Leia Flure is a registered dietician who has a unique background. After participating in a tour to a hog farm, her views about pig farming changed. Flure highlights those misconceptions in this issue of Pork Pod.
Leia Flure, Registered Dietician
Don Wick: 00:04 From the Pork Checkoff in Des Moines Iowa, it’s Pork Pod. Pork Pod, a look at the hot topics in today’s pork industry. The Pork Checkoff is working for you through various forms of research, promotion, and consumer information projects. This is Don Wick speaking on behalf of the Pork Checkoff, and today our guest is Leia Flure from Champaign, Illinois. She’s a blogger, registered dietitian. She recently participated in a Pork Checkoff sponsored tour for registered dietitians, but she does have a unique background. Leia, tell us about it.
Leia Flure: 00:31 Well, I am Jewish. So as many people know, Jews don’t eat pork products. Well, I guess if you’re observant, you don’t. And I did grow up in the Chicago suburbs, in a conservative Jewish family. So we did observe the laws, you know, we kept kosher. We went to temple every Saturday. So, you know, growing up we didn’t eat a lot of pork. A funny story. My mom actually really likes bacon. So, we kind of made our own rules that bacon didn’t count. So I’m, I love bacon and I do eat like sausage now and then. But you know, ham, pork chops, have never really been a big mainstay in my diet, but I’ve tried them a couple of times, but I’m not really familiar with how to prepare them, what they taste good with. So it would just be happenstance that I was at someone’s house and they were serving and I might have a taste.
Don Wick: 01:40 So now you’re on the farm, as I understand it.
Leia Flure: 01:46 Yeah. So the other thing, of course I should mention, I’m a dietitian. So, I think it’s important to know where your food comes from if you’re a dietitian, if people are asking you questions. Agriculture is a big thing these days. Consumers have lots of questions. So I was really excited to go on this tour to visit a farm myself and see it and learn from the farmers themselves and experts on swine nutrition, so that I could better answer people’s questions.
Don Wick: 02:21 You mentioned that there’s a farm tour put together by the Pork Checkoff with the registered dietitians and nutritionists like yourself. Tell me about that experience. What did you learn?
Leia Flure: 02:31 Yeah, well going in since I didn’t know a whole lot, I learned quite a bit. But I would say the biggest things that I took away from the tour were first of all, you know, you hear this term factory farming a lot and I don’t really like that term. It’s kind of, it’s a little triggering. Even for me growing up in the suburbs, we’re kind of separated from where our food comes from, but, I went to the University of Illinois and a lot of my friends are farm kids and from that background, so I really don’t like that term. But I wanted to see what it was actually about because if you ask the consumer about, for example, Smithfield Farms or a big hog operation like that, they would probably call it a factory farm. So I was really excited to see how clean the facilities were, you know, all things considered.
Leia Flure: 03:32 I mean, farms are, there’s going to be a little bit of dirt and waste and things here and there, but you know, the animals did not seem stressed out to me. I mean you did have a lot of animals packed into a smaller space, but they didn’t seem overly concerned about that. They had lots of water, they had, depending on where you were, they might have free access to food. And we talked to one of their vets and it was really interesting to hear about antibiotic use and we asked questions about whether they’re used prophylactically, since the antibiotic resistance is a big concern, and also adding hormones. So it was really, I knew this already, but it was good to hear it again that no hormones are ever added to pork products. So when you see that on the label, they might say no hormones added, but it’s not allowed anyway.
Leia Flure: 04:38 So it’s a little misleading if you don’t know that, you know, if you see a package next to one that does not have that label, you might think that the one that didn’t have that label would have hormones added to it, if that makes sense. So, we learned a lot about the labeling. And also sustainability is a big topic that dietitians hear about, you know, people want to eat nutritious food, but they also want to do so in an environmentally conscious manner. So I had no idea that sustainability was a big focus of pig farming. So I thought the most surprising thing was how the waste is drained and, you know, goes out to the lagoon where it’s broken down by bacteria into a nutrient rich fertilizer, which then is used to grow crops, which are turned into feed for the pigs. So, you know, its that circle of life mindset. I really liked that. And I also loved hearing from Jan Archer. She was saying that her farm, they send, so she has pigs on her farm and she also grows hay. And the hay goes down the road to a goat farm. And the goats, of course, eat the hay, produce their milk and the milk is turned into cheese. So the curds are used to make the cheese and the whey that’s drained off goes back down to Jan’s pig farm, which they, I’m sure happily enjoy.
Don Wick: 06:21 Jan’s a great person too. It’s fun to hear those stories. It’s interesting when you take a look at for most of the, for most pork producers, their pigs are raised in a closed door type of environment and for those that aren’t familiar, just having the opportunity to open those barn doors, so to speak, and see what goes on behind the scenes had to be interesting.
Leia Flure: 06:43 For sure! And I was also, I didn’t know anything about now the consequences of pasture raised pigs. So some people are really into that, but there are some advantages to raising them indoors. For example, you know, food safety concerns, trich as we call it, you know, food-borne parasites that is often associated with pork products is soil borne. So when you know they’re pasture raised, they ingest that soil and they’re more likely to be infected with the parasite. So, I didn’t know that. And then also, I didn’t know that pigs were naturally inclined to root around and kind of be a little destructive if left to their own devices. They’re very curious. I observed them biting on a lot of the bars on the enclosures, and like “Why are they doing that?”. And they just said Yes, they are curious. They like to play around and so if they’re left outside like that, they can end up digging a lot and, and causing damage to property. So some advantages that a lot of people don’t really think about.
Don Wick: 08:00 As a dietitian, I would guess you get a lot of consumer questions as it relates to nutrition and these types of topics. How do you think a tour like this helps you as you move forward?
Leia Flure: 08:10 Yeah, we do get a lot of questions, not just about the nutrition quality of different food products. There’s a lot of concern about the impact of animal agriculture on the environment and animal welfare. And I feel a lot more comfortable now having seen it myself that the animals, again, they did not seem distressed at all. They seemed pretty happy, for a good reason. One more thing that I learned was that stress really negatively impacts the quality of the meat. So, I can tell consumers that now those pigs, there’s a built-in incentive for farmers to be, you know, to take good care of their animals, to keep them comfortable and happy because it results in a more nutritious, higher quality product for the consumers. And farmers eat a lot of the, they eat the same foods that we do. So there is really no reason for them to treat their animals poorly. They care about what they do. I think it was Jan who said farmers don’t farm to make money, they do it because they love it. And I always recommend to people that they go to a farmers market or connect with farmers another way by reaching out to organizations like the Pork Board, so that they can actually get hooked up with someone, maybe through their farm bureau, and then talk to farmer themselves so they can learn more about where their food comes from.
Don Wick: 08:10 We all want to know more about where our food comes from. This really seems like a tremendous opportunity to get that story out there.
Leia Flure: 09:59 Absolutely. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity and you know, I’m always looking for more so if you know of any, send them my way.
Don Wick: 10:09 Thanks to you for listening to this edition of Pork Pod. For more information on this topic or the Pork Checkoff itself, visit the pork.org.