Being intimate with the obstacles of implementing Slow Design, we are inspired by how the Slow Food movement has successfully encouraged us to pay attention to the food we eat, where it comes from, and how it is produced. And, it’s beautiful—and even more inspiring—how the conversation has quickly moved beyond the concepts of sustainable farming and organic produce to sustainable livestock farming and animal husbandry. Will Harris of White Oak Pastures has been a leader in the crusade to raise livestock using traditional, multi-species grazing rotation, with no hormones and antibiotics since the mid-1990s.
It’s been said that it is not necessary to be a “pig” in order to raise one. These days, our friends at the Fatback Pig Project are proving just that by producing sustainable pork right here in the state of Alabama. This initiative, initially formed as a collaboration among Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q co-founder Nick Pihakis, chef Donald Link, John Michael Bodnar, and Mike Bodnar, is working to create a network of Fatback Farms—farms that produce heritage breeds of pigs.
During our collaboration with Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q for the Friends of the Café Dinner Series last October, we spoke with co-founder Nick Pihakis about the idea of humanely raised pork. As members of the “Fatback Collective”, Jim ‘N Nick’s and Pihakis want to show farmers and diners that sustainable pork is as delicious as it is responsible. “We [The Fatback Collective] aimed to show that humanely raised pork didn’t need to be over-dressed, over-processed, or altered any way…that this kind of pork is good; it’s tasty; it’s not the enemy that would change pork for the worse. It’s even better than those pigs that are malnourished and mistreated and over-medicated.”
The Fatback Pig Project wants to increase the number of farms that are humanely producing heritage breeds of pigs in a way that can keep farms profitable, produce enough product to supply a large network of restaurants, with the hope of making heritage pork affordable for many shoppers. In order to do that, they are establishing a protocol for responsible husbandry and building an infrastructure where feed, breed, growing environment, and antibiotic usage are controlled. The project currently includes about a half dozen farms raising heritage hogs, with the hope of adding about 20 more. Those who participate in the Fatback Pig Project must be certified by the Global Animal Partnership (GAP); this ensures that the animals are raised naturally—on all-natural diets, humanely treated, and processed as closely to the source where they will be used as possible.
The project established an abattoir in on old emu processing plant in Eva, Alabama. Plant manager Raymond Kimbrel says, “The farmers who grow animals for us are micro-growers, mom-and-pop operations with small farms,” and says the project continues to look for more participants who want to preserve and keep family farm traditions alive. “We are helping revive an industry that was once an integral part of our Southern identity.”
Members of the Fatback Pig Project believe that heritage pork sells itself, once consumers taste the difference between a heritage hog and commodity pork, produced on an industrial scale. Large scale pork is produced by keeping pigs indoors, in close confinement, feeding them in a way that quickens maturity. Not only does he believe these processes to be inhumane, but they produce a drier, less flavorful pork. “Tasting is believing,” Pihakis told us. “We are passionate about changing the way that people look at food, raise food, and eat food.”
Beginning this week, The Factory Café will begin incorporating Fatback Pig pork products into our menu. We invite you to stop by and taste the difference responsible production makes, and to follow the ongoing efforts of The Fatback Collective and The Fatback Pig Project.
Photos by Angie Mosier and courtesy of the Fatback Pig Project