Monday, April 30, 2007

Oh, Boy! Smorgasbord!

Every once in a while I remember to take a peek at E-Bay to see what sort of pig items are out there. My favorite are the postcards, especially the vintage ones. Although you can always take a look for yourself, here's a recently auctioned item, an advertisement for Bob's Prime Rib & Smorgasbord in San Francisco.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Revising Roald Dahl (Or Not) in the UK

One of the great pleasures of the internet is having weekly access to Chuck Shepherd's long-running feature News of the Weird without having to pick up my local alternative weekly and without an editor cutting out stuff they don't think would fly with our local audience. In last week's version I heard of yet another instance of British sensitivity (perhaps over-sensitivity is a better word) to Muslims. Under the headline "We Must Never Offend Anyone," Shepherd refers to a March 16, 2007 report in London's Daily Telegraph of how the head teacher at a school in Huddersfield changed the title of a student production of Roald Dahl's "The Three Little Pigs" (from Revolting Rhymes of 1982) to "The Three Little Puppies" to avoid making Muslim children feel uncomfortable singing about pigs. As it turns out, Mohammed Imran, a spokesman for the local Muslim community, pointed out that Islam does not prohibit the mentioning of pigs, condemning this change as unnecessary and the school overruled the teacher. Paul Stokes' article about the "controversy" (so to speak) "Three Little Piggies Win A Reprieve" in the Telegraph can be found here.

By the way, Dahl's poem has some great opening lines worth repeating:

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.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Pet-Food Scandal & Pork

At least some of the pet food contaminated with melamine that has been in the news lately was salvaged and sent to hog farms, according to articles in a number of papers. According to the article in the Guardian (here), some pigs here in California were fed the contaminated products. When asked if any of the pork from these hogs had entered the human food supply, Stephen Sundlof, the chief veterinarian of the FDA, responded "At this point, I don't have a definitive answer other than to say that the issue is being addressed." For a good overview of the entire issue, including what's known and what has been done thus far in the pork industry, see the Pork Checkoff's summary here at the website.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Is It Wrong to Call Someone a Pig?

I hate to wade into our cultural obsession with celebrities, but I thought it might be worth linking to an article in Salon about Alec Baldwin's now infamous phone message for his 11-year old daughter Ireland, whom he called a "rude, thoughtless little pig." Heather Havrilevsky's op-ed (here) asks the question "What's so wrong with name-calling? anyway. While it doesn't have much to do with pigs beyond a clever reference to Ralph and Piggy from Lord of the Flies, it was accompanied by this illustration of a pig-like child that called to mind the 1946 film Johnny Learns His Manners that I blogged about last week . I suppose it further testifies to the ease with which western culture uses its ideas of pigs to comment negatively about a person's supposed traits.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Fishing Pigs in Tonga

Thanks to one of the only ads on a website that I've ever clicked, I found this great article in the Christian Science Monitor from September 2006 entitled "In Tonga, Pigs Fish But Don't Fly." According to the research of Nick Squire, pigs on the archipelago's main island, Tongatapu, have taken to foraging at low tide for stranded fish, clams, mussels, etc. (see picture at right). Apparently these fishing hogs, some of which wade fairly far out into the ocean, have become a tourist attraction; Squire's article quotes Alan Batey, a vacationing British businessman as noting: "It's almost unbelievable. To see pigs paddling around so far out to sea is bizarre." I don't find it that much of a stretch, really. Pigs are smart and curious and courageous, so as Joe Naeata, a local tour guide observed, "Perhaps one of the braver pigs went into the sea one day and the rest just followed."

By the way, there's a great aside in the article about the history of pigs in Tonga, which are supposedly all the descendants of pigs brought over by Captain James Cook. While I'm inherently skeptical about single origin stories (even more so in the U.S., where it's clearly not likely that all pigs are descended from those brought to Tampa Bay by Hernando de Soto in 1539), I'm intrigued by the idea that local Tongans call pigs "Captain Cookers."

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Modern Trends in Swine Production (1961)

More from the Prelinger Archive. Modern Trends in Swine Production (1961), a Jam Handy Picture, charts the state of the art in hog farming in the early 1960s. At the time, the shift to farrowing crates was what was modern. Funny, then, that forty years later this confinement system is increasingly under attack. The film, however, does also show the now almost quaint "pasture system" in its effort to model the best practices of the time. Your host and narrator is Bernard Ebbing, a "swine specialist" at the Waterloo, Iowa, Swine Evaluation Station. The film is sponsored by United States Steel, which explains all the talk about the water tanks, self-feeders, farrowing crates, etc., which are all built out of steel. You can watch this excellent introduction to hog farming here. Remember, as Ebbing notes, "The job you do in breeding, farrowing, feeding and management is reflected in the tonnage and quality of pork you market!"

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Friday, April 20, 2007

A Threat of "Porcine Tactics" Against Muslims

My comrade Sean Smith of the Wilmore City Ale House sent me news from Norway, where anti-immigrant politicians threatened to use "porcine tactics" to chase Muslims from the public square in Bergen (left) if they use it for prayer while awaiting completion of their mosque. According to the article in Aftenposten, a city council member named Kenneth Rasmussen suggested that "Bergen residents should hang up pig's feet and play pig squeals over loudspeakers to scare off Muslims, and claimed these tactics worked when he was a soldier for the United Nations in Somalia and Lebanon in the 1990s." Lovely. Apparently, though, this was just a threat, as I've found no articles that indicate that members of the "extreme populist party" ever did anything. I guess they were just trying to be "provocative."

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Johnny Learns His Manners (1946)

There are all sorts of treasures in the Prelinger Archive of ephemeral films, including the 1946 film Johnny Learns His Manners produced by Hugh Harman. While it is not a finished film, just an animatic of the storyboard with narration, it features some amazing and clever drawings of a boy who turns into a pig until his "good self" triumphs over his "bad self." To make a long story short, Johnny thinks manners and good behavior are for "sissies" until he turns into a pig and his mother (who doesn't seem too upset that her son has changed form, by the way) shows him film clips of soldiers and athletes. Realizing that these young men can be neat, play fair, and still be manly, Johnny changes his tune, cleaning up his room and demonstrating good sportsmanship on the baseball field. After all, as the narrator notes: "Any drip can be a pig, but it takes a smart guy not to be one." You can watch the whole film, all 18:07 of it, here.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Challenges Facing U.S. Pork Producers

Dale Miller, editor of National Hog Farmer, posts a monthly editorial on his journal's website. In his first installment for 2007 he outlined five major challenges he thought pork producers would face in 2007. To read his full article, click here, but, in brief, here are what he sees as the key issues, with a few of my comments (and a sixth issue) worked in as well:

1. Ethanol -- The national push for energy independence is increasingly coming into conflict with pork producers' need to feed their animals. New ethanol plants keep coming on line in the midwest, driving up the price of corn, making it harder for pork producers to break even.

2. Immigration -- A 2005 Pew Research Center study estimated that over one-fourth of the meat cutters and food-processing workers are illegal immigrants. Recent Immigration and Naturalization Service raids on meat packing plants have produced panic in communities surrounding packing plants and led the meat industry to demand immigration reforms. There's a good NPR story here from December 2006 about the raids on Swift. You can find a Reuters article about Hormel's drive to get Congress to pass long-term immigration policy changes here.

3. Alternative Energy for Swine Diets -- This is related to the ethanol issue, as producers and researchers look to find alternative feed sources for their animals.

4. Integration -- The pork business continues to consolidate, with two companies (Triumph Foods and Smithfield Foods) seemingly destined to control about a quarter of U.S. hog production.

5. Circovirus -- Porcine circovirus-associated diseases (PCVAD) have caused lots of problems in the U.S. and Canada, on top of a persistent problem with PRRS (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome).

The only issue missing from Miller's report, in my opinion, is animal welfare. Proposition 204 in Arizona, which requires that pigs and calves used for veal on factory farms be given enough room to turn around and fully extend their limbs, passed with 62% support in November 2006. In January 2007, Smithfield Foods announced that it would phase out gestation stalls in their company-owned sow farms over the next 10 years, a market-based decision that will undoubtedly have ripple effects throughout the industry. At the National Pork Industry Forum in Anaheim in March this issue in particular was front and center, as the industry rolled-out a new animal welfare assurance program called PQA Plus. You can find my earlier post about the Pork Industry Forum here.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Walter Martin & Paloma Muñoz, Traveler 205

The artists Walter Martin and Paloma Muñoz create wonderful scenes in snowglobes in their studio in the Poconos. ArtNews had an article about their work last fall that you can read here. The artists have their own website, with lots of images, here. This work is entitled Traveler 205 [2006, glass, water, wood, plastic, 9 x 6 x 6]. It's lovely and can be found at P.P.O.W. in New York.

Thanks to Lisa for sharing the work of these fantastic artists with me.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Pigs & Anti-Chinese Racism in 1880 San Francisco

My colleague Eileen shared this image with me from the San Francisco Wasp, a satirical paper founded by Czech immigrant Francis Korbel in 1876. (Yes, this is the same guy behind Korbel champagne, oddly enough). Many of the Wasp's cartoons supported nativism and anti-Chinese racism, including "Devastation" from volume 5, August-December 1880 (above), which depicts Chinese immigrants as pigs with Denis Kearney, leader of the Workingmen's Party, illustrated as an ineffectual scarecrow. To learn more about the Wasp, check out Richard Samuel West's The San Francisco Wasp: An Illustrated History, published by Periodyssey Press. Another version of "Devastation" with a lot more wear and tear can be found on the Library of Congress "American Memory" site here as part of their "The Chinese in California, 1850-1925" exhibit.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Foodies with Pig Tattoos

Back in 2005 an article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle about local chef John Stewart, who has the logo of Mario Battali's father's Seattle cured meats store Salumi tattooed on his forearm. Stewart is the co-owner and co-chef of Zazu in Santa Rosa and Bovolo in Healdsburg, both in Sonoma County. Carol Ness' article "Going Whole Hog" is one of many that chart the recent revival of interest in cured meats. For my readers in the Bay Area, it includes a list of places to get interesting artisan salumi. The photo at right of Stewart's arm and some of his meats that accompanied the article was taken by Craig Lee.

Other chefs and pork afficionados have pig-related tattoos. In fact, I found the article about John Stewart through the blog A Full Belly, which had a piece about a guy named Aaron's tattoos of a pig and a daikon radish. Perhaps the wildest chef tattoo is inside the lip of chef Jill Baron of Chicago. It appeared in a New York Times Magazine essay on chef tattoos back in 2005 and can be seen here.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wim Delvoye's Tattooed Pigs

The Belgian artist Wim Delvoye is back with a gallery show in Paris featuring his (now stuffed) tattooed pigs. At the Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin on Rue de Turenne one can also watch a video about Delvoye's Art Farm in China, where the tattoos are done. It's hard to tell from the image on the left, but the pigs are tattooed with the logos of luxury goods, Disney characters, etc.

There's a good overview of the history of Delvoye's work on one of my favorite blogs, The proprietress of Needled, Marisa DiMattia, takes great pains to note that she didn't personally tattoo these pigs. I guess the last time she posted about Delvoye's work she was critiqued by animal activists. As she suggests, send any and all hate mail to him, not to us bloggers. You can find his website, with better images of one of his stuffed pigs (named Louise, tattooed all over with the Louis Vuitton logo) here. By the way, commercial pigs are frequently tattooed to track and manage the animals "from birth to pork." See, for example, the website of Ketchum Manufacturing, which provides a number of pig tattooing products.

I've previously posted about tattoos of pigs on people, a clearly different matter. You can find those in the archive here and here. There are a lot more out there since I last looked. I'll post about pig tattoos on chefs and other foodies later.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bacon-of-the-Month Club

When I first heard of the Bacon-of-the-Month club I assumed it was a joke, but it's not. For $140 the folks at Grateful Palate will send a different artisanal bacon to your home each month for a year. You also get a membership card, a monthly comic strip, a pen, t-shirt, and, for the Year of the Pig, a pig nose to wear around. Seems like quite a good deal for the pork connoisseurs out there. The club is "curated" by "Captain Bacon," Dan Philips, who chooses each year's bacon selections after a big "fry-up" of about 100 different bacons. You can also purchase over 40 different bacons from "The 2007 Dan Philips Ultimate Platinum Premium Bacon Collection" which you can find here.

There's a great NPR piece (here) about bacon from All Things Considered back in January 2007 featuring John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance. Edge explains the difference between the usual store-bought, mass-produced bacon and the artisanal versions, which taste like "the sweet, sweet essence of pig." The on-line version also includes a list of "Six Weird Ways of Makin' Bacon," including bacon peanut brittle and bacon baklava.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Some Bad News For Pigs

A couple of news items greeted me on my return from spring break in Florida. More than 3000 pigs died in a fire at a Hutterite hog farm outside of Winnipeg, Saskatchewan on Saturday. Authorities think the fire was caused by a faulty exhaust fan. The fire spread rapidly through three structures thanks to other exhaust fans. According to the CBC (here), the pig operation is the main source of income for the 85 members of the Vermillion Farms community. If, like me, you are curious about the Hutterites, you can consult their official website here.

In Tularosa, New Mexico Leanne Barkemeyer kept approximately 20 pigs on her land. While this in itself is not a crime, she apparently couldn't take care of all the pigs, leading sheriff's deputies to shoot and kill eight of her pigs. According to Deputy Nobert Sanchez, "She stated that she could no longer take care of the animals, that we needed to do what we needed to do with them." The pigs were shot after one of them charged a deputy. According to KOAT 7 News (here) the rest of the pigs will be rounded up and shipped to sanctuaries in Florida or Arizona. The Alamagordo Daily News has a good article as well (here) that provides more detail about these "half-feral" pigs, which were both pot-bellied pigs and domestic pigs.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Try to Imagine Millions of Pigs

I've been in and out of town lately and am headed off yet again, so I likely won't be posting much until next week. For today, though, comes news of the USDA's Quarterly Hogs and Pigs report (you can find it in various formats here). As of March 1, 2007, there were 61.1 million hogs and pigs on American farms. This number was up 1% from the same period last year. 6.08 million breeding sows and 55 million market hogs make up this total. Nothing in the study indicates how these millions of pigs are raised, but I'm willing to bet that very few of them resemble the sow and piglets to the right from Sheepdrove Organic Farm in the UK.

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