Are they taking them to the farm?

Published 6:37 pm Tuesday, April 25, 2017

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Those of us who grew up on or near a farm back when hogs and chickens were routinely killed as a primary food supply never had any doubt where Sunday dinner came from. In today’s America, precious few people make that connection. We still love bacon, but for the most part, never talk about where its origins.

In Smithfield, making the connection to our food supply is a bit easier than in most places. Hog trucks roll down the bypass on their way to the packing plant are a reminder that bacon doesn’t begin in a vacuum seal package.

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The hogs trucks can, in fact, be more educational than we sometimes would like.

Anne was taking our grandson to Hardy Elementary School one day last week and the youngest granddaughter, Ellie, was in the car as well, headed for pre-school. They fell in behind a truckload of hogs bound for the packing plant.

“Are they taking them to the farm?” Ellie asked.

Now, there’s a conversation you want to have with a four-year-old bright and early in the morning.

Anne was honest, as she should have been, and said that, no, the hogs were going to the packing plant where they would become bacon, pork chops and other food.

“You mean they’re going to kill them?” And then, immediately, “Are they baby pigs?” Saved. No, they don’t kill baby pigs. That helped assuage Ellie’s fears.

John Haakon then got tried to be helpful. He reasoned that what they ought to do is let the pigs grow old and die, then make the bacon.

Anne somehow managed to change the topic about that time.

It occurred to me when Smithfield Foods announced a couple of weeks ago that it will become a player in the bioscience industry that, in addition to whatever financial and social benefits there are, this could have huge public relations benefits for the company as well. If the hogs Ellie watched going down the road were headed also to becoming lifesavers someday, that’s a very positive outcome for a whole lot of porkers. Nobody, including packing plant officials, thought much about public attitudes toward pork processing 30 years ago. I recently came across several 35 millimeter negatives in our files showing hog carcasses on the kill floor rail back in 1985. I had gone into Smithfield Packing to report on a major engineering problem that forced a temporary shutdown of the plant and was allowed, without question, to photograph the kill floor.

That would never happen today, nor should it. The public is far too sensitive about animals for such images to be welcome. And in this world of kinder, gentler attitudes toward the animals we eat, it will be be nice to explain to the Ellies in our lives that at least some of those pigs on the way to market are helping to save lives.