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Green Ham for the Holidays

The holiday ham is a ritual, a tradition and has started to turn into an almost laughable caricature of real holiday food. Why, you may ask?

If you read the labels on most store bought hams, you will see that most come from only a single hybrid breed of hog raised in confinement on a grain-based diet and “enhanced” by being injected with flavored water. Even the infamous Smithfield hams use hogs that have eaten a corn-based diet instead of the pre-1966 Virginia’s General Assembly mandated peanut feed. What;s worse, according to John Kerkering, writing for the Sustainable Table, “most, if not all, are now raised on… factory farms.”

Even with Paula Deen’s picture on the package and her overly sweet “Crunchy Glaze”, the meat has no true ham taste, zero flavor and a watery texture. Added to this culinary abomination is the documented conditions at the Smithfield Packing factory in Tarheel, North Carolina – notoriously dangerous and inhuman working conditions, as well as its relentless anti-union activity. As Teresa Puente of the Chicago Sun Times stated in an article, “The conditions at the company have been documented by Human Rights Watch, the National Labor Relations Board and OSHA.” Smithfield Farms also generated one of the largest fines in EPA history for their waste handling practices.

Pile on the December Humane Society undercover investigation (read about it here) of Smithfield Foods that revealed a bevy of factory farm horrors and you can see why author and food evangelist Mark Bittman wrote, “Any industry (and Smithfield is hardly alone, though it does seem to be performing most egregiously) that operates with such infuriating disregard for the welfare of their animals deserves all the trouble we can muster.”

What to do? The solution is two-fold. We need to:

  1. Voice our outrage with a culinary celebrity not being accountable for her choices. Shame on you Paula Deen! Enough with the sponsorship from a corporation that is acting like those turn-of-the-century scoundrels in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Don’t want to take responsibility Paula? No problem. Boycott Smithfield Foods, boycott Paula Deen, and boycott the Food Network. Express your outrage by contacting them. Join or start a Facebook group and Tweet it.
  2. Most importantly, hit them all in the pocket book, or corporate financial statement as it where. Vote with your dollars by not buying Smithfield Foods’ products, not purchasing Paula Deen’s books and not watching the Food Network. There are other, and better, cookbooks, better networks and most importantly, a better way to raise and handle a ham.

Let’s talk sustainably-raised hams. According to Texas Tech University, a sustainable-raised ham comes from a pig that is produced in a manner that is friendly to the animals, the environment, the workers and the local community. Sustainable pork is produced in a manner that is economically competitive, which preserves the ability of the pork producer to sustain the viability of the farm.

Where can we find such a “green ham”?

  • Check out the Local Harvest website. It provides a searchable database of sustainably grown food in your area and includes where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other sustainable, local and just plain tasty goodies including local hams.
  • Look for rare, biodiverse breeds at Heritage Foods USA. They deliver various heritage foods, including sustainably produced raw, cooked and cured hams from small farms, fresh to your door any time of year.
  • Niman Ranch represents and sells natural, humanely raised, antibiotic and hormone free, vegetarian feed meats including hams. Their products can be found a various retails across the country or order directly through their website.
  • Search Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) National Farmer’s Market database. AMS maintains a current listing of farmers markets throughout the United States. Many of these farmer’s markets provide booths for sustainable meat producers.
  • Eat Wild provides a source for natural and sustainable grass-fed beef, lamb, goats, bison, poultry, pork, dairy…and other wild edibles. Eat Wild’s directory of Farms lists more than 1,300 pasture-based farms organized by state.

These hams are healthier for you, better for the animals, better for than environment, better for our local communities, and supports a system of local farms and farm workers. Oh yea, it tastes better too.