Last week I had the opportunity to visit a pork processing plant. I had a few assumptions before I arrive. My first assumption was pity for the employees. No one could possible want to work there. The plant was the last option for people who couldn’t find work elsewhere.
Second, I assumed it would be dirty, with blood everywhere. The employees would be covered in blood, and it would be spattered across the walls. I prepared myself for a bloody mess.
I knew Temple Grandin has been working with livestock handling so I didn’t expect horror on the killing floor. I did expect a few squealing pigs, a brief moment of horror, and then death.
Turns out all my assumptions were wrong. I was so impressed with the processing plant. I had no idea food processing could be done so efficiently and safely. The tour took us to every corner of the plant. We saw everything from beginning to end. Actually the tour went in reverse, starting at the end of the line, and working our way back to the live animal pens. We spent close to 2 hours walking around the plant.
The first stop was the testing lab where the pork is continually checked for all diseases. They test for trichinosis, e coli and other scary diseases I can’t remember. It has been so many years since the lab workers have found trichinosis worms that they actually receive samples in the mail, just so they can remember what they’re looking for. Since the pigs are kept indoors and do not forage on garbage and other animals, they are at low risk for trichinosis, but the testing continues anyway.
Then we moved onto the floor. There’s actually many floors, and many levels, with conveyor belts moving pieces of pork in every direction. There are so many people standing along the conveyors. Each person has an adjustable floor so they can move up and down for comfort, depending on the employee’s height. The jobs switch every few hours to reduce repetitive motion injuries.
As we moved along the floor, I kept thinking of the pioneer days, when nothing went to waste. The Native Americans used every part of the bison. Little House on the Prairie tells of the fried pig’s tale. The same is true in this plant. Very little of the pig goes to waste. Some parts are used for pharmaceutical uses. Other parts are exported. I have no use for a pig’s stomach, but someone in a foreign country does. Even the pig blood is kept.
I visited alibaba.com and sure enough, you can buy a centrifuge for pig blood plasma separation. You can buy powered porcine plasma. I don’t know what the plasma is used for, but it has value, and it does not get wasted.
We finally made it to the kill floor. It was darker than the rest of the plant, and very quiet. The shades on the lights keep the pigs calm, and they move along to what I call a ferris wheel. A few pigs enter the carriage, it rotates down, the pigs are gassed, and a few minutes later the dead pigs emerge. There’s no squealing, no horror, just a very calm area. From there the pigs begin their procession down the line.
I was amazed to discover I could work at this plant. I have admiration for the employees, not pity. They have good jobs, with good pay and benefits. It’s clean, and there was nothing I found disgusting or repulsive. It is truly a clean place to work. The only downside was the smell. It smelled like pork chops everywhere. At first it was great, but it got old quickly. It would take me time to adjust to that.
I came away for a whole new appreciation for our food system. It is so efficient and safe. Earlier in the week we learned about the Vietnamese food system, where a farmer owns 3 pigs, and hauls one on the back of his moped to the marketplace. They don’t have the infrastructure to haul trailers of animals. Instead they are hauled one at a time. And I would assume they don’t test for trichinosis at the street market.
I have no reservations about buying pork in the grocery store. I hope everyone has the opportunity to visit a processing plant. It was an eye opening experience, and changed my assumptions of the grocery store meat. There’s no need to be a food snob. Food tastes great, regardless of where it is purchased.