In my upcoming restaurant review of Acqua, in the Four Seasons Miami, I write of having ordered a main course of Szechuan-glazed “White Marble Farms pork shank,” and then go on to explain that this pastoral moniker is a brand name cooked up by Sysco marketers for industrial pork from Cargill Meat Solutions. White Marble Farms’ literature boasts of using “unique animals”, “raised on Midwestern farms and specially bred”. Hogwash! These pigs never see a pasture. They are raised indoors just like most commercial pork -- shuttered within concrete pens, fed offal, their tails hacked off to prevent other pigs in close quarters from chewing them. This is not only a far cry from the humane practices of sustainable, ethical producers, but also makes Acqua’s $33 tab for a low-end cut of meat (pork shank) seem less than justified.
Diners (and chefs!) beware: Assigning fake pedigree names that conjure falsely idyllic images is a trick being used with more frequency these days. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, there are almost 3,000 current trademarks containing the word “farm” in their names.
Cargill Meat Solution produces its’ own brand of specialty pork, “Prairie Grove Farms”, which they claim is grown by an “exclusive network of family farmers in Iowa and Illinois.” The company’s web site brags of how the company “controls the integrity” of its pork “from conception to consumer”. They explain further: “Today an important word to keep in mind is ‘traceability’. If the person behind the counter where you buy your pork can name the farm that raised it, you are taking a step in the right direction.” Numerous attempts to get Cargill Meat to make public the names of the farms or farmers raising either Prairie Grove or White Marble pork have proven futile.
Readers (and food writers!) take note: A Tampa Tribune restaurant review from last September authoritatively claimed “This kitchen doesn’t skimp on quality…the pork comes from the venerable White Marble Farms.”
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Sysco and Cargill are attempting to trade in on the success of Niman Ranch, whose meats come from animals that have been pasture-raised in a traditional farm setting, not fed growth hormones or antibiotics, and humanely treated and slaughtered. Niman Ranch also has a somewhat deceptive moniker, as the animals are raised not one ranch or farm, but by numerous small farmers who agree to follow specific guidelines of quality, sustainability, and humaneness. But Niman Ranch can tell you what farm the animals came from, and have heroically given many small family businesses a way to get their product to a national market. Their pork is, in fact, something special. Sysco and Cargill are simply feeding us regular pork mixed with a lot of bull.