Want to Save That Hog? Then Eat It!
Pig farmers are claiming that if we want to preserve hog diversity, we will have to just develop a bigger appetite for them. The Red Wattle Hog is one type of pig that is on the brink of extinction in the United States, and ironically, to save them, people will have to start eating them.
The Hoods Heritage Hogs farm is a tiny pig farm located in the deep hills of north central Kentucky. There, its owners let pigs do what pigs do best: rooting, wallowing in mud, sun bathing, and of course eating. A lot of eating.
The Hoods pig farmers practice what many did and still do across the United states, which is fattening their pigs and then carefully choosing which ones are breeders and which should wind up on a plate.
"We save the best and eat the rest," the farm's statement reads.
And while it sounds cruel, the Hoods farm is filling an important role in the conservation movement, strengthening a rare genetic line and preserving hog diversity.
"The Red Wattle is an American heritage breed that was almost lost. Currently there are less than 1,700 registered Red Wattles. In order to save the breed we must get Red Wattle pork back on the plate," owner Travis Hood argues.
Red Wattles are unique pigs covered in a light coat of red hair. A fleshy waddle with no known use hangs from each side of the animal's neck, earning it its namesake. A hearty and large pig breed, the Red Wattle is also known to be exceptionally friendly, warming up to people much like a dog.
To keep this breed around, pork farmers must choose to breed it, and many won't.
Expert Gregg Rentfrow recently told NPR's The Salt that heritage breeds like the Wattle are dying off because they simply take too long to mature.
"The ability to get an animal to market faster not only helps us feed those nine billion people, but it helps us do it more cheaply than before," he explained. Keeping the Wattle around simply isn't economic.
Some environmentalists would even argue that there is no point to preserving the breed. According to the Livestock Conservancy, the Wattle is only naturally found in one wooded part of eastern Texas, and may even be a line of hog derived from an invasive English breed. Nature surely wouldn't suffer from seeing it disappear.
Our stomachs however, might. A pork that is uniquely tender and flavorful, Hood calls Red Wattle pork "meat candy."
To let such a tasty meal die out, he claims, would be a tragedy.