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Is Pork Bad for You?

Is Pork Bad for You?

People tend to be of only one of two minds about pork: On one side there are those who claim pork is unclean (or traif) because of religious prohibitions or unhealthy because of the way the animal eats or is raised.

On the other side are those who greatly enjoy “the other white meat,” including traditional cultures like the long-lived Okinawans and Caucasian Georgians who eat pork in some form almost every day.

And then there are thousands of years of Asian, European (and later, American) farming history, where almost every homestead and farm had a pig or two to turn waste into fertilizer and food.

So, religious prohibition notwithstanding (That’s between you and your Maker!), is pork bad for you? Or is it a healthy, traditional food that’s an integral part of every self-sustaining homestead?

A Brief History of Pork

Pork is one of the oldest sources of meat, and domestication of wild pigs has been documented as early as 5,000 BCE. Today about 38 percent of the world’s meat production is pork, although its consumption varies widely from country to country.

Pork is so popular because on a traditional homestead, pigs are fed “slop” —a mixture of kitchen scraps, whey left over from making cheese, orchard fall, and other household waste, including (in other times) human feces, or “nightsoil.”

This means a lot of meat, fat and fertilizer for little to no input, plus 99% efficient nutrient and waste recycling. The value of waste recycling to an off-grid, self-sustaining homestead in any era cannot be overestimated.

Pork is also one of the most commonly eaten meats because it is much more easily preserved than other types of meat, due to its fat content. Salt curing pork into bacon, salami, prosciutto, ham, and the like is an old traditional method that goes back thousands of years before refrigeration.

Marinating pork meat before cooking it is another traditional method used in preparing fresh pork, which both tenderizes it, and imbues it with more flavor.

Traditional curing methods such as salt curing, smoking, brining, marinating and lacto-fermenting not only made the meat taste better and last longer, they also killed any parasites that might have been present. But even though we have modern refrigeration, and trichinosis is now almost non-existent in the U.S., the flavors that traditional curing methods create are why bacon, salami, etc. remain very popular meats today.

Pork Nutrition

Pork often gets a bad rap. But you may not know that pork is actually a good source of Vitamin C, niacin, phosphorus and zinc, and a very good source of protein, Vitamin B-12, iron and selenium. The more varied the pig’s diet and the more time it spends outdoors in the sun, the better its nutrition will be.

Pork that has been raised on pasture not only tastes better than the flavorless pork produced on factory farms, but it is also more nutritious. Studies indicate that pastured pork has significantly more vitamin E and more omega-3 fatty acids than factory-farmed pork, making it potentially less inflammatory than high-Omega-6 factory-farmed meat. Pasture raised pork also contains a lot more Vitamin D and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which are potent natural cancer fighters.

Pork fat, or lard, is not at all the health menace most people believe it to be. Lard is actually 45% monounsaturated fat—the same kind of fat found in olive oil.

Monounsaturated fats are responsible for lowering LDL levels while leaving HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels alone. In fact, according to researcher Gary Taubes, “If you work out the numbers, you come to the surreal conclusion that you can eat lard straight from the can and conceivably reduce your risk of heart disease.”

Lard also tolerates high cooking temperatures, it’s often recommended for frying and pie crusts because it makes things so light and flaky, and it has a long shelf life.

Wow! Bring on the lard!

How to Buy Pork

Credit: Farm Sanctuary

When I buy any meat, how the animal was raised is most important to me. While I think that all factory farming is heinous, commercial pig farms are arguably among the very worst of all the concentrated animal operations.

Domesticated pigs are very smart creatures, and have served as an integral part of homesteads and smallholdings for thousands of years. They are not suited in any way to the kind of crowding and filth found in typical pig-farming factories, and will bite each others’ tails and ears off in such stressful conditions.

The conditions in factory pig farms are so disgusting, in fact, that commercial pigs must be given multiple antibiotics, steroids and other pharmaceuticals just so they can make it to your table.

It is thought that methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA, the highly virulent, flesh-eating staph infection that is resistant to antibiotics, originated on factory pig farms. Swine flu as well.

Industrial hog manure lagoons pollute the air for miles, destroying quality of life for everyone living nearby. These lagoons can also pollute ground water and nearby wells, and sometimes they even explode and catch fire as methane builds up in them.

But not all pork is created equal.

Industrial meat simply can’t hold a candle to traditionally produced meat for quality, accountability, safety and taste. Fortunately, it is becoming easier and easier to find pasture-raised meat, including pork from pigs raised the way our ancestors raised pigs for thousands of years.

First Choice

Hands-down, the best way to buy pork is directly from a local farmer you know and trust, who has no problem letting you come by to see how their pigs are living.

Before you visit, you should know that pigs eat some grass, clover and alfalfa, but they are not ruminants like cows, and naturally prefer a mixed, omnivorous diet of scraps, “slop,” eggs and dairy waste, acorns and beech nuts, rotting fruit, roots, tubers, grubs, insects, and other messy things they can root around and dig for with their snouts.

Corn and soy are NOT ideal foods for a pig, even when they live on pasture, though some might be used as a supplement. Pigs should ideally spend their good-weather days on polycultural pasture that offers some tree shade, where they can naturally forage.

Buying pork directly from a local farmer you trust is also a great way to save money, since you can often buy a half or whole hog, have it butchered as you like, and packaged for your deep chest freezer.

You can also enjoy the unique flavors offered by sustainable small farmers who are raising heritage pig breeds, or who offer farm-cured pork specialties, like local sausages and salumi.

Second Choice

Your next best option is to buy Certified Humane or Animal Welfare Approved pork. Pigs that are certified from these two organizations must:

  • be fed a nutritious, varied diet appropriate for a pig
  • not receive antibiotics, hormones or other scary drugs banned everywhere but the U.S., like ractopamine
  • not be confined except for short, necessary periods (like when they must be examined or weighed)
  • have comfortable resting areas with straw bedding where they can turn around and lie down fully stretched out
  • be free to engage in natural behaviors like rooting and mawing

Animal Welfare Approved has tougher standards because they require access to outdoor foraging. Certified Humane pork does not guarantee that pigs spend any time outdoors, but does guarantee that pigs have “access” to the outdoors. This is similar to the standard for “free-range” eggs.

Third Choice

USDA Certified Organic pork standards require that pigs be fed organic feed, not receive antibiotics, growth-promoting drugs or hormones, and have decent space, bedding and outdoor access.

USDA Organic standards are less stringent than those of Certified Humane or AWA, but they’re still much better than conventionally raised, factory-farmed pork.

Avoid at All Costs

Unless your pork comes from one of the three sources above, I’m sorry to say it was produced on a factory farm. This means the pigs were:

  1. raised in inhumane, bacteria-infested conditions that endanger public health, pollute local waterways and foul the air for miles around,
  2. fed genetically engineered soy and corn, as well as pesticide-laden industrial farm waste, and
  3. injected with large quantities of antibiotics, hormones and other growth-enhancing drugs that have been banned in other countries.

Ew. It’s no wonder so many believe that pork is bad for you. Under these conditions, how could it not be?

Many factory-farmed meat products are labeled “natural,” but this is very misleading. All the word “natural” means is that the pork, beef or poultry was processed without artificial flavors or colors.

“Natural” refers only to how the meat was prepared after slaughter, not to how the animal was raised.

Preparing Fresh Pork

Some health professionals believe that pork is a particularly inflammatory food. There is some evidence to suggest that this is true. However, most Americans do not eat pasture-raised pork (which is lower in inflammatory Omega-6s), nor do they prepare it using the traditional methods that we have used for thousands of years. I believe this makes a big difference.

In China, it is thought that pork is bad for you unless it is cut into small pieces and marinated in vinegar before cooking in pork fat. Pork and pork fat together form the number one single source of calories in the traditional Chinese diet. Owning pigs is considered wealth, and a crucial component of sustainable rural subsistence even today.

In Argentina and the Philippines, pork is traditionally marinated in vinegar. In India, pork is soaked in yogurt before seasoning and cooking. In Mexico and Central America, it is typical to marinate pork in orange or lime juice. And here in America, we have a long tradition of pickled pigs’ feet and vinegar-marinated barbecue.

The key to properly preparing fresh pork lies in using an acid to marinate the meat prior to cooking. Vinegar, citrus, or yogurt provides the acid that breaks down the meat so that it remains tender and succulent—even after you cook it thoroughly for safety.

Like brining and drying your nuts and seeds or soaking your grains in whey, marinating pork may also have the added benefit of improving its digestibility and reducing its inflammatory properties. This does not surprise me; our ancestors were pretty smart, after all.

Whether cooking ground, chops, ribs, loins or roasts, you should always prepare an acid marinade for your fresh pork.

This could be as simple as a 12–24 hour soak in vinegar and water (2:1), plus some sea salt, or it could be a more elaborate marinade with seasonings and spices to make dinner extra special. If you have a thick piece of meat or a roast, be sure to score it so the marinade can penetrate deep within.

So, Is Pork Bad for You?

If you choose pork from a local farmer that raises their animals on pasture or forest, and prepare it using traditional methods like acid marination, salt curing or lacto-fermentation, pork can be a healthy part of any real food diet.

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog, including Amazon.com links. These small earnings make it possible for me to continue writing this blog for you. That said, I only recommend products I genuinely love, and that I believe would be of value to my readers.
Thank you for your support!

MEDICAL DISCLOSURE: Your health is between you and your health care practitioner. Nothing in this blog is intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations is at the choice and risk of the reader.




14 Comments

  1. Just made it for the second time, oh I love it :D

    • Oops, this was meant for the coconut zucchini bread. Forgot that I read this afterwards. Nice and clear blogpost about pork!

  2. i absolutely love pork, but my husband clains that he doesn’t eat pork because pigs don’t sweat, therefore they are unable to get rid of toxic substances the way we as humans do when we sweat.
    do you have a take on this?

    • Chickens and other foul don’t sweat either. Many animals shed heat by panting. This has nothing to do with their ability to process toxins from their body using their liver and other organs.

  3. Great to see people spreading the word about what an ethical, ecological, and public health disaster factory farming is.

  4. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits the use of hormones in the raising of hogs or poultry in the United States. Therefore all pork and poultry products that carry the “no hormones administered” label only represent the regulations that are already in place for pork and poultry and should not be taken to mean that the manufacturer is doing anything beyond USDA requirements for conventional pork and poultry products.

    • But they are free to use plenty of other pharmaceuticals and toxic chemicals like ractopene and arsenic. Yikes! It’s always best to get your meat from a small farmer raising animals on pasture and forage, whose practices you can trust.

  5. Love the detailed information you give about pork, and the history.

    When I had ulcers, years ago, and didn’t want surgery, one of my foods for healing was pork because it is easily digested. But, as you say, it has to come from naturally raised and not penned in hogs and pigs.

    When I was a kid, we had all pastured animals. At the time, my dad had a farm, and with his degrees in Agronomy/Horticulture and Animal Husbandry, taught other farmers. So, I appreciate the history you give here. Our farm was in Rancho Boyeros, Cuba … 50 km from Havana.

    Now I know where to find good pork. Thank you. Up to now, I haven’t eaten much pork because I hate the way the animals are treated, let alone the poor quality of meat.

  6. We really enjoy pork and have a source for some that is locally raised. However, at some point we’d love to raise our own. I did render lard once a few years ago. We really enjoyed it and kept the extra jars in the freezer. I’d love to try it again because it really was good for baking. Thanks for sharing this at the HomeAcre Hop. Hope to have you back again tomorrow: http://blackfoxhomestead.com/the-homeacre-hop/

  7. I love the detail on pork here. We’re the type of family who really appreciates a good green smoothie and locally grown organic pork. Quality is a bug part of food choices as you mentioned. And taking the quality of life of the livestock into account is key for us.

  8. What a great and informational post! My son attends preschool on a farm, where they care for and raise (among other things) pigs. Anytime we have pork – he asks – is this from the farm, because I love having pigs from the farm… I think he is great he is learning where our food comes from (and how to raise it)! Ms. Lisa, the teacher, always explains to the kids that “if you can smell the animal [whatever animal] it is in a cage/pen/area that is too small.” It really made me think about any farm that I visit where animals are raised.

    I am sharing this on my FB page and hope you’ll come and check it out! I would love it if you checked out THE Pin it Party starting tonight at 10 and the Weekend Block Party – live all weekend at One Organic Mama. <3

    • That sounds like a lovely preschool. I wish all children had such an opportunity! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Note that unlike pastured raised beef which can be eaten medium rare, pork must always be fully well cooked before eating.

  10. thanks for this discussion. I was a little alarmed when I read in Nourishing Traditions that pork should be avoided, mostly because I love bacon. We only buy directly from farmers of organic free-range pork, so I guess we are getting the best possible pork and will keep eating and enjoying it!

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