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Jun 18, 2001 06:53 PM

Adulterated Pork

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Has anyone else noticed what is happening to pork in the supermarkets? At least out here in the West, most supermarket pork now contains a solution of water, salt, and sodium phosphate that constitutes between 7 and 15 percent of the weight of the meat. The consumer only notices this if they read the fine print on the fancy label that adorns the package of chops or whatever.

First, it bothers me that this is becoming a standard practice. It means that around 10% of what I'm paying for is just salty water.

Second, it means that real unadulterated pork would have to be priced 10% or so more than the stuff with the solution. That would place the real meat at a disadvantage in the marketplace, so we will end up seeing treated meat more and more until such time as real pork is only available from a few expensive, specialty stores.

Third, I can't recall ever eating pork and saying it would be perfect if only it were saltier.

I wish that something could be done--but I suspect that we are stuck with this salted-up and watered-down pork from now on. But I guess we should all remember to decrease salt in recipes when preparing pork dishes in the future.

Anybody have any input or ideas?

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  1. A recent article in the Washington Post food section was about small local pork producers in the Mid-Atlantic region. One of them, Polyface Farms in Virginia comes to our local Dupont Circle Farmers' Market on Sundays. They call their product "free-range" pork. The meat is darker in color and has some marbling, which the mass-producers have been eliminating, in order to market pork as "the other white meat." When cooked, the Polyface pork has a succulent, full meat flavor that always gets me thinking that I am experiencing the taste of pioneer America. It's a bit more expensive than supermarket pork, but the money goes directly to the producer. It's worth it.

    1. Well, I can't say that I've noticed what's happening to supermarket pork because, simply put:

      I will never, ever buy meat from anyone other than a butcher or from the farmer directly.

      I strongly urge everyone to do the same.

      Supermarket meat goes from the farmer and through several middlemen to arrive in your supermarket's meat section. Everytime it changes hands, someone has to make a profit...and the price goes up, right? Well, no. Supermarket meat *cheaper* than butcher meat! As you've noticed, quality goes down. The farmer get paid less and goes into debt more. There's hormonally inoculated feed being spent on these animals, they're more mass produced so the infection & spoilage rate invariably goes up, they have cheap fillers if they're processed, and they're kept "fresh" through dubious means. And accountability goes down.

      AND, everytime food changes hand, there just one more link AWAY from knowledge of the animal, how it was raised, processed (i.e. killed) and the conditions on the farm, its soil quality and its role in the community.

      This may sound like a polemical rant, I know, but food and farming is an issue that effects me very emotionally. To me, food IS politics. Spending a few extra dollars on food is well worth the investment. Consider it an insurance policy against these stores going out of business, against the farms going bankrupt and against the proliferation of the kind of pork your seeing more and more of in supermarkets.

      As you may tell, I agree with you wholeheartedly about the problem, edotddot_1. I don't agree that it's something that we can combat by just reducing the salt in recipes. If you're not the "join a group and protest" type (and I certainly am not), you can still search out stores that retain a sense of pride in what they're selling. My attitude is that I'm not going to spend my money anyplace I don't want to and the most effective protest is in their bottom line.

      Here what I do:
      1. Read about food and farming. Wendell Berry, Michael Pollen, Wes Jackson and the Nearings come to mind in an instant. (anyone with other suggestions?)
      2. Talk to your butcher. If he/she is knowledgable, great. Ask questions about the meat, where it came from, and so on. If the "butcher" does know, he probably doesn't care. That should tell you something right there.
      3. Eat parts of the animal you wouldn't normally choose. This promotes thrift, excitement and makes every meal different.
      4. If possible, visit the farm. (Make an appointment with the utmost in humility...these guys aren't there to entertain the kids.) You'll get a real sense of how the animals live and what they eat. Then ask the farmer where you can get his meat and/or vegetables. If you don't have room for a whole pig in your freezer, tell him that but also that you'd like to get some of his stuff anyway.

      I've gone on waaay too much, but I hope you don't sit idly by and take what the huge agro-business conglomerates dish out.


      2 Replies
      1. re: Chris
        Brandon Nelson


        I share your sentiments but you are misinformed on the whole meat distribution process. Perishables don't go through "several" middlemen. This is simply bad business for someone trying to turn a profit. For supermarkets most product is delivered from a farm to their distribution center. From there it is shipped to the stores. Butchers, even those in chain grocery stores, are often very knowledgable of their product. A meat clerk (a different worker altogether) might not be though.

        Most of the meat I buy is from Niman Ranch. They follow certain tenants to maintain the quality of their meat, and their land. It is also a superior product. Try some ( you will have no problems with the meat, or the process.


        1. re: Brandon Nelson

          Thank you for your note.
          I haven't tried Niman Ranch. I probably won't, not because I doubt their good, but because I already get great pork and pork products here in Columbia County, NY at Van Wie natural food. (Now affiliation, just a satisfied customer.)
          You're rightabout the middlemen. I was careless. What I meant to say is that the meat goes through many different hands...from farmer, to renderer, to distribution center, etc.
          I agree that "meat clerk" is vastly different from "butcher." Analagously, the service one gets from a "real" hardware store where the saleman lives with, uses and deals with people who use the products are different from many of the folks that work at Home Depot. (I can see the libel suits coming now!)

          Anyway, I think we're on the same page here, but, once again, thanks for the note.



      2. Smithfield Foods is by far the largest pork producer in the US and in the world. Smithfield's FY 2000 production of pork and pork products was about 6 billion pounds. They have 700,000 sows capable of producing 12 million hogs annually. If you've got a pork problem, odds are on they're the culprit.

        Now, they'll tell you that foot and mouth disease has forced them to take measures to increase profitability, but that's just a bunch of hogwash. What's easily apparent is that their stock (SFD, NYSE) has been a great performer in a sloppy market. At any rate, you might want to write them a complaint but I suspect you'll get nothing but a snooty response.

        1. One (possibly the only) upside to the quality of most pork is the rise of smaller producers. Niman Ranch, whose pig products are widely available, raises pigs in a humane fashion and adds nothing to the meat. It's really good pork.

          1. The only part of the pig I've seen sold in the salt solution in the supermarkets is the loin. I'm sort of OK with the plain solution, it's when they put "teriaki" or "lemon pepper" crap in it that I really lose it. I normally brine pork for a couple hours before I cook it anyway - keeps it nice 'n' juicy and flavorful. I suppose I would rather brine it myself, but hey, sometimes when I've worked a ten-hour day....
            When I do buy that sad looking vacuum-packed loin with the weird looking salty goo all over it, I simply soak it in plain water for about 1/2 an hour - changing the water a couple times.
            I swear, it won't kill you!