused with Emile de Antonio’s In the Year of the Pig, his 1968 documentary about the Vietnam War. Interestingly, The Smiths used an edited version of a photo from the movie for their1985 album Meat is Murder.

The image above is of a stamp issued by Taiwan's Chunghwa Post Co. Ltd. According to Chunghwa's web site, "two roly-poly red and gold piglets smile at each other, representing nobility and joy." Their plump bodies and smiles convey the abundance and festivity of the year of the pig.

I will be running my first 5k race with my pals Sean and Amy to celebrate. Assuming I survive (I'm no runner), I'll have more to post...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Pork Cocktails?

My Brooklyn connection Mr. Sidetable sent me an article from the New York Times about the new Italian restaurant Porchetta in the Carroll Hill neighborhood. According to Frank Bruni, the Times' reporter, the cocktail is basically a traditional (if top shelf) margarita, but with crushed pork cracklings and salt around the rim of the glass. As Bruni writes:

Be it belly or chop, from Niman Ranch or Meadowbrook Farms, as an accessory to seafood or a wellspring of salumi, pork has been staking such a piggy claim to prominence of late that its appearance in a cocktail feels less shocking than inevitable. What took the little oinker so long?
He goes on to note that the flavor of the pork isn't very noticeable in this drink (thank god!), which serves more as a gimmick than anything else. Porchetta, of course, is a pork roast, usually de-boned and rolled. I'm sure you can find a recipe for this traditional Italian dish in a book called Pigs and Pork: History, Folklore, Ancient Recipes about the history and development of pork consumption in Italy. I just picked up a copy at a bookstore in Key West but haven't taken a look at it yet. The pork cocktail reminds me of the 1993 album Pork Soda by Primus, naturally.

Friday, January 26, 2007

More Smithfield News

The lovely and talented Kathleen D. forwarded me a triumphalist e-mail ("Victory!") from the Humane Society of the United States about Smithfield Foods, Inc.'s decision to gradually phase out confinement crates over the next decade. While this is good news (Smithfield owns about 1.2 million sows!) it can only be seen as a partial success given all the issues surrounding modern industrial agriculture and its effects on pigs.

Interestingly, I couldn't find any news about this on the Smithfield site, but the HSUS has a piece about it here. The press release notes that this decision came after voters in Florida and Arizona--neither of which has a significant number of hog farms, by the way--passed measures to outlaw confinement crates, which are typically 2 foot by 7 foot metal cages in which breeding sows are kept during their pregnancy. While these confinement crates are understandably creepy and cruel, they are the accepted industry standard. In fact, you can find a barely lukewarm response to Smithfield's decision here on the National Pork Producers Council website. According to NPPC CEO Neil Dierks:
Smithfield Foods has made a market-based decision to eliminate gestation stalls from its production system over the next 10 years. NPPC respects the right of all producers to make market decisions they believe are in their best interest. This does not change the association’s policy on gestation stalls.

The American Veterinary Medical Association and other organizations recognize gestation stalls and group housing systems as appropriate for providing for the well-being of sows during pregnancy. We support the right of all producers to choose housing that ensures the well-being of their animals and that is appropriate for their operations.
I'm left wondering if Smithfield's announcement isn't partly a response to the "Boss Hog" article in Rolling Stone that I blogged about yesterday. (You can find Smithfield's formal response to that essay here as a pdf file in case you are interested.) My hunch is that the pork industry is increasingly worried about what the public is learning about its large scale production operations. After all, in trying to continue to squeeze out a profit the industry has consolidated incredibly over the past few decades. In 1974 there were around 750,000 pig producers, which was down to 157,000 by 1997, with 3% of those producers providing 51% of all pig meat in the United States. In Iowa alone the number of farms with pigs dropped 83% between 1978 and 2002. I'm sure the numbers are even more skewed today. I'll have to make that the subject of a future post. For now, though, the public seems increasingly less likely to have the image of happy pigs on a small family farm in their heads when they think about where their pork chops come from (this, of course, assumes that they think of where their food comes from at all). The rise of what the industry calls "niche pork" (think Niman Ranch or the Chipotle chain) reflects some of this emerging consumer perspective. Certainly large producers like Smithfield want to be seen as "animal welfare friendly" in a changing food marketplace.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Smithfield Exposé in Rolling Stone

Dave Noon, the mastermind behind the award-winning blog Axis of Evel Knievel, sent me a link to a Boing Boing discussion of the pollution produced by America's modern factory pig farmers. While that lengthy discussion can be found here, it all began with an essay entitled "Boss Hog" by Jeff Tietz that appeared in Rolling Stone. You can link directly to it here. The above photo comes from a Google Maps search of Smithfield, NC and depicts a confinement hog operation with its waste lagoons. Yuck.

Use of Pigs in Military Medical Training

Well I'm finally back in Long Beach and back to this blog, which has been quiet for the past couple of weeks. I'm not sure anyone has noticed, but if so, sorry. Someday I'll share a long tale about the disaster that awaited us in Coral Springs, Florida a couple of weeks ago... Anyhows, I've been catching up with my e-mail, and found a note from Tarak Barkawi concerning a November 2nd New York Times profile by C.J. Chivers of a horrible day in the life of Petty Officer Third Class Dustin E. Kirby, a Navy trauma medic assigned to the Second Mobile Assault Platoon of Weapons Company, Second Battalion, Eighth Marines. The moving article details Kirby's effort to save a Marine shot by a sniper, but was of interest to me when Kirby described some of his training to the reporter:
In one course, an advanced trauma treatment program he had taken before deploying, he said, the instructors gave each corpsman an anesthetized pig.

“The idea is to work with live tissue,” he said. “You get a pig and you keep it alive. And every time I did something to help him, they would wound him again. So you see what shock does, and what happens when more wounds are received by a wounded creature.”

“My pig?” he said. “They shot him twice in the face with a 9-millimeter pistol, and then six times with an AK-47 and then twice with a 12-gauge shotgun. And then he was set on fire.”

“I kept him alive for 15 hours,” he said. “That was my pig.”

“That was my pig,” he said.

Given the well-known similarities between humans and pigs the use of the latter in this manner is not surprising. Neither is the response by animal welfare and animal rights groups, which point to the many alternatives that exist to using animals in this manner. For example, check out this reply to the NYT article by the Humane Society of the United States here. Dawn McPherson of the HSUS reminds us of the outcry during the Reagan Administration about the use of dogs in this type of medical training. Because of the comments they have received after the publication of this NYT story, the Human Society has written to Robert Gates, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, and to key members of Congress to call for an end to this inhumane training.

By the way, the photo above is by Joao Silva for The New York Times.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Roald Dahl's "The Three Little Pigs"

In the little spare time I've had in the past few days here in Coral Springs, Florida, I've tried to find out a few things about the history of the "Three Little Pigs" stories, which exist in numerous versions. While the jury is still out about their origin, I've found a lot of cool versions, such as this digitized version of the "Well Loved Tales" children's book from which today's image comes. You can read along as you flip through the images on this site, which is quite nice...

I think my favorite variant for now is that of Roald Dahl, from his 1982 Revolting Rhymes. You can find a version of it here. It begins with this lovely stanza:
The animal I really dig,
Above all others is the pig.
Pigs are noble. Pigs are clever,
Pigs are courteous. However,
Now and then, to break this rule,
One meets a pig who is a fool.
Dahl's 1959 poem "The Pig" is also quite worth scrutiny. You can find a version of it here on the interweb, but it also appears in Kiss Kiss (1960).

Animal Resolutions?

Here's a screen shot from a video featuring animals from Sea World in San Diego getting some exercise and eating better in the new year. I first saw it via ESPN's SportsCenter, where the clip of a walrus doing push-ups and sit-ups was one of their "top plays." The full video, available via and titled "Walrus does sit-ups, can't reach his toes," also features a host of other animals, including these pigs who are eating some fresh fruit. (Sorry, but I can't figure out how to set up a link to the video itself at this point. I'll keep working on it). I assume that portions of this video footage (which includes a dog jumping rope as well) will appear all over the nightly news as the oddball final segment in the next couple of months.

By the way, there is another excellent clip of a walrus doing situps here.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Some Reality: Yesterday 407,000 Hogs Were Slaughtered in the U.S.

According to the National Daily Hog and Pork Summary out of Des Moines, Iowa an estimated 407,000 hogs were slaughtered under federal inspection on Wednesday, January 10th. A week ago the estimate was 413,000 hogs. One year ago the actual total for the day was 395,000. There's lots of other useful information in the daily report, which is available here as a pdf file. Today's image is of the hair being burned off a hog at the Iowa State University Meat Laboratory from the Offal Good blog.

The Three Little Pigs Gone Bad

According to a host of sources, all drawing upon the Associated Press:

A farmer's home in northern Serbia was destroyed in a blaze caused by three pigs that broke out of their pen, walked into the living room and knocked over the TV, police said Wednesday.

The television tube burst, starting a fire that spread through the house late Monday in Temerin, 50 miles, northwest of Belgrade, local police said.

No people were hurt, but the pigs perished.

The farmer was out at the time, police said.

Monday, January 08, 2007

More Georgia Wild Hogs

Last night elected officials here in Georgia held their 45th Wild Hog Supper, the traditional kickoff to the winter legislative session. According to a resolution passed by the Georgia General Assembly (here), the tradition began in the mid-1950s, when E.C. "Boo" Addison invited Agriculture Commissioner Phil Campbell, Jr. on a camping trip down on the Ocmulgee River. Campbell expressed a wish that his colleagues in Atlanta could share Boo's barbeque, so the following year Boo brought some hogs up to the city and held a supper for the pols. Boo Addison passed on in 2000, but his sons continue the tradition, bringing 16 pit-cooked hogs, 40 gallons of Brunswick Stew and 15 gallons of barbeque sauce to Atlanta for the 2006 event.

There was a bit of controversy this year when Casey Cagle, the Republican lieutenant governor, scheduled his inaugural ball (featuring music by Travis Tritt) for the same night as the Wild Hog Supper. But for me what really upstaged the Wild Hog Supper was the capture of a gigantic wild hog right here in the southern suburbs of Atlanta. Many news outlets carried the story of this second "Hogzilla," which was shot a couple of days ago by William Coursey in his neighbor's yard in Fayetteville. The boar weighs a reported 1100 pounds, ostensibly a record, although Melissa Cummings of the DNR's public affairs department noted that "We don't keep records on hogs."

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Pig Olympics

Once a year one can find awfully cute photos like these of something called the Pig Olympics. The third annual iteration of this event was held in Moscow last April, where these photos were taken. According to a BBC news article, this event is the brainchild of the Sport-Pig Federation, which has approximately 100 members in seven countries. The vice-president of the Sport-Pig Federation, Alexei Sharskov, noted that the pigs are not destined for the table after their time in sport, noting that "They go on to produce a new generation of sport pigs. They don't get eaten. How could you eat a competitor who is known around the world?" Not speaking Russian, I can't find any more information about this elusive Sport-Pig Federation. I did find an article in the Taipei Times saying that a Pig Olympics will be held as part of Taiwan's 2007 Pig Expo, so I imagine we'll have even more photos eventually.

Pig-Sticking in India

Hunting wild boars on horseback was a popular recreation for British officers in India during the Age of Empire. According to the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, it was encouraged by military authorities as good training because "a startled or angry wild boar is ... a desperate fighter [and therefore] the pig-sticker must possess a good eye, a steady hand, a firm seat, a cool head and a courageous heart."

The founder of scouting, Robert Baden-Powell, was a big believer in pig-sticking, even writing an 1889 book about it called Pigsticking or Hoghunting. In his Lessons from the Varsity of Life (1933), Baden-Powell wrote that "I never took the usual leave to the hills in hot weather because I could not tear myself away from the sport." Pig-stickers were apparently criticized for the barbarity of this sport, leading Baden-Powell to reply:
Try it before you judge. See how the horse enjoys it, see how the boar himself, mad with rage, rushes wholeheartedly into the scrap, see how you, with your temper thoroughly roused, enjoy the opportunity of wreaking it to the full. Yes, hog-hunting is a brutal sport—and yet I loved it, as I loved also the fine old fellow I fought against.
There is a fascinating article about pig-sticking by William Livingston Alden that originally appeared in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, vol. 61, issue 366, June 1880. It notes that "For pig-sticking there are two requisites in addition to the pig—a fast, steady horse, and a good hog spear." You can find this essay reprinted here.

The image above, "Pig Sticking on the Churs of the Brahmapootra--Surprised by a Tiger," appeared in The Graphic in 1891. I found it here with other images from The Graphic and the Illustrated London News.

Feral Pigs and the Bad Spinach

Thanks to a New York Times article ("When Bad Things Come from 'Good' Food") today about food safety (or, more accurately, the lack thereof) I discovered that investigators now believe that the E. coli outbreak in September 2006 that sickened hundreds and killed three was spread from a cattle ranch to the spinach fields by feral pigs. According to Dr. Kevin Reilly, deputy director of the Prevention Services division for the California Department of Health Services:
Animals, wildlife and water were in close proximity to the field. We have evidence for fences torn down, wildlife going into the actual spinach fields themselves. That's where the investigation is centered right now. There's clear evidence that the pig population has access and goes onto the fields. Is that the ultimate means of contamination or is that one potential means, including water and wildlife? We're still investigating that.
This preliminary finding is consistent with other concerns about feral pigs, many of which come from the industrial pork sector, which fears the spread of disease between wild pigs and domestic herds.