- Pigs carry a variety of parasites in their meat that can infect humans. This is why there are so many warnings about undercooked pork. Now Trichinellosis and tapeworm infections are pretty rare here in the US but they still occur in developing countries. Regardless of how well it is cooked though, do you still want to eat dead parasites?
- Many religious sects forbid eating pork. This is perhaps due to the parasites. Pork meat is also highly perishable, even with refrigeration and could cause food poisoning. In biblical times people were likely very aware of the dangers of eating pork and so banned it altogether. Or perhaps there had a different reason. We may never know.
- Pork causes an abnormal blood reaction. This is based off of how a drop of blood looks under a dark-field microscope after eating pork. The red blood cells become stacked together like coins causing coagulation and clotting which makes circulation through capillaries very difficult. A recent article published by the Weston A. Price Foundation showed however that this blood reaction only occurred with pork that had not been marinated before cooking. It did not occur in pastured uncured pork like bacon and prosciutto. Traditional methods of preparing pork using salts and acidic marinades appears to reduce or eliminate the negative blood effects that contribute to disease. So I guess as long as you marinate your pork chop first in apple cider vinegar you will be okay. Just make sure you cook those parasites first.
- Quality matters. The state of our food industry is appalling, particularly when it comes to meat production. A pig is a very intelligent animal. Think of any three-year-old you might know. I have a three-year-old and to think that a pig is as smart as my daughter is pretty scary. Now imagine packing hundreds of three-year-olds into a barn where they hardly have enough room to turn around. Not a pretty picture, huh? Pigs are social creatures and they like to play. When they get bored they might chew off the tail of their neighbor just for the fun of it. That's why most factory-farmed piglets have their tails cut off and/or their front teeth knocked out. They stand around in their own waste and that of their neighbors for days if not weeks. And I don't even want to tell you about how they are sent to slaughter. All of the stress and disease produced by these methods affects the quality of the meat itself. Which leads me to my next point.
- Pigs are genetically similar to humans. This is why they can use pig heart valves to replace human heart valves. It's also why any virus or bacteria that infects a pig can transfer to humans as well. Now think about all those stressed out and disease ridden pigs in a factory farm. Whether in direct contact or by eating the meat we are putting ourselves at risk of infection. Not to mention eating unhealthy meat makes for an unhealthy human too.
Now for the good news. If you really happen to like eating bacon or sausage, or yes even ham, it turns out you still can. If you are careful.
- Pasture raised pork is the key. Let's start with a healthy animal that was allowed to roam around and express their "pigness" as Joel Salatin says. Pigs are the garbage disposal of the farm. They eat stuff that other animals won't or can't, reducing waste. They are great for tilling the earth and fertilizing the fields. Pigs are great on the farm! So support a local farmer by buying his well raised and cared for pig meat. Chances are a healthy pig will have less risk of parasites or disease. If you are going to eat pork, this is the only acceptable kind to buy.
- Lard is different. While pasture raised pork meat still carries some inherent risks of parasite and infection, lard is a different matter. Lard is the rendered fat of the pig and like all fats it is composed of the same fatty acids as you would find in any fat or oil, just in different proportions. For example, the mono-unsaturated fatty acids found in lard are exactly the same as those found in olive oil. The protein portion may cause blood reactions but the fat will not. That being said, I still would not consume lard from a factory farmed animal as certain antibiotics and other drugs and chemical toxins concentrate in the fat. And if any pesticides have been used on the food that the pigs consume, you can bet you are getting a concentrated amount of that too.
- Use traditional methods of preparation. As stated above, marinated pork did not produce the blood reactions common to unmarinated cooked pork. So stick with those favored forms of traditional preparations such as salt curing, smoking, and marinating. Sausages are often mixed with spices that kill parasites so that is okay too. But avoid those pork chops unless you've marinated it in apple cider vinegar first. Remember that some commercially prepared methods will contain nitrates and/or carcinogens but that could be a whole blog post in itself!