You are what your food eats

Pig in the wallow

Photo by Clyde Bentley via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“You are what your food eats.” That’s the headline for this audio story from Harvest Public Media. In it, reporter Jessica Naudziunas visits two locations to report on livestock being fed their breakfast. The first stop is the University of Missouri’s Swine Teaching Facility, where the pigs get a carefully controlled diet comprised primarily of corn and soybean meal with some vitamin and mineral supplements. That’s not all pigs may be fed, though. As the report notes, per FDA regulations “if a feed producer wants to, polyethylene—plastic—can be used as a roughage replacement.” In the MU facility, the pigs’ feed includes rendered pig products (like bone and blood).

As described by MU Swine Nutrition Specialist Marcia Shannon, “When they process and slaughter pigs for market, we use everything out of that.” The report continues: “Pig blood is dried, cooked and then used as a supplement in the animal feed these pigs had for breakfast today. Shannon says it’s a cheap way to make the feed more digestible and protein rich. ‘What we’re trying to do is basically take a not very valuable protein source and convert it into a more valuable protein source, because we as humans aren’t going to eat blood—we’re not going to sit down and drink a bowl of blood soup, but you know, we’ll sit down and enjoy a nice bacon cheeseburger.'”

Talk about food for thought, huh? On the one hand, it seems not only reasonable but admirable to put every last bit of a slaughtered pig to use. And yet, there’s something creepily cannibalistic about feeding dried pig blood back to pigs. And then there’s Shannon’s assertion that “as humans” we won’t eat animal blood. In fact, many cultures not only include animal blood as a protein source (including the traditional diet of the Maasai), but it’s the key ingredient in sausage and even soup in a host of world cuisines. While the typical modern American diet may not include animal blood as a protein source, that doesn’t make its consumption any more inhuman than eating “a nice bacon cheeseburger.”

The second half of the Harvest Public Media story makes a stop at Sally Angell’s cattle farm in Centralia, Missouri. Like the visit to the MU research facility, it’s an interesting and informative look at the raising of livestock. If you have a few minutes, give the story a listen.

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The Conscientious Omnivore is away this week. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared on December 5, 2011.

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