Most of us do not have the opportunity to inspect the entire pig or steer or lamb before we buy our loins and shanks, but butchers do–if they’re cutting whole animals and not just selling boxed parts.  There is apparently a lot to learn about how an animal was raised by “reading” a carcass. Doing this informs Joshua and Jessica Applestone about the animals they carve and sell. I was fascinated by listening to both of them describe what they look for and what it means as I helped them write their book. Here is an excerpt from The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat about Josh’s experience finding pork he felt comfortable selling at Fleisher’s — and eating after 16 plus years as a vegan.

PASTURED VS. ORGANIC VS. CONVENTIONAL

Conventional supermarket pork comes from animals that have never lived or breathed outside a sterile factory farm, never stepped a hoof on the earth, never rooted in the dirt.  Animals that have been bred to live exclusively in confinement are so scrawny that they would freeze outside anyway.  They’re also so delicate that people entering their confinement operation have to wear masks and shoe covers so the animals don’t get sick(er).  To prevent disease outbreaks and to simulate faster growth, the commercial hog industry is said to add more than 10 million pounds of antibiotics to its feed yearly, which is, by some accounts, up to eight times more than all the antibiotics used to treat human illness in that same time frame.

In addition to the antibiotics, confinement pigs are fed cheap crap.  So it should come as no surprise that their meat tastes like it.  Even if you do the research and know something about how your ham was raised and treated, you won’t see what a butcher sees.  We see, for instance, that pastured pigs have clean glands – they’re almost the same color as the flesh.  Glands are the filters for the body, and they reflect what the animals have been through.  On our pigs , they are pearlescent and clear.  On a conventionally raised pig, those glands are brown to black.  One of our colleagues told us this before we saw it, and we didn’t believe him.  Then one time while I was learning to make charcuterie at someone else’s shop, I ran into a gray/black gland.  It was disgusting.  Often these glands are not removed before the meat is ground or processed.  If well-raised and -fed pastured pork isn’t available near you, USDA organic is absolutely a far safer, better bet than conventional.  Always read labels and ask questions; just because something is certified organic doesn’t mean it’s local or that it has roamed free.