“A dog’s got personality. Personality goes a long way.”
-Jules Winnfield; Pulp Fiction (1994)
Conventional can be defined as that “which is concerned with what is generally held to be acceptable at the expense of individuality and sincerity; based on or in accordance with what is generally done or believed.”
Throughout the history of human kind, including the recountable past, there have been those among us that assert that theirs is the conventional wisdom. Some go further and proclaim that they themselves set or define the very convention itself. This ill, conceited notion of superiority causes both caste and castigation among the different groups which necessarily comprise any society. The geometry of such an approach is inevitably a pyramid that has a single clique that sits upon its pinnacle.
The past has exposed the folly of such an approach time after time; the horrors and atrocities committed in the fanatical, single, and simple minded approach to perfecting a master race still reside within generational telling. If the dangers and logic against such a pursuit are as unassailable as we declare them to be; why do we allow it to craft our menus and dictate our diets?
Red meat is unfairly maligned as a uniformly unhealthful choice. Yet, the term red meat consists of a diverse group of protein sources: beef, lamb, bison, goat, and any number of wild game sources such as deer, elk, and moose. Pork can intermittently be found included in these studies that seek to explore the health ramifications of such comestibles in the diet.
As the most commonly eaten meat on the planet, pork accounts for approximately 40% of all such protein consumed worldwide and therefore deserves significant consideration. Careful and thoughtful contemplation of the risks and benefits of the many different choices available should be the de rigueur of the day. Yet our porcine predilections are driven by forces that favor profit over palate. Once again, the engines of eatery that supply the modern Western diet offer us up a singularly industrially manufactured adulteration of the original and seek to persuade us that this is convention. They proclaim that this singularity is our only choice.
All the while, they ignore the fact that how the animal is bred, and what it is fed, makes a world of difference. These concerns focus on the underlying quality of the product and speak to its true value in a much greater way that its price per pound. It’s about the character of the comestible; about the personality more than the price.
Most of the commercially produced meat in the US is industrially produced utilizing Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) as agricultural enterprises where animals are kept and raised in confined situations. AFOs congregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area. Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing or otherwise seeking feed in pastures, fields, or on rangeland. There are approximately 450,000 AFOs in the United States.
A CAFO is another EPA term for a large concentrated AFO. A CAFO is an AFO with more than 1000 animal units (an animal unit is defined as an animal equivalent of 1000 pounds live weight and equates to 1,000 head of beef cattle, 700 dairy cows, 2,500 swine weighing more than 55 pounds, 125,000 broiler chickens, or 82,000 laying hens or pullets) confined on site for more than 45 days during the year.
These factory farm raised animals are fed a mixture of genetically modified (GMO) corn, GMO soy, chicken manure, hormones, antibiotics and ground up parts of other animals. Additionally, the animal varieties selected are picked with an emphasis on quick maturity, large size, and weight. Additional processing adds another potential layer of adulteration. There is little, if any, accounting for flavor or healthful benefits.
Such “conventional” animal husbandry is in truth the opposite of what occurs naturally. Heritage breeds are generally longer maturing, genetically distinct varieties less uniform in size and shape. They are often pasture raised in accordance with environmentally sound and organic production principles.
While heritage breeds raised in organic and humane manners have been prized by chefs for decades for their unique tastes and textures; only now is science beginning to reveal their nutritional superiority. It turns out, that firstly; breeding matters. This is evident particularly in the character and composition of the different fats.
As all chefs know, fat is flavor. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the different tastes and textures reflect quantitative and qualitative differences in the fats of various heritage breeds compared to conventional industrial species. Such heritage breeds tend to be distinctly lower in certain types of saturated fats and higher in omega-3 polyunsaturated fats lending a healthful boost to the accentuated flavor. The way the specific breed is then reared only acts to enhance beneficial attributes or to amplify potential negativities. Not only are we what we eat; we are whatever has been eaten by what we eat.
As reflected in the figure above, for each seemingly single meat choice there are actually eight different choices. Each of these decision points before dinner reaches the table affects the flavor and texture of the final product. Chefs have understood this for millennia: that how it is bred, what it is fed, and where it was led have critical implications for the gastronomic properties of the final product. This is why so many great young chefs are obsessive and near maniacal in their sourcing of ingredients. This attention to detail is one of the key traits that separate great from good; that separate delicious and nutritious from mediocre and malignant.
Science is now discovering in the wake set by these self-same cutting edge chefs, ones engaging in slow food, farm to table, and other similar practices; that such variables are key determinants in the healthful or unhealthful impact of consuming such foods.
If we expand our horizon beyond the conventional and include, in the case of pork, such heritage breeds as the Berkshire (Kurobuta in Japanese), Red Wattle, Gloucestershire Old Spot, Tamworth, Duroc, and Large Black we see that the potential choices explode in variety and number.
The next time you’re sourcing a protein like pork, think like a chef and not a recipe collector. Step beyond the conventional and put personality over price. Ask yourself these three simple questions:
- How is it bred? (What are its genetics?)
- What was it fed? (How is it raised and what did eat?)
- Where was it led? (If there was any post-processing, what and how was it done?)
Real flavor and real health quite simply demand, real food.
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