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Well Bred Pigs

You are what you eat. A pig is what he eats. And so when you eat pork, you are what the pig eats. QED. Michael Pollan  and others have eloquently fleshed out this point over the past several years, but the issue comes into bold relief when you’re grilling pork for friends on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

The star of the meal was the double-rib Berkshire pork chop (pictured here alongside a Chilean grass-fed rib-eye steak that <begin rant> I bought from a store beloved for its alleged
earth-friendliness — but if it’s so eco-cool, why can’t it offer me some grass-fed steaks from within, I don’t know, 1,000 miles of my home? <end rant>), which amply serves two. Berkshire is a heritage breed that originated in England and is known in some circles by its Japanese name, Kurobuta pork (Japan is the world’s largest importer and consumer of the breed).

What’s clear to everyone who tastes heritage breed pork is that the meat is considerably more tender, juicy, and flavorful than anything you’ll find in the supermarket. Critics of industrial pig farming practices—and they are legion—argue that commercial pigs are confined to unnaturally close quarters and live stressful lives. They point to studies showing how the anxiety causes a buildup of lactic acid that breaks down muscle structure and results in dry, bland meat.

Berkshire pork is innately better marbled than industrial pork, but the pig’s lifestyle also makes a difference. While the commercially bred pig’s diet is largely corn and soybeans, heritage breeds such as Berkshires often dine on feed supplemented with oats, molasses, fresh vegetables, and fruits. Roaming freely on farms and grazing in pastures, they are purebreds raised with eating pleasure in mind.

But Berkshire pork will run you a few bucks, and cash is a concern these days. The answer: Duroc pork. It costs perhaps a dollar or two more per pound than commercial pork, but the flavor is considerably deeper and richer than anything you’re used to. Treat yourself to a Duroc pork tenderloin or loin chop. Roasted or grilled. Shoot for slightly pink in the middle, but if you go a little over, don’t despair: heritage pork is also more forgiving, and will remain succulent and tender.

Here’s a link to a guide that’ll lead you to markets, organizations, restaurants, and farmers selling sustainable foods (including heritage breed pork). Find a nearby purveyor. It’ll save you gas, which is key, because I’m willing to bet you’ll make return trips.