The Real Housewives Who Ruined Pork?

Yesterday I decried the persistently crazy public perceptions about lean pork.  Today I want to share a video that does a good job showing just when American eating and farming both started going off the rails.  I’ve gone back to this video many times over the years since I first watched it because it touches on each aspect that contributed to today’s woes.

It was produced in 1956, so it has everything you’d expect:  stuffy narration and scratchy footage, but the present day viewer will especially notice the unselfconsciously patronizing remarks about the American housewife.  Yes, everything that is wrong with pork and the pig farming industry today is the fault of Eisenhower-era housewives.

The full video is linked below.  Here are highlights that catch my attention:

0:50 Look at the the trucks the farmers are driving.  Everyone is using 12-16 foot stake bed trucks with dumps.  These are good all purpose trucks, not specialized livestock haulers.  Since these farmers run diversified operations, the flatbed would be used for hauling every conceivable thing on the farm.  Based on the size of the truck bed, they are only bringing 10-20 pigs at a time.  Contrast that with today when the average 53 foot double decker trailer hauls 180+ pigs, and hog farms are too specialized to do their own trucking.

2:21 The American housewife.  “She’s the person everyone in the meat industry, the producer, packer, retailer, is trying to please.”  But of course this was never about pleasing the ladies.  It was all about creating a demand in the American market for leaner pork because animal fats no longer were as valuable to the meat packing industry with the rise of abundant, cheap petrochemicals.  Consumer demand is manufactured.  Let’s not kid ourselves otherwise.

3:28, 9:49, and 10:29 Notice how farmers are still feeding pigs on pasture, mainly on alfalfa and what looks like young oats in the last clip.  Within the next two decades none of these small time farmers will be delivering pigs to that stockyard; they either got big or got out.  Pasture feeding doesn’t scale up well compared to building huge livestock barns, so pastures became necessary only as convenient dumping grounds for the increasing amounts of concentrated manure.

3:38 Lard is replaced with vegetable shortening, soap is replaced with detergent.  At the time nobody knew the health problems that would come from eating all those vegetable oils.  And nobody knew (or at least nobody talked about) the environmental damages that would result from abundant detergents being flushed from homes and industries into the waterways.  Of course the concurrent destruction of pasture and hayfields to make way for the corn/soy boom (to support the concentrated hog feeding operations and the new vegetable oil markets) further added to waterway pollution.  And then the high density hog feeding operations created their own problems by leaching manure into the water.  This new system compounded damages upon damages, but gee whiz it sure pleased the American housewife…

3:57 The comparison of the meat type hog versus the lard type hog is nicely done.  I don’t see the meat type hogs they are promoting as particularly egregious.  I’d be happy with pigs of that conformation.  By 1956 they hadn’t bred all the fat out of pigs yet, so they hadn’t reached their present nadir of leanness.  But the trend was starting, and just like in the horror movies where you mutter to the screen to stop the protagonist from opening the closet, watching this video makes you want to shout, “Stop right where you are, if you keep going you’ll ruin food for generations!”

7:49 and 10:58 Marbled meat gets dismissed.  The examples they show compare a poorly formed pork loin with a nicely formed one.  So of course the bigger eye muscle is more appealing on the leaner pig.  If they had done a better trimming job they wouldn’t have as much to criticize.  But then the narrator complains about marbling, as the “internal fat, extra fat” is “carrying too much fat to be suitable to the American housewife”.  Once again, it is those housewives who are to blame…

Sorry to have to call out you housewives.  But it is all your fault, apparently.

8 Comments on “The Real Housewives Who Ruined Pork?

  1. Great post! Don’t know how you found that video, but it was very informative….yeah for fat hogs!

  2. Thanks for finding this, Dave! I watched it with my Dad who would have been 12 at the time. He sold hogs with his Dad at the Chicago stockyards at about this time. Good time reminiscing.

    • Were they doing anything with planting pastures for hogs at the time or were they using pens or dirt lots? Just curious what worked for them. All the older guys I’ve talked to about about outdoor pigs seemed to have used bare dirt (mud more likely) without much consideration for forage. But this was never pig country like the Midwest, this was solidly dairy so most pigs were just a small sideline.

      • As Dad remembers, they farrowed the sows in pens in the barn in the spring. When the litters were around ten days old, they would truck the sow and litter to woven wire fenced alfalfa/ladino clover/brome grass hay field/pastures. Around 6 litters per pen, maybe 4 to 5 acre pens. At around 6 week weaning, they would remove the sows, (which were all gilts, they only farrowed once per year), from the piglets and the piglets would stay in the pen until fall marketing.
        So, as you can imagine, by fall or sometime before, the lots were turned to dirt and all vegetation removed by the pigs. This is where we have such a blessing with electric fence now, as I imagine it was just too daunting for them to move all the woven wire pens to continually take them to fresh pasture.
        One other thing Dad remembered is that around 50 or 60 lbs, they caught each individual pig and vaccinated for Erisypilis and Hog Cholera. I guess those diseases were a big deal back then.

      • Thanks! This provides a great context.
        And yes, portable fencing was a breakthrough. It changes everything in pasture management.

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