Chthonic Tonic.


Wednesday, March 4, 2020. Chthonic refers to the underworld and I’ve always been fond of an odd, some may say silly, play on words whenever it has anything to do with a journal topic. In this case, perhaps it has more to do with the vintage entry that follows today’s new writing, perhaps not.

Transforming a private journal into a public one is, as I mentioned, inevitably going to change or otherwise affect the tone and for that matter, the content, which for ten years has focused upon, again as I mentioned, my self-work (I can hear somebody gag) and my auto-therapy – my writing my way through what amounts to my interior life as it endures the predicament, as I like to call it, of life under the influence of the world-of-action.

I am not unique, I am not attempting by way of blogging to aggrandize my predicament over anyone else’s, nor am I interested in editing myself in these posts to appear more attractive as a human. This is intended to remain a warts and all form of communi cation, of expression if that’s all I can manage (communication may be too much to ask for). But I’m not a fan of ugliness, shadow, subversion, tastelessness, psychological schism, lowest-common-denominator, low-brow popularism, let’s call it, or unseemliness for its own sake; as method, that is, to celebrate the twisted nature of our play-of-opposites natures. Least of all am I interested in anything to do with the inhumane. In short, if it has to do with tyranny or the appropriation of the freedoms of another, be they human or animal, I am doing my best to stand against it.

I fail, of course, often profoundly, to live up to my own aspirations in favor of the good. I understand that good is a choice and a decision very often fraught with lack of clarity – Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, on a song from his solo album Blue Mountain sings something to the effect that he did his best to do good whenever he knew what that was. (I used to go to great lengths in the DOP to cite the songs and the texts as precisely as I could, but it slows things down sometimes to the point where the flow of ideas and the writing suffers; so that now, if I can’t dredge up the exact tune and I otherwise feel I’ve communicated enough information to point the interested reader in the right direction, towards the work of whomever I’m discussing, I think it’s enough).

Meanwhile, yes, as the Roman playwright Publius Terentius Afer, better known as Terence, as tells us, said in the second century B.C., “I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.” It’s a fine perspective to maintain as a background to our investigation of human nature, Nature and our study of personal and cultural mythology. As the daily vintage journal entries get posted – remember, I’ve got ten years or so worth! – all my oblique or obscure or perhaps baffling references will become if not clear then at least apparent.

Which returns me to the idea of the transformation of private writing to public. I’ve already gone to some lengths to describe that I was never inclined to go public, as it were, with my inner world but, in the spirit of letting go and not holding onto things, which is a wise attitude we in the West probably inherited from the East, the time seems to have come for it all, come what may. Mostly, it’s in service of the book, TIME CRIME, and the forthcoming books, if I can manage to complete the editing and pay for the publishing of them (I am making persistent progress on TC2 only because I’m forcing myself to adhere to a schedule of afternoon editing, however many words, sentences, paragraphs or, heaven help me on a good day, pages I can manage to finish). The book needs all the help it can get, obviously, coming as it does from nowhere, without a platform and from me without a marketable charisma. Youtube will not see Carnegie Olson video clips. I happened to be adjusting my keywords this morning after stumbling upon a couple of titles that appeared as sponsored ads beneath TIME CRIME itself – I’m determined to cross-pollinate as effectively as possible – and one in particular, The Fifth Science by Exurb1a (a whacky pen name to be sure) appealed to me as sympathetic to scholarship, science fiction, psychology, cosmology, ontology, epistemology and metaphysics. And when I discovered this fellow has a youtube channel in which he has posted numerous apparently very professionally clips with soundtracks, imagery and a fine speaking voice, I felt I’d found someone with something at least of a kindred spirit. Not that I delved into anything more than the first video to pop up, “We’re the Last Humans,” which amounts to a deft summary – eight minutes or so – of what is probably his own academic hermeneutic. He quotes Jung in The Fifth Science and in his video – 4M hits, my god – and he skims past, but at least mentions, myth as, “Abstractions that only live in your head” so I’m on board. Otherwise, for the most part adheres to a brisk, British wittiness reminiscent of, say, The Mighty Boosh.

What am I on about? Merely the idea that I need to keep tweaking the Amazon ads for TC1 until, so help me, I get somebody, anybody, to f*cking buy the damn thing. I’m not briskly witty. Nor am I as appealingly articulate as some of the English. I’m sure I’ve got at least twenty years on this guy Exurb1a so that his knack with the zeitgeist is clearly ringing true with a lot of folks. Four million folks. Anyway, I shove his name and the book title into my keyword lists and call it done. In search of my tribe. In search of participation. In search of readers.

Of course I could focus less upon Amazon and more on, say, B&N but as it’s a pain to deal with B&N – nothing to do with B&N is author friendly, least of all the idea of publishing with their platform. In a word, why? Just to intentionally avoid Amazon? I get it. But it’s not my job to transform the publishing world, again. I’m trying to run with what works. I’m not surrendering to KDP Select and their exclusivity bullsh*t. Though I can see why they peddle it. I’m keen to maintain so-called expanded distribution. God, the way I go on about things you’d think I’m actually selling books.

DOP1 – Days of Mast & Pannage, etc.:

The practice of raising pigs outdoors is a good example of a reintroduced challenge, although there are examples of pig farmers that have not deviated from the practice for generations. In modern terms it’s called “pasturing” or “free range” but it is in fact very old, going back to the origins of our domesticated relationship to pigs. Domestication took place gradually, with changes in husbandry and breeding “improvements” taking the animal away from its wild origins and ultimately to modern large-scale “commercial” confinement operations (and back again as we are experiencing today) over at least a two-thousand-year period.

This long relationship to pigs has been described by Julian Wiseman, in his incongruously slim volume entitled The Pig: A British History” as “uneasy.” He reminds us that “derogatory comments are scattered throughout literature” and includes a passage from “A Treatise on Cattle,” published in 1776 in Dublin by John Mills that is singularly vituperative:

Of all the quadrupeds that we know, or at least certainly of all those that come under the husbandman’s care, the Hog appears to be the foulest, the most brutish, and the most apt to commit waste wherever it goes. The defects of its figure seem to influence its dispositions: all its ways are gross, all its inclinations are filthy, and all its sensations concentrate in a furious lust, and so eager a gluttony, that it devours indiscriminately whatever comes in its way.[1]

There are other viewpoints. The following, published in 1920 in America by William Wesley Smith in his book Pork Production, extols the pig’s utility, going as far as to consider it an invaluable component to other forms of animal agriculture:

Pork production is an essential part of nearly every type of farming in America. The important position which the hog occupies on the American farm has been gained through his inherent ability to render a profit above the costs of production. Even in districts which are exclusively grain-growing, the hog performs the important function of saving the wastes of the grain fields and in utilizing the offal from the kitchen and milk-room, as well as supplying the home demand for fresh and cured pork products. The average general farm is never without some hogs for the same reasons. Dairy farming cannot be conducted along the most efficient and profitable lines without a sufficient number of hogs to utilize the skim milk, buttermilk, or whey which may be available for feeding, and the undigested grain in the dropping of the cows. Hogs are essential to successful beef production. No other meat producing animal on the farm produces human food as economically as the pig.[2]

According to Wiseman, pigs were domesticated as early as the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age, and had followed the dog and sheep into service when permanent settlements practicing agriculture were established[3]. It is apparently not straightforward to establish from exactly where domesticated pigs originated in Europe, but remains found in southeastern sites point to the small wild pig S. scrofa pallustris as the likely source.[4] This pig, described as a “long-legged, razor-backed, dark brown and bristly animal,” is essentially the same as the domestic pig found in Britain during Anglo-Saxon times.[5] As a wild animal, this medieval pig was known to cause considerable damage to crops and it’s been suggested, ironically, that early settlers of this time period began domesticating pigs in an effort to bring them under some measure of control, as Wiseman suggests, “on the assumption that prevention is better than the cure.”[6] Accurate or not, there must also have been much about the prospect of eating pigs that motivated their original domestication.

The wild boar:

Julian Wiseman, The Pig: A British History, (London: Duckworth, 2000 [1986]), 34.

Pigs are originally a forest animal and the wild boar of course, from which the domesticated pig likely originated, remains a woodland beast. Pigs will happily spend long days nosing around the forest for anything from acorns and beechnuts (referred to as mast), to berries, roots, fungi, ferns, grasses and other plants. A shady stand of trees also provides relief from the hot sun, as well as the wind and rain.

In 640 A.D. there were vast forests surrounding the outlying pastures of most villages, providing a source of food for the pig particularly during autumn and winter.[8] As such, the highest concentrations of pigs were found there, with common pasture likely used to feed large numbers of pigs in the months prior to the availability of ripened mast. The critical importance of these forest tracts can be demonstrated by the classification of woods during that time according to their “pig-holding capacity” with the best areas containing the most oak and beech trees.[9] In fact a law, attributed to King Ine, established penalties for burning mast-producing trees, and “fixed the value of a tree by the number of swine that could find shelter under it.”[10]

Wiseman provides some examples of Tudor-period authorship that exemplify the cultural significance of the practice:

October good blast

To blowe the hog mast.[11]

This of course proclaims the need for a strong wind to blow the beech nuts off the trees. Similarly:

Though plenty of acorns, the porkling to fat,

Not taken in season, may perish by that.

If rattling or swelling get once to the throte,

Though loosest thy porkling, a crowne to a grote.[12]

The dangers of feeding acorns out of season were well known, and apparently a pig could suffer from a form of distemper if they consumed too many even when in season.[13]

The right to allow pigs to forage in the woods during autumn (known as “pannage” under the Normans and “denbera” in Anglo-Saxon England), was a valuable privilege and strict codes were established that required payment to feudal lords or estate owners for use of the forests – the revenue could often be more than that received from sales of wood and charcoal.[14] The pannage “season” was limited by these land owners because they recognized the damage that foraging pigs caused to the saplings and tree roots – in Anglo-Saxon England the season began on August 29th and ended December 31st.[15]

This “foraging and grubbing” can, as Wiseman describes, be destructive to pastures and “although herbage provided a fair proportion of the food required by the pig during the spring, summer and early autumn, in Anglo-Saxon England access to pasture was normally restricted to animals which had been ringed or yoked in an effort to curb these activities.”[16] Day-to-day management of pigs was the responsibility of village swineherds who collected animals from households in the morning, tended them during the day, often in very large groups, and shared “rudely constructed shelters” with them at night so that, as Wiseman wryly indicates, “it was appreciated that pigs required relatively dry and warm sleeping quarters.”[17] The large number of pigs in these groups probably prevented the swineherds from giving much attention to any but the small, weak or pregnant animals, but they were legally responsible for their charges and as such were fined for damage done by roaming or semi-wild animals.[18]

Julian Wiseman, The Pig: A British History, (London: Duckworth, 2000 [1986]), 6.

“Rooting” is an instinctual urge for a pig – they use their sensitive and surprisingly strong snout to “root” for tender edibles growing just beneath the soil – under grassy turf, under layers of fallen leaves, amongst the roots of trees. I once watched a pair of pigs step down (with some anxious trepidation and some forceful squealing) from their farmer’s trailer onto a lush patch of green grass, and immediately stuff their noses into the thick turf, effortlessly tilling up several feet of heavy sod. When I assumed they were simply demonstrating an instinctual urge to root for food, they surprised me by angling their bulky shoulders into the dark soil and flopping to the ground, panting, apparently keen to escape the heat and exertions of their travels through contact with the moist, cool soil.

According to Wiseman, the pig reached its peak of agricultural importance in Britain around the time of the conquest.[20] Its decline in France was somewhat later, about the end of the twelfth century.[21] The two main reasons for the pig’s decline were the restriction of pannage and the rise in the importance of sheep.[22] The value of the forests beyond providing food for pigs was always known, and laws had often been passed against the activity of knocking acorns and mast from the branches of trees with sticks, (as practiced by the swineherds), in order to prevent damage to the trees.[23] But, with the value of wood and charcoal increasing during this time, the damage caused by foraging pigs, mainly to saplings, became a more serious economic concern.[24] The time allowed for the pannage season was gradually reduced from the traditional four months to between six and eight weeks by the middle of the sixteenth century, although some exceptions allowed pigs that were “properly ringed” (and did no damage) to roam the forests for a longer periods.[25] The reduced pannage season, the clearing of forests to produce more land for arable crops and grassland for sheep, (which produced more profitable and less labor-intensive wool) exacerbated the pig’s decline.[26]

With the traditional sources of forest forage and pasture grasses becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, pig-farmers were forced to rely on expensive cereals and pulses, and in consuming this food the pig was now competing directly with other livestock and with man.[28] As a result, the pig’s role in the community gradually changed. Its hardy nature and semi-wild tendencies became more restricted – they began to be housed for longer periods of time – and it was likely at this point that breeding began to influence the development of a pig that was less suited to withstand the harsh conditions of the open forest and field, and more suited to an indoor existence.[29] Being an omnivore, and able to thrive on almost any type of food, the pig of course adapted, becoming in some cases a receptacle for kitchen waste or allowed, when kept in towns, to scavenge for waste food during the day.[30] Some pigs, during the sixteenth century, were fattened on peas, beans, dairy and brewery wastes.[31]

Traditional methods of pig-farming did continue however, well beyond the seventeenth century, likely on a much smaller scale, with pigs (and the people eating them) still benefitting from pannage rights and allowed to fatten on acorns and beech mast.[32] The superior pork produced by the process was acknowledged then as now. In fact, in 1843, the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society “indicated that the use of acorns beneficially hardened the meat because…of the presence of tannins” and as late as 1909, acorns were still widely used for fattening swine with Gloucester farmers considering them superior to beans.[33]

Breed & Feed

The medieval domestic pig, apparent from illustrations of the period, was long-bodied, brown/black or neutral colored, had abundant bristles along the spine and small, erect ears, and was much smaller than the wild boar.[34] Early eighteenth-century British, or “Old English” pigs were, in contrast, considerably larger with characteristically “lop” or flop ears.”[35]

This version of the domestic pig was, according to Wiseman, “rapidly approaching extinction” by the mid-nineteenth century, as it had the “failings” of late maturity – the time when it would begin laying down fat (which was approximately two years), and a high proportion of bone.[37] While its advantages included size-of-frame and prolificacy, it was not a profitable animal to rear.” “Improvements,” obtainable through breeding, took place gradually, primarily through crossing with the Chinese pig, which was smaller, could be slaughtered within nine months, and had a tendency to lay down more fat.[38]

The other major breed in Britain by the mid-nineteenth century was the Neapolitan or Mediterranean pig, “renowned” for its symmetry, moderate size, flavor of meat, aptitude to fatten and good mothering ability.[40]

The presence of these three major types of pig in Britain during the latter half of the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century did not preclude the existence of many other versions created through the pig-farmer’s proclivity to experiment with breeding. Wiseman indicates that it’s difficult to describe the extent of crossbreeding and emergence of new types that took place during this period as no “contemporary evidence” exists.[42] As he says, “There were no breed associations to regulate size, conformation, colour or breeding policy, which were at the whim of the individual breeder.”[43] He also points out that names of breeds during this time are unreliable indicators of heritage because new breeds were often given the name of the area in which they were bred, the owner’s name, or the name of another well-established and reputable breed.[44] For example, from the late eighteenth and into the nineteenth century, “there was a tendency to call all large white lop-eared pigs Shropshires” and later, when the Berkshire pig “had achieved fame throughout the country,” its name was borrowed by many to describe their own pigs.[45]

Pig breeders then as now recognized the specific carcass characteristics that were considered ideal for prevailing market conditions, and attempted to cross-breed accordingly. Bacon production required a larger-framed animal and therefore pigs for this purpose would contain more of the Old-English. More delicate pork was provided by pigs with a predominantly Chinese or Neapolitan content, with smaller versions containing more influence of the former.[46] Beyond this, the pig’s prolificacy and readiness to interbreed led even then to the creation of an indeterminable number of types beyond the three major ones already mentioned. As Wiseman says:

It should not be assumed…that an understanding of the qualities of the three major breeds, together with an appreciation of the market demands for different products, led to any orderliness in breeding policy. On the contrary, quite the reverse appears to have happened.” …Thus, any attempt at chronicling the development of any specific breed is beset with difficulties.[47]

In the middle of the 1800’s pigs were broadly classified into those of the large breed and those of the small breed.[48] The animals developed within the large breed were truly enormous, mostly as a result of age but also of feeding – a Yorkshire and Leicester cross, which typically weighed from 225 to 420 pounds when one to two years old, “could reach over 700 pounds if kept for over two years.”[49] According to Wiseman, the winning boar at Chester weighed 1148 pounds, even though the Old Yorkshire breed seldom passed 420 pounds even when fully grown.[50] He continues:

As the old pigs were of the Old English late-maturing breed, it could be concluded that the phenomenal weights achieved by improved pigs of the large breed were attributable in no small way to fat content – a point accepted by most contemporary writers and indicative of a foreign early-maturing influence on the large mature frame of the Old English. Such colossal sizes were not unusual.[51]The small breed was based almost entirely on either the Chinese or the Neapolitan, and included the Essex Black, Coleshill White, Cumberland White and Sussex, etc.[53] They fattened much sooner than pigs of the large breed, tended to be used for pork and did not achieve weights beyond approximately 225 pounds at fifteen months.[54] Their aptitude to fatten was such that they occasionally suffocated from excessive body weight.[55]

Wiseman acknowledges that demand for a smaller, earlier-maturing pig, the traits of which predominant in the Chinese and Mediterranean breeds, could be attributed to a more affluent population who preferred smaller cuts of meat, and since at least the Chinese breed tended towards an increased fat layer, it might explain how breeders would develop a smaller fattier pig.[56] However, what Wiseman describes as an “obsession” for fat production took hold among breeders during this period, supposedly influenced by a demand in America for “pigs which could convert vast crops of maize into lard,” and which ultimately had “devastating consequences” on the British pig industry.[57]

Although most of Wiseman’s historical information comes from showground reports of the time, where “fancy” breed types (those that were bred more for visually appealing characteristics) predominate, the fact that there were huge increases of bacon and hams imported to Britain justifies an indictment of that period’s quality of pig meat.[58] Although illustrations of pigs were often created with an eye towards emphasizing and distorting desired traits, there are numerous examples from the late 1800’s that show just how incredibly fat the pigs from this period could become. The example below, from 1886, is a breed from the United States referred to as “Poland China,” required for lard production, and that supposedly had an important influence on British pig breeders.

This illustration may appear to be fanciful, but a photograph from 1907 of a Berkshire proves that the amount of fat cover that illustrators in the late 1800’s were depicting was indeed accurate.

An incongruous duality of opinion seemed to have developed between those that understood that the best pork and bacon came from “moderately-sized pigs with no more than two fingers of fat,” and those that preferred “prostrate masses of fat grunting and sweating under a weary life in the heat.” A livestock judge from an 1887 show described the model pig of the time as one that “in the shortest period of time, and at the least cost, produces the maximum amount of lean meat in the best parts, with the minimum of low-priced or discounted meat and valueless offal.”[61]

However, much of the illustrative and descriptive evidence of the time describes an entirely different animal. In 1880, a show judge remarked “that the tendency towards monstrosity and obesity in exhibition pigs rendered [sic!] these animals better for the manufacture of lard than of profitable bacon.”[62] Wiseman even provides a reference to a letter from 1871, from a French visitor to Britain, complaining about the English pig “which, when boiled left nothing but grease and lacked the constitution to survive French conditions.”[63]

Ultimately, excessive fat cover, as Wiseman describes, “led to the demise of most of the small breeds….Thus, the Small Whites, referred to as “animated tubs of lard” and frequently unable to stand for the judges, disappeared.”[65] In 1909, the Black Dorset breed was extinct, having been described as “roly-poly pigs” so obese that they tended towards suffocation:

To prevent accidents from suffocation the pigs were supplied with pillows made from round pieces of wood. These were placed by the pigmen under the snouts of the reclining beauties; whilst the effort to walk out of the pens to be examined by the judges was frequently so great that the attempt was often abandoned.[66]

Ultimately, sanity was restored and as Wiseman says, “the two breeds responsible for providing both the curer and the consumer with their desired carcass were the Large White and the Tamworth, although it should not be forgotten that it was, and had been, common to cross-breed to produce the meat animal.”[67]

Today, it can’t be argued that breeding and feeding are complimentary processes, but as Wiseman indicates, “Until the middle of the nineteenth century, the feeding of pigs was rather haphazard” and it was primarily based on the various costs and availability of feeds.[69] Although it was recognized that certain types of feed benefitted certain types of pig-rearing systems – dairy products were good for rapidly-fattening pork pigs, while the larger baconers did well on grazing (during the late spring and summer), cereals, potatoes, peas and beans, knowledge of the nutritional requirements of pigs was very limited.[70] Within the confinement operations of the mid-nineteenth century, where animals were not allowed to forage, instead relying exclusively on feed, there were increasing problems with “deficiency diseases” like rickets.[71]

It wasn’t until the end of the nineteenth century that scientific experimentation began to reveal the necessary balances of carbohydrate, protein and fats required throughout a pig’s life. However, the business of fattening pigs rarely yielded any financial benefits unless a farmer had access for example to dairy or brewery by-products.[72] The feeding of grain alone was not typically practical due to high cereal prices.[73] As such, even with this nutritional knowledge, pig feeding remained dependent on the circumstances of the owner, which feeds were available at what cost, the purpose for which the animal was intended, and the seasons.[74]

It’s interesting that as early as 1726, pigs that were allowed to roam, at least during their fattening stage, therefore consuming a wide variety of foodstuffs, were considered better, with a sweeter meat, than those raised in confinement.[75]

What became of grazing? It was rarely used as a method to fatten pigs prior to slaughter, but it never disappeared as a method of rearing, continuing to be advocated by some authors until, at the start of the twentieth century, it was common practice to “revert to a pastoral form of rearing, where pigs were folded like sheep on kale or clover swards” and even in permanent pastures.[76] While the importance of pannage had declined as a method of feeding, grazing, especially for the hardier Old English style breeds, was widespread, and included farmland, where the pigs could consume the remains of the harvest in the fields and control weeds.[77]

Pig farming was a seasonal enterprise throughout the nineteenth century because fattening was most economically feasible during the fall.[78] A typical schedule was for animals to be born in the spring and raised or “stored” until they were twelve months old, the stage where their bodies could begin putting on fat versus primarily bone and muscle.[79] They were then fed on dairy wastes until the “final finishing period of about six weeks, when barley or potatoes would be added to the diet,” and then slaughtered at approximately 240 pounds during September at an age of about twenty-one months.[80] Any later and food shortages would arise, so that pigs born in the autumn would be of little use and sold off.[81]

Seasonality seems to remain today within certain pig farming systems, to the detriment unfortunately, of both farming revenue and availability of pork. Niman Ranch, which maintains strict farm structure, husbandry, animal welfare and meat quality requirements, contracts many smaller-scale, family-owned, non-intensive farms across the country to provide the (verify number of pigs) to satisfy their market, but says “Raising pigs by these methods traditionally has seasonal ups and downs.”[82] Specifically, they cite shortages in hog supply during the summer months, usually June and July, whereas fall remains a season where they have a surplus of animals.[83]

A Pig Farm In Cattle Country

I want to feel good about what I spend my money on. I want to have what I call “joy exchange” when I buy something – it’s the satisfaction and proud sense of accomplishment I get when I buy from someone with a thorough knowledge of and authentic interest in their product. I like the happy, rewarding communication that I take away from the experience.

After a week of emails and phone calls, I was able to arrange a visit to Harrison Hog Farms. Allen was careful to explain, more than once, that I wasn’t going to be able to go inside the paddocks. Since his pigs aren’t given antibiotics, there’s a risk of anybody not in daily contact with the animals bringing in disease-causing “bugs” that the animals would have no natural resistance to. Allen had scheduled my visit to coincide with one of his market days – I could follow him as he shuffled his duties amongst loading his freezers, where I could buy some pork, and checking on his gestation, weaning and fattening operations.

The gestation area, where one or two sows give birth and suckle piglets, is an open shed befitting the small-scale nature of the operation. Heating, cooling and ventilation are established through a combination of nature and Allen’s ingenuity, and the pigs seemed comfortable enough simply being out of the direct sun. During development of his gestation operation, Allen had to cut out a large section of galvanized sheet metal along the bottom of his shed – the Texas heat combined with the body heat of the hogs required better cross-draft at pig level. When I visited, the piglets were exploring the grassy area outside the gestation shed, and seemed intent upon mingling with the nearby goats.

On site at Allen’s, circa 2010

Allen has removed one of two gestation crates he used in the past. The existing crate is apparently preferred by one of his sows – when ready to give birth, she goes into it on her own, much like some dogs prefer a crate as a surrogate “den” – and it does not have the hold-down bars that prevent a sow from standing or turning over. The sow’s diet is controlled to prevent the unborn piglets from becoming too large during their last stage of development in the womb. Otherwise, according to Allen, piglets cannot pass through the birth canal and die within the mother.

After several weeks, the piglets are weaned, i.e. no longer have access to the sow’s milk and begin eating a mix of grains from a feeder that Allen refills himself. The pigs spend these weeks within the weaning pen, a raised platform with grated flooring that passes waste to the ground below where microbial activity, similar to that within an activated sludge waste-water-treatment-plant, “digests” the material into manure. Allen is considering attaching this “weaner pen,” which was built on wooden skids, to a tractor; he can then pull or otherwise move it around the grassy property and more effectively use the ground cover to absorb and process the waste. The breeding, gestation and weaning process is, according to Allen, very labor intensive, time-consuming and unprofitable and after two years of managing this portion of his business, he’s reconsidering its viability. In the near future, it may be that Allen finds it necessary to purchase weaned piglets and simply focus on raising them to market weight within his pasture & feed system.

When large enough, the weaned pigs are eventually relocated to a forty-two-acre section of land located several miles away in which they have continuous access to feed, water, grassy pasture and mud holes until, after seven or eight months, they reach their market weight, which Allen considers about three-hundred pounds.

Allen’s pig property #1, 2010
Allen’s pig property #2, 2010

Managing this property presents several challenges. The pigs need protection from the hot sun, but they’re apparently picky about what “style” of “housing” they prefer and Allen has experimented with both small sheds and galvanized metal lean-to’s. During the morning of my visit, with the afternoon heat approaching, the pigs seemed most content in a lean-to that was additionally protected by a row of thick vegetation outside the fence line. Convenient access to pasture land for a pig doesn’t always translate to convenient access to the pigs by the farmer and his equipment. Roads and paddocks can wash out during rainy weather; over-worked portions of the property can’t continue to support vegetation, while at the same time, pigs can’t be effectively managed when allowed to roam forty-two acres that are inaccessible to vehicles. Repairs and improvements may cost several thousand dollars to complete, but money is often tied up within the farm and the animals, so improvisations and partial repairs must often suffice.

Like many folks, I’ve read a lot about the artisanal experience, and I like to think I’m pretty hip to the farm-to-table vibe. But reading about it, and shopping at a third-party grocery, organic or otherwise, or even a good butcher shop, isn’t the same as getting in front of the farmers themselves. It’s not always about the quality either, which sometimes isn’t any better than anywhere else. For example, I’d purchased some late-season peaches from a woman farmer at the Rice University market and they were certainly nothing special – I’d had juicier, sweeter versions elsewhere. But several weeks later, I still have the image of that farmer’s face in my mind – her sun-weathered cheeks flushed pink from the heat and the hard sun. She was tired too, I could see that in her eyes and the way she held herself. I can sometimes get a vision of their day on the farm, in the fields or orchards, just by standing in front of them and talking to them. Maybe that’s too sentimental, but these folks produced and transported this stuff themselves and whether you’re raising kids, peaches or pigs, when you work physically hard it shows. So what you take away sometimes, if you’re mindful, may be just the simple, no-middle-man connection with a person who’s trying their best and having a good day or a bad day, bringing in a great crop, or maybe just a mediocre one.

As a consumer, you either get something out of this type of connection or you don’t. And if the product isn’t always the best you’ve ever had, then you’re still free to shop around. I’m all for demanding the best – that’s the free market economy and survival of the fittest, right? But if it’s at a big grocery, then those perfect peaches just came to you at least a step or two more removed from the person who was responsible for growing them, right? We all know that. What’s lost in that translation? That’s what I’m trying to figure out and describe, and it’s somewhat intangible, like a lot of so-called “added-value” in the world. It doesn’t matter whether I’m buying a car or a house; I either get a memorable and satisfying buying experience or something disappointingly less than that.

By doing business with Allen Harrison, I’m getting quality, the local buying experience and, on a good day, the opportunity to buy parts of a slaughtered pig that I can’t get very easily, if at all, through other sources. This week, all the pork belly had been spoken for, mostly by the Houston chefs that Allen supplies. But after enjoying several hours on Allen’s farm, I went home with a pig’s head, two cheeks, two hearts, a liver, a small rack of spareribs and some sausages – enough raw material to keep my cooking and eating adventures going for weeks.

[1] Wiseman, Julian, The Pig: A British History. Duckworth, London: 2000 edition, p.xvi.

[2] Smith, William Wesley, Pork Production, BiblioLife, Charleston: A “pre-1923 historical reproduction” according to the sample pages available for electronic review on, pp.3, 6.

[3] Wiseman, Julian, The Pig…p.xvii.

[4] Ibid., p.xviii.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., p.xvii.

[7] Ibid., p.34.

[8] Ibid., p.2.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., p.9.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., pp.9-10. This is not verified veterinary fact.

[14] Ibid., p.2.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., p.1.

[17] Ibid., p.3.

[18] Ibid., p.2.

[19] Fearnley-Whittingstall, Hugh, “The River Cottage Meat Book,” Ten Speed Press, 2004, p.?

[20] Wiseman, Julian, The Pig…p.7.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., p.8.

[27] Ibid., p.6.

[28] Ibid., p.8.

[29] Ibid., p.9.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid., p.10.

[33] Ibid., p.11.

[34] Ibid., p.14.

[35] Ibid., p.15

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid., p.20.

[38] Ibid., p.28.

[39] Ibid., p.23.

[40] Ibid., p.28.

[41] Ibid., p.23.

[42] Ibid., p.27.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid., p.29.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid., p.38.

[49] Ibid., p.39.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid., p.40.

[53] Ibid., p.41.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid., p.60.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid., p.65.

[59] Wiseman, p.60.

[60] Ibid., p.68.

[61] Ibid., p.64.

[62] Ibid., p.63

[63] Ibid., p.64.

[64] Ibid., p.66.

[65] Ibid., p.67.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid., p.69.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid., p.79.

[70] Ibid., p.80.

[71] Ibid., p.77.

[72] Ibid., p.80.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Ibid., p.78.

[75] Ibid., p.77.

[76] Ibid.

[77] Ibid., p.78.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Ibid.

[80] Ibid.

[81] Ibid.

[82] , “Pig Protocol,” p.4, 10.15.2010.

[83] Ibid.