In springtime London’98, I had the good fortune do have dinner for the first time, with two chums, in a restaurant called MORO, Exmouth Market. Being a new and busy kind of place I was told it best to make a reservation and I can remember well sitting at the bar sipping on a chilled glass of Olorosso whilst the table was being readied for us. I was a little early, on purpose. In the background I could see the chef and his staff in full swing, hovering around a huge clay oven. The fiery mouth of the oven did not look like hell at all, it was quite the reverse. There where breads, sauces and meats going in raw and coming out done. I asked for the house dish, which turned out to be a rib of pork, off the bone, marinated in a milk and Moroccan spice quilombo, cooked slowly at the back of the over for three and half hours. Now, this was all 22 years ago and I can still taste the dam concoction today. The pig meat came from a farm in Gloucester (England) that has been producing Old Spot for almost 500 years (in part 2 of this blog there’s more on this). I was totally blown away by not only the flavor of the dish but the quality of the meat too. It was probably one of the pinnacle meat-moments of my life at that moment. I know that personal and culturally that cow meat, beef!, is crowned right up there as the big stuff, and of course I agree, but only when it’s exceptionally good that is. But seriously, this Old Spot put me into a new frame of mind on pork, and I now still today I crown it ‘The King of Meats!’ (again and just to reiterate, it has to be Old Spot or a close breed. Not just any old pig meat).
Thanks to Fungus H. over at St.John’s I have also eaten the ears, the tongue, the head and the feet of a Gloucester Old Spot, outstanding! all of it.
So when back in July Covid-2020, on the 6th to be precise and all in the midst of this C-19 chaos, the Ministerio de Relaciones, Comercio Internacional y Culto of Argentina announced the imminent signing of a memorandum of an understanding with the People’s Republic of China for the construction of mega-factories for pig production in Argentina. Just as a reminder that down here sheep and pig meat is regarded as much more inferior to the cow, unless you go up to the north of the country and you will find bbq’d goat and sheep to die for.
Well, this of course all lead to a public outcry (well for the few of us who knew about it that is) titled: “We do not want to become a pig factory for China or a factory for new pandemics”. It was apparently signed by more than 500,000 organizations and individuals throughout the Republic of Argyland, and was supposed to open an intense public debate around this crazy investment proposal, and near suicidal introduction of a new potential and lethal virus. As a result, there were requests for access to public information, meetings, press releases, talks, and various mobilizations in different parts of the country, despite the social, preventive, and mandatory isolation decreed by the national government. Although the official information has been scarce and not very transparent (of course), the project synthetically contemplates the installation of at least 25 mega-factories with a minimum of 12,000 sows in each, and a very capital-intensive vertical integration scheme. As a result of this debate that arose, the national government announced the postponement of the signing of the memorandum, already signed by the way, to November of this year. Well today is 23rd November’20 and I have not heard, or has anyone else for that matter, a dicky bird more on this subject, or in order to incorporate in the text the demand for the protection of biosecurity and natural resources.
So as one dons, little me that is, one’s SLOW FOOD hat in defense of good, clean and fair food, and join the voices of hundreds of thousands of organizations (where are you?) and people from all over the world who, under the slogan “No to false solutions”, reject the project to establish pig mega-factories in Argentina.
The investment project, as it is proposed, and based on the little official information that has been made public, if it materializes at all that is, it would promote:
1- The growth of the transgenic agribusiness model imposed in our country since 1996, since the basis of the feeding of the pigs, according to the official forecast, will be transgenic corn and transgenic soy, tolerant to pesticides. As we have expressed in previous pronouncements, it is urgent to abandon the transgenic agribusiness model since it causes contamination of the soil, air, water, promoting the destruction of pollinators. The heavy pesticides are to blame in chronic non-communicable diseases and destruction of the immune systems, associated with acute and chronic environmental exposure. The social impact ranges from concentration of power, foreignization and conflicts over land; displacement of peasants and native peoples, rural exodus and urban overcrowding. The biodiversity and climate impact include the displacement of other crops important to the communities; deforestation and destruction of forests, jungles and wetlands; plus increase in gas emissions responsible for the climate crisis; soil degradation and desertification; expansion of resistant and tolerant weeds; droughts and floods; increasing displacement of real food by ultra-processed edible objects harmful to health and the destruction of local food cultures.
2- Allocate large quantities of freshwater, since a daily use of 1,500,000 liters of water is expected for each of the 25 mega-factories announced, affecting the availability and accessibility of water for other essential purposes, in a context of water crisis and climate and in a country that even today has not been able to guarantee 10% of its population access to drinking water.
3- Air, water and soil pollution derived from waste, since urine slurry and fecal material from pigs contain more than 300 different volatile toxic substances, bacteria and residues of antibiotics used in this type of factory.
4- Generate higher greenhouse gas emissions responsible for the climate crisis, since highly demanding mega-factories of vertical integration are foreseen throughout it’s chain of fossil fuels
5- The generation of zoonotic diseases with the potential to generate new pandemics, since the People’s Republic of China decided to outsource pig production after in 2018 it had to slaughter between 180 and 250 million pigs due to an outbreak of swine fever Africana (ASF), which today also plagues several European countries, and that there is already a new strain of H1N1 swine flu that recently infected Chinese workers and another with the potential to be transmitted to humans in neighboring Brazil. Herding large numbers of genetically homogeneous animals under stress conditions, as science shows, makes them more vulnerable to suffering and transmitting diseases.
6- Increase in bacterial resistance due to the use of antibiotics, since 80% of the antibiotics used in the world are to promote growth and prevent or treat animal diseases in these types of factories. In Fact, according to the World Health Organization and the G-20, 800,000 people die every year from bacterial resistance, constituting one of the main public health problems of today and for years to come.
7- Social conflict due to pollution, odors, flies, mosquitoes, and rodents, and diseases associated with these farms.
8- Institutionalize animal cruelty on a massive and unusual scale, since animals, reduced to mere converters of vegetable protein into animal protein, are subjected to mutilations, overcrowding, stress, and cruelty that force a serious ethical debate on how to that we interact with other species with which we share our common home.
9- Generation of jobs of very low quality and qualification in which workers are exposed to suffer and transmit diseases to the communities in which they live.
and finally point number ten:
10- The deepening of the concentration of the pig market in our country, since an investment of 150 million US dollars is officially foreseen for each mega factory, in a vertical integration business scheme that does not contemplate small and medium pig producers. This will generate not only a greater concentration of an already concentrated market but also the true risk that the production theoretically destined exclusively for export will be turned over to the domestic market, simply causing the destruction of local pork producers. For all these reasons, I of course feel it necessary to demand that not just the national government here, or the provincial and municipal governments, but they all abandon their pretense of imposing false solutions, and instead make decisive progress in the construction of public policies that promote the realization peasant-based agroecology, food sovereignty, and the full enjoyment and exercise of the right to good, clean and fair food for all the people who inhabit the Argentine territory.
God save their dear sweet souls. I do have a strong feeling that 99.9% of Argentine people have absolutely no clue about this planned Chinky-Argy disaster-project, but as of today this poor little English boy as taken the bit between his teeth and will begin exercises planned to contravene their plans.
Just to give you a small bit on The Gloucestershire Old Spots. It’s an historic pig breed known for its distinctive white coat with black spots. The breed was developed in the Berkley Vale of Gloucestershire (England) during the 1800s. Its exact origins are not really known, though it was likely based on two breeds – the original Gloucestershire pig which was large, off-white, had wattles and was without spots, and the second, the unimproved Berkshire pig. Both of the old breeds used to develop the Old Spots are now extinct.
Gloucestershire (pronounced Glostersheer) pigs were selected as excellent foragers and grazers. The pigs are thrifty, able to make a living from pasture and agricultural by products, such as whey from cheese making, windfall apples in orchards, and the residue from pressing cider. These easy keeping qualities gave Gloucestershire Old Spots the nicknames “cottage pig” and “orchard pig.” British folklore claims the large black spots are bruises caused by the apples falling onto them as they foraged the orchard floors for food. Ah how lovely!
Now back in 1913 the British Board of Agriculture announced a livestock development scheme that included the licensing of breeding boars. Farmers of the Berkley Vale realized this plan threatened the very existence of their beloved local pig breed. Subsequently, the Gloucestershire Old Spots Breed Society was formed in November of 1913 placing the breed among the oldest spotted pedigreed pig breeds known. The breed hit a high point in popularity in Great Britain just after World War 1 when the naturally large proportions of lean meat from Old Spots was perfectly suited for to the production of lean, streaky bacon that was fast becoming popular in Great Britain at this time. Old Spots reigned supreme as the pork of choice for discerning palates and in livestock shows through the 1920’s and early 1930’s. The breed became rare after World War II, when the shift to intensive pig production reduced interest in pigs that could thrive out of doors. The remaining population nearly became extinct in the 1960s, though it has increased slowly since then.
Gloucestershire Old Spots were then imported to the United States during the 1900s, and they made genetic contributions to several American breeds, especially the American Spot and the Chester White. The breed never became numerous in the United States, however, and was practically extinct by the 1990s. In 1995, Kelmscott Farm Foundation of Lincolnville, Maine, organized an importation of twenty Gloucestershire piglets to reestablish the purebred population in America. A breed society was founded, and the number of animals is still increasing. As of 2009, there are about less than 1,000 Gloucestershire Old Spots in Great Britain and fewer than 200 breeding animals in the US. The breed notably benefits from continued support of the British Royal Family, Charlie of course, who favors pork from these pigs for his luncheon table. As does Herr Willy Hancock amongst other pork aficionados.
Of course let’s not forget that The Gloucestershire Old Spots are known for their docility, intelligence, and prolificacy. Boars reach a mature weight of 600lbs (136kg) and sows 500lbs (125kg). The pigs are white with clearly defined black (not blue) spots. There must be at least one spot on the body to be accepted in the registry. The breed’s maternal skills make it able to raise large litters of piglets on pasture. It’s disposition and self sufficiency should make it attractive for farmers raising pasture pigs and those who want to add pigs to diversified operations. In 2015, the Gloucestershire Old Spots moved from Critically Endangered to Threatened status. I am now in contact with the American Kelmscott Farm in Maine to see about shipping some Old Spot down here to Argentina. As you can already imagine this is a long haul project.
If you are still with me dear dear reader, thank you for your time and this is the third & last part of the Porky blog, and if you remember seeing the Bong-Joon-ho movie, Okja, Bong is telling us the story of a lovable super-pig that’s touted as an organic, ecologically-sound ‘revolution in the livestock world’. The big question that the film reminded me of and left on my dining room table, is “where does our meat come from?” Bong says “It is reasonable to fear the potential disasters and dangers that genetically-modified foods may bring, there are people who say the danger of GM foods is being overly exaggerated, but nobody is able to prove their safety either.”
The Okja story unfolds with a young Mija, a farm girl who lives in the lush mountains of South Korea with her grandfather and their beloved genetically-engineered pig, Okja (an old-fashioned South Korean name without a specific meaning). If you don’t know the movie it is defínitely NOT a Disney fairytale and when the story shifts to Manhattan (“the heart of capitalism,” according to Bong) where it takes a darker turn, foraying into the hellish realities of animal laboratories and factory meat farms.
“We create psychological border-lines to avoid discomforts, so we separate our views of animals, those we perceive as pets and the ones we place in our shopping carts are the same animals but we choose to separate them.” Bong! He goes on to say that to enjoy the meat, you have to ignore the slaughter. The inspiration for his film’s graphic scenes came from a personal visit he made to a commercial slaughterhouse. Depicting this was “absolutely necessary”.
“I wanted to crumble these borders and make the audience feel uncomfortable. It is witnessing your family being dragged into a slaughterhouse,” he said. “Compared to my experience of visiting a real-life slaughterhouse, the film scenes were much milder and were expressed in a toned-down manner.” And thank you Bong for that one. The physical appearance of the pig in the movie gives a nod to the controversial genetically modified foods (GMO) debate. She is of course special: a one-nipple, hippo-pig hybrid with some manatee resemblance, since Okja does look incredibly innocent and kind-hearted.
Bong wanted Okja to be cute. Big yet lovely, shy and introverted. But she is a genetically modified organism and this debate is not restricted to Korea, it is prevalent all over the world.
SLOW PIG Foundation 2020/21 .. for more news & events on the subject, I will endeavor to keep you all posted!