by Slow Food USA intern Laura Kate Morris
March. It conjures up thoughts of melting snow, hatless days, and… pigs? Yes, for all you porcine aficionados, March 1st is National Pig Day. Interested in hosting your own pig-tastic celebration? Here are a few tips for more background info and how to sustainably enjoy your pork…
To learn a bit more about the many shapes and sizes of hog, check out the American Livestock Breed Conservancy’s listing of threatened breeds and Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste, which profiles four endangered American varieties.
As with other livestock, the popularity of conventional pig breeds endanger the broad genetic diversity found in heritage animals. Conventional pigs put on weight fast, maximizing output (and profit) for large corporations in controlled (and usually inhumane) environments. On the other hand, heritage breed pigs, ignored by many big farms, are a nod to our agricultural history with a look and taste that is genetically closer to their piggy ancestors. Heritage breeds tend to be heartier, good foragers, and suited to their respective regions. Not to mention their fantastic names like “Red Wattle” and “Ossabaw Island Hog.” It’s organizations like the ALBC, and some very dedicated farmers, that are helping these breeds to make a comeback.
One of the major problems for conservationists is that without a demand, the breeds will disappear (hence the title of this post.) Emerging connections with chefs and restaurants are helping to create a market for specialty breed pork products. To source one of the four Ark of Taste-listed breeds, read their profiles on the Slow Food website. Also check out LocalHarvest to find a farmer near you that raises the animals. This site should help you source the ham of your dreams.