There are certain things in life that you can’t un-see. For me, watching one pig slurp urine from another pig’s stream is extremely high on that list. Amazing to think that I actually tasted smoked pork tongue that very same day! But another thing I can’t un-see is the destruction caused by those very same pigs in the redwood forest they call home.
At FlipJack Ranch, David and Robin practice Rotational Pasture Management. Essentially, this means that we move the pigs to a new fenced area every few days. As I understand it, this is meant to ensure that the pigs don’t destroy the whole forest at once but also that they get to live in their natural habitat. Mangalistas are a heritage breed from Hungary and they absolutely love to forage. They dig for acorns and chestnuts, but it seems like they’re digging for China by the looks of the forrest floor. While I appreciate that it’s their natural instinct to ‘root,’ that doesn’t mean they should be doing it here.
The Santa Cruz Mountains are home to a ridiculous amount of old growth redwood trees and four acres worth of them live on FlipJack Ranch. Redwoods are crucial to our climate, capturing more CO2 from human pollution than any other tree on earth. The trees left standing on this property after years of deforestation are utterly magnificent. There’s nothing like looking up to see the sun peaking through layers of redwood branches, casting singular sparking rays all the way down to the forest floor.
These tall trees are of little concern to me. Under the ownership of David and Robin, they’re not going anywhere. I’m more concerned about the small plants and baby trees that get trampled, chewed, and macheted to pieces to make way for pigs that came from miles away to live and die there.
Listen, I get it. Mangalista makes for some damn good charcuterie and its marbled fat awards it a highfalutin reputation as far as swine is concerned. A pound of this stuff goes for $15, and at 200 pounds a porker, that’s $3000 per pig. As a decidedly omnivorous human, I’d rather fork over the extra cash for organic, local meat, but watching what these pigs do to a forest that’s not even remotely theirs is disturbing to me. Sure, heritage pork is better for you and for the planet than the stuff grown in mass and stuffed with corn, but I’m still not convinced that it’s all good.
The old growth trees at FlipJack aren’t going anywhere, but by parading these pricey pigs through the rest of the forest, we may be preventing the ever-evolving ecosystem that exists there to thrive. Then again, should I have a hankering for cured Mangalista, should I buy it from a provider in Hungary and pay the price in the fuel emissions it took to get here? Or, should we move the pigs out of the forest and degrade their quality of life by confining them to a spacious, albeit boring, dirt pen? None of these questions have answers. There’s almost no right way to eat meat anymore. Our food system has become so globalized that even local food can be detrimental in the long run. Yes, I’d rather buy pork from a local farm than from Tyson or whoever else is ruining our food system, but we also have to admit that ‘local’ is a buzz word. Local isn’t always good, it’s just usually better.
I feel sad for the baby redwoods that are being stripped of their right to grow as tall as their years-old counterparts. I feel sad that foreign creatures have been introduced to a delicate microclimate for the profit and enjoyment of humans. No, I’m not telling you to stop eating meat, because I have no intention of doing so myself. I do, however, suggest that we all take a closer look at where our food comes from, whether near or far, and consider its impact on the planet we live on.