WHY DOES THE PORK TASTE WORSE?

WHY DOES THE PORK TASTE WORSE?

Shengliver’s Note: This entry is fiction.

 

SKYL is a chain store my family visits weekly for grocery shopping. For several years, we have been buying pork at their fresh meat counter. The pork was superb both in texture and taste. Its aftertaste was reminiscent of the pork dish that mother cooked for the family reunion dinner at the Spring Festival when I was a kid living in the countryside.

 

The pork that mother did for her festive dish came from the hog she raised in our family pigsty. She fed him on grass, scraps, and sweet potatoes. Mother treated her pig as a pet. When he was a piglet, he slept at the family stove in winter to stay warm. In summer when it was scorching hot, mother took him to the brook in the vale for a bath. The creature kept mum company for a year before he was butchered in December for the Spring Festival. Mother’s pork tasted great because there was her love in it.

 

However, since September this year, the pork from my community supermarket SKYL has changed. The genuine flavour is gone. When I am chewing it, it feels rubbery and artificial.

 

butcher certificate coverI wrote a letter of complaint to the supermarket. In fact many other customers did, too. But there has been no response from the store. And their pork is still on sale day in day out.

 

I decided to take this matter into my own hands. Food safety is a big issue nationally. I would probe into it personally and come up with a report.

 

By chatting with the butcher on a shopping trip, I learned that their pork was from a corporation called Shengli Green Pig Farm (SGPF), which is located in a suburban county called Yunxian. In fact over the years SGPF has been their main supplier of pork.

 

One Sunday I took a shuttle bus to the county town, Yunxian. Standing in the street I had no idea where the pig farm was situated. But it was so celebrated in the town that no sooner had I made an inquiry where SGPF was than a passer-by pointed me in the right direction.

 

A taxi took me right to the front of SGPF. It is not sited downtown, but only one kilometre off. The farm looked magnificent, with handsome complexes towering over the premises and the initials of its name SGPF carved in relief in an awe-inspiring stone tablet, which stood spanning the entire length of the entrance. Trees and blossoms were everywhere on the establishment, birdsong on and off.

 

butcher certificateIt was not easy to gain entry to the farm. Two sentries stand watch around the clock at the entrance, and all visitors have to show their passes and register. To get in, I had to lie. I told the sentries that the farm boss, Mr Shengli, was my brother and that I had come to talk with him about our father’s cancer. The senior sentry waved me through. I walked in without even having to sign in in their fat log.

 

Immediately behind the gate was a square, at the centre of which stood a staff with the Chinese national banner fluttering from it in the breeze. The pigsties flanked the square on either side. I headed for the one on the left.

 

The edifice had five floors. In each storey were 10 separate cells or workshops. I crept into a cell marked C3G1 on the ground floor, where a uniformed farm hand greeted me amidst gentle grunts from the beasts.

 

Well lit, the workshop was spotlessly clean. I had expected to be greeted by the stench of the animals, but the smell was not offensive. It was decently tolerable.

 

The worker, thinking I was one of the recently appointed directors, was expansive. Here went our conversation.

 

Shengliver:

How many hogs are in your charge, man?

Farmer:

80. Way too many, sir, for such a space.

Shengliver:

When did you start working here?

Farmer:

I joined SGPF in 2000.

Shengliver:

Ten years now. Do you like your job, man?

Farmer:

Yeah. The working conditions have got better and better. I used to have no uniform to wear to work, but now as you can see, I am clad in our cool outfit. Our farm name and logo is embroidered on the left breast, you see, sir.

Shengliver:

SGPF enjoys a good reputation in Shiyan City, doesn’t it?

Farmer:

You bet, sir! Our pork has sold all over town. In most supermarkets you can find our meat on sale. And the municipal government has awarded us a lot of trophies and certificates for our excellent performance and for our contribution to a better life in Shiyan.

Shengliver:

Good Lord! What trophies and certificates have we won?

Farmer:

A bunch of them, sir. We are the only GREEN PIG FARM in Shiyan. We are the BEST TAXPAYER. We are the sole PIG FARM CONCERNED ABOUT ANIMAL WELFARE. Our pork products are a FAMOUS BRAND IN HUBEI. We are—

Shengliver:

Completely awesome! Where can I see the trophies then?

Farmer:

You can find all of them on show in the trophy parlour next to the boss’s office in the central building.

Shengliver:

That’s great. I’ll go and have a look in a while. So you treat your pigs very well, man. Are they happy?

Farmer:

They mostly are. Well, they used to be.

Shengliver:

What do you mean, buddy? Either they are happy, or they are not.

Farmer:

We used to raise only 40 pigs in one cell. The creatures had plenty of room to move round in. I was able to give my attention to each and every one of them.

Shengliver:

Did that matter?

Farmer:

It did very much. Sir, I gave a name to each of my 40 pigs, Jack, Tom, and Mary, for instance.

Shengliver:

That’s funny. Did each of your pigs know you?

Farmer:

Yes, sure. Whenever I came closer to the sty, they started to squeal with delight. Some even hummed a tune to me.

Shengliver:

Amazing! How long did you keep your pigs before they were slaughtered?

Farmer:

A year or so. I felt a bit sad when the moment came. Anyway, that was what they were for. I couldn’t change their destiny, sir.

Shengliver:

You are very kind, mate. Did their pork sell well?

Farmer:

Couldn’t have been better. In fact the order grew bigger than we could have filled. And that was when our farm started to change.

Shengliver:

Why did we have to change?

Farmer:

We had to expand our farm because demand for our pork had increased so fast. Even some supermarkets in Xiangyang and the capital city Wuhan started to order from us.

Shengliver:

Come on, man. Expansion is good.

Farmer:

Not really, sir. Our expansion has caused a lot of problems. We are having a hard time right now.

Shengliver:

Sorry to hear that. What difficulties have we got?

Farmer:

First of all, we do not have enough pigsties for all the new pigs. In 2009 our sales were so good that some smaller pig farms were squeezed out of the market. When they closed down, we bought their piglets in. It turned out to be a catastrophe, sir!

Shengliver:

Then how do we cope with so many creatures?

Farmer:

We will have to get more pigsties built of course. But in the meantime, one pigsty has to take in more. We kept 40 in one room; now we have 80 in the same space.

Shengliver:

This should not be a problem. In winter the pigs are warm when they snuggle up against each other.

Farmer:

Winter is OK, but what if summer comes? Last year we lost large numbers of creatures when swine flu erupted. And I have to work harder and faster. I am rushed off my feet almost every day, and my working hours! Preparing their feed, disinfecting the sty, ventilating the cell, filling in daily reports of their health… Oh, Lord, my chores see no end!

Shengliver:

You shouldn’t grumble, man. Your wages must have been raised.

Farmer:

That’s true, sir. But money cannot buy me happiness. I am more miserable with a bulging purse.

Shengliver:

Have our sales gone up this year?

Farmer:

Our sales are strong but they are less good than last year.

Shengliver:

Have you got any clue as to the reason?

Farmer:

The reason, sir? It is the cause! As you know, director, we no longer feed the pigs on quality stuff. Five years ago, we used grains and grass. Only occasionally did we sprinkle some chemicals over the feed. But now what are we stuffing them with? Have a look at it, sir!

Shengliver:

Indeed, it does look unappetising. What does it consist of?

Farmer:

God knows. It smells odd, and there is no trace of grain at all in it. Yes, the pigs like the flavour very much and it does help them grow faster. But too fast, sir.

Shengliver:

How fast is it?

Farmer:

It takes us just three months to turn a piglet into a standard product pig. Three months! Can you imagine it, sir? This batch of pigs came in October, and they are supposed to be butchered towards the end of the year.

Shengliver:

That sounds bizarre. How come?

Farmer:

They are perfectly conditioned to grow, sir. They are fed nine meals a day. Apart from the main courses, they snack three times during the night. The snacks are served buffet-style. Lighting in the cell is so controlled that the pigs have to shut their eyes when it is dark and they have to wake up and feed when it is light. Younger pigs tend to sleep less, but they become quiet instantly the lights are turned out. The sty temperature is kept at an optimum degree 24/7 by two high-tech air-conditioners. And music is piped into the sty to keep the beasts in a good mood. All the sties are on surveillance cam. Anytime something goes wrong, it is captured on the monitors in the control room, and quick action is thus guaranteed. Our pigs do not eat and sleep only. They have to exercise as well, packed out as the sty is. They have to stretch their bodies and jump a bit when comes the time. Even their shitting and farting is computer programmed, sir. Our pigs defecate all at once. When it is done, I push a button, which activates a shit collector and a ventilator. The collector not only picks up the mess from the floor but also rubs their bottoms clean. Simultaneously the ventilator pumps out the stench and pumps in fresh air. That’s why the sty is kept so neat. National and provincial inspectors alike are knocked out by our hygiene.

Shengliver:

I see. No wonder we have carried home so many awards, man. Do you eat the pork, anyway?

Farmer:

Do I eat it? Am I an idiot, sir? My family these days eat fish caught off the river Hanjiang. We no longer consume pork and chicken. They are too artificial.

Shengliver:

Artificial! What a word! Man, you have to go over. Your charges are howling. They must be hungry.

Farmer:

Yes, indeed. It is time to do the third feeding. You take care, sir. Good day, sir.

 

After the natter, I exited the building and strode into the square. The flaming Chinese national five-star banner was still flapping in the breeze. My puzzle had been solved.

 

Little wonder the pork no longer has the same taste. But I like pork very much. What should I do? It is high time I gave up my teaching position and ran my own pig farm. I would raise real green pigs. I would stick to national standards. I would make sure my pigs were happy and healthy. I can predict that my farm Shengliver Green Pig Farm will beat Shengli Green Pig Farm in every aspect. My pork would sell across the country. It would be exported to the USA, the UK, and Japan as well. My farm Shengliver Green Pig Farm would be China No. 1, and world No. 1, too! Yahoo!

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