Friday, August 05, 2016

Chicago Tribune's War on Cheap Pork: Piggy Move-up Journalism

Herscher, Il family farmer Brian Downs

“One could not stand and watch very long without being philosophical, without beginning to deal in symbols and similes, and to hear the hog-squeal of the universe.... Each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart's desire; each was full of self-confidence, of self-importance, and a sense of dignity. And trusting and strong in faith he had gone about his business, the while a black shadow hung over him, and a horrid Fate in his pathway. Now suddenly it had swooped upon him, and had seized him by the leg. Relentless, remorseless, all his protests, his screams were nothing to it. It did its cruel will with him, as if his wishes, his feelings, had simply no existence at all; it cut his throat and watched him gasp out his life.”
― Upton Sinclair, The Jungle  

Pigs have their own language; perceptions; primal fears, urges and reactions; social structures and motivators (food, mostly). I think learning to speak their language is more valuable and better from a humane-treatment standpoint than trying to force them into ours and that’s what farmers do. Righteous Bacon.
The late Marietta Frogge would bring the piglets into the Frogge Farmhouse, when Martinon, Illinois went arctic in the late 1970's.  I delighted in watching her husband Calvin whistle the critters into the kitchen and seeing a dozen squealers slide on the linoleum floors and crash into the cabinets to be first up on Calvin's lap.

I am no stranger to hogs.  As a kid, I remember north-easterly breezes meant summertime aroma therapy from the stockyards just to the north of me. Blood, bone, hide, horn and innards from cows, pigs and sheep created an atmosphere of bad smells like no other - well,maybe Gary, IN. On certain humid days in Chicago when it gets hotter than Honduras and buzzes with more big, black flies than Bombay ( Mumbai for NPR doctrinaires), one can still detect that scent thirty years after the Yards closed in Canaryville.

As a young teacher, I taught in French Illinois,  South Will, Kankakee and northern Iroquois Counties. It was there that I met my wife to be and her farmer family on her mother's side.  They are ten generation French American who lived in St. George, Illinois and later moved to Herscher, where they developed four massive farms growing soy and corn and raising hogs.

Hog farming is one tough business - on pigs and on the folks raising them.  One can not be a farm child and not learn that life is cruel, dirty, smelly and bloody and that is decades before they learn about politicians.

Lisa Madigan and Dick Durbin are part of the Chicago Tribune series.  The Attorney General filed suit against one farm three years after an 'environmental disaster' took place and Dick Durbin sails in the direction of media crafted winds.

Life is tough enough without public grifters and their propaganda apparatchiks making misery universal.

Farmers, large and small, are stewards of the land first above all and business people second.  Farms pass from one generation to another and respect for the life is the key to any exchange so sacred.

I spent quite a bit of time on farms and with farmers. I observed, tried my hand at, understood the work and respect it mightily.

Animals are treated like what they were born to be - food. They are handled hygienically and with great care.  Here is what a farm kid raising pigs learns at a very early age.

  • Piglets used to get their needle teeth clipped at birth. Cruel ? How many of us drag around a yard of umbilical chord and dried placenta?  Piglets are born with teeth as sharp as needles and to protect the nursing Mom (Sow) and the piglets themselves the razor sharp buckers get their teeth cut with a tool that looks like a pliers. However , most farmers have ended the practice The verbal "cutting one's teeth" comes from this practice.
  • Piglets get their tails snipped as well.  Newly weaned piglets often get their tails "docked" in order to prevent other pigs from sucking on the tails and chance the biting and infections.
  • Hogs ( male piggies)  get castrated in order to prevent Boar Taint - a strong male odor and taste that makes the appeal of dining less favorable.  More so, hogs are nasty brutish and violent.  Vive le difference! Thank Heavens for Little Sows.  Hogs with all the male juices a bubbling are one aggressive quartet of trotters.
  • Pigs are kept indoors to protect the environment, reduce waste and excessive feeding
  • Sows are kept in two kinds of crates: gestation crates when the sow is 'large with child' for the purposes of monitoring the pig's food and health and the farrowing crates once the sow has given birth - PETA activists like to highlight the crates and give the impression that purpose is to inflict pain and suffering on the animals, which is far from the case and further from the truth.
Farms that are successful become larger.  The Duvals, or Messiers, or Fortins, or Marchands pass their lands, expand their lands and develop new means of growth.  These are French names common to Kankakee and Iroquois Counties and along with their Dutch farming neighbors along the Illinois Indiana border they have succeeded wildly.

The Chicago Tribune series is intended to villainize such names and family success in general. 

The articles give the indication that the pork producers are faceless corporations, via the 'compelling narrative' appellation - Factory Farms.

The reader is astounded to learn that the little pigs are abused and slaughtered by farm hands out of a Steinbeck novel to fatten the bank accounts of soulless plutocrats living in global tax-havens and pleasure-palaces.

You can hate Factory Farms, corporations and deny that they a people. They are corporate persons and subject to the law, however.

The law is the handmaiden of political opportunists, as well as Justice.

The authors combed through State archives from the Attorney General, the Illinois EPA, Sierra Club and Peta. 

Farmers are not going to poison their children, their livestock and their land. Jackson and Marx would have the reader believe that faceless tycoons own Factory Farms and they are raising awareness of ordinary people to the cost of low-priced pork.

Their targets are family farmers.

I have never witnessed idiotic cruelty, like too many urban youths scalding, burning and torturing cats and dogs, by farmers.  I have never heard cruelty to animals approved, much less orchestrated.

Farming is a business and a lifestyle.

The culture of farming is respectful of all living things - plants and animals.

The Chicago Tribune series on Pork Production seemed to me a cutesy, one-sided, pimp-slap by investigators who have concluded their thesis long before the ink hit the paper, reminiscent of Michael Moore's modus operandi of making the facts fit not matter where they might pop-up.   The thesis is simple; cheap pork comes about because of massive agri-corporations and disregard for the torments afflicted upon pools of pigs and rivers of blood and guts and chemicals pumped into our water tables and this is horrible. Or, $ 3.15 per pound for clean, dressed and safe to eat pork loin is only possible because pork producers are 1% er nasty creeps. Cue Andy Thayer's bullhorn! Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho! Low/Low Prices Have Gotta Go!

State EPA and Sierra Club findings with charts and graphs and interviews with alleged pollutants and animal abusers hand-cuffed by the bludgeon of the law appear to be "gottcha-ed" into declining comment or offering vague assent to inquiries like, " The Attorney General has filed suit against you."  

Where is the question, your Honor?

Let me try and answer. If the accused are treated as Factory Farms and Corporations, the reader could care less.  The fact of the matter is that the farms being villainized are where the farmers actually live.

To the charges of polluting the water-ways, Mr. Jackson, you are saying they pollute their own drinking, bathing and cooking water?

The accused are hand-cuffed by law as their cases are "pending." Talk about limiting free speech.  Police officers accused of every barbarity in the media are likewise abused by this breed of journalist.

Things sure seemed that way to me from reading the articles over the last three days, so I decided to call Jennifer Tirey, Executive Director of Illinois Pork Producers in Springfield and get her take on the articles and opinion hits from reporters David Jackson, Gary Marx and editor-in-chief Bruce Dold.

Ms. Tirey told me that she had been contacted by Jackson and Marx and that she had offered a great deal of information to them in answer to their questions and very little of that information found its way into print.

Ms. Tirey and I spoke together over the phone on Thursday and Friday of this week.  She was as baffled by the series as I had been and noted that much of the farm tours conducted for the two reporters were ignored, as well as data concerning farm safety, livestock care and meeting State and Federal standards for water, soil and air safety.

My theory is journalism piggy move-up.

Piggy move-up was a form of softball played in Chicago, when space or players were limited. After tossing the bat and two fingering to the "bottle cap," a batter was chosen.  He needed to make a hit. The pitcher, the catcher (if needed) the basemen and fielders took up the bat in an agreed upon order.

Modern Journalism ( from Dewey on) begins with an assumption and ends when that assumption is satisfied with phrases, narratives, graphs, polls, and charts.  That assumption moves along the great chain of being from Thinks Tank, to Political Action Committee, to newspapers, television and radio,  to politicians and to legislation, until whatever is believed with same level of reverence as if it came from a Burning Bush- Public schools only need more money; homicides are down in Chicago; gender is neutral; Lisa Madigan really, really cares.

Theorists and social engineers come up with an idea to handcuff the planet.  Global Veganism is the agenda soon to replace Climate Change, formerly called Global Warming.  The United Nations came out with a decree in June calling for Universal Veganism, The Guardian ( Glenn Greenwald) wrote a compelling series on Vegan or Death, Chicago Tribune Declares war on low pork prices and Dick Durbin rushes to judgment. Journalism piggy move-up.  It is not baseball.

Neither is the series on pork production in Illinois.  It will only harm one more of Illinois' key industries and in the process vilify people who do not have it coming to them.

*Ms. Appell is currently a member of the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations, a position she has held since 2010, and the USDA Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee for Trade of Animals and Animal Products. She is also a past President of the National Pork Producers Council and the Illinois Pork Producers Association. In addition, she previously served as Illinois State Director for Rural Development for the USDA. Ms. Appell farms in Knox County.

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