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Pig Tales: An Omnivore's Quest for Sustainable Meat

4.22  ·  Rating Details ·  233 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
Barry Estabrook, author of the New York Times bestseller Tomatoland and a writer of “great skill and compassion” (Eric Schlosser), now explores the dark side of the American pork industry. Drawing on his personal experiences raising pigs as well as his sharp investigative instincts, Estabrook covers the range of the human-porcine experience. He embarks on nocturnal feral p ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published June 21st 2016 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published May 4th 2015)
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Aug 09, 2015 Dacod rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Immigrants with shit filled diapers, piglets operating computers and crazy Danish people seeking to do things right. Barry Estabrook's journalistic endeavor to educate the average american bacon fetishist and artisan of such unparalleled jokes as "I love pigs....THEY'RE DELICIOUS. hee hoo hug!" is a comprehensive overview of all you need to know about pigs.
To begin with Pigs are intelligent--very intelligent in fact. Previously unbeknownst to me, pigs are emotional beings with individual perso
May 03, 2015 Shaun rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I was a little leery going in that this book would be either all pro pork/meat or anti pork/meat. It really isn't either. The subject matter accepts the fact that eating pork isn't going away, but the book dives in to the question of how we, in the United States, process that pork from piglet to slaughter.

Barry Estabrook travels from California to Iowa to North Carolina to Denmark to research how pigs are raised for consumption. He dives into the treatment of raising pigs from small independent
Jun 03, 2015 Erin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was fascinating, informative, and gave straight facts so you didn't feel like you were reading propaganda. It was also very well written. Never once did I get bored or feel weighed down with facts or information- all of it was told with humor and compassion. I'll say it again, fascinating! One of those books you wish everyone would read. Also one where you feel smarter after reading it, so that is always a good thing! I loved it!
Carol Weisensel
May 10, 2015 Carol Weisensel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing Page-Turner

Well written, well researched, well told. This book has opened my eyes and touched my soul. I am grateful for Barry Estabrook's efforts to get this information to the public. I bought the book after hearing his interviews on public radio "Fresh Air" and "Science Friday." Miss Pig 890 will be with me for the time I have left on this planet.
Jun 27, 2015 Melle rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who eat pigs, people who don't eat pigs
This is a well-written book and, unlike Ted Genoways' The Chain, this book examines pigs as the amazing and smart creatures they are while still, like The Chain, looking at the ugly side of modern mass industrial hog-producing/-raising and hog-slaughtering. Estabrook also looks at people humanely raising pigs as a source of meat and also delves into problems with feral pigs. For me personally, this book felt like too much of a stretch to make omnivores feel better about their decision to eat ...more
Jun 19, 2015 Frank rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fortunately, I avoid meat in general. Knowing that China bought out one of the largest pork producers in the U.S. (Smithfields) would worry me if I ate pork. However, the chapters on sustainable pork producers (although their meat is somewhat more expensive) is a return to what farms were like just 20 or 30 years ago. I would hate to live near a giant pork farm in North Carolina or Iowa. Just set the sprinklers on and let the pig shit fly all over the fields. It sounds absolutely hellish. While ...more
Mary Westbrook
You know, I liked this book. A solid three-star pick.

If you've read some in the cannon of sustainable agriculture/industrial agriculture, I don't think you'll find a tremendous amount of information here that's new (sadly -- so much of it is depressing). It's still a worthy read, and a worthy endeavor by the author to shed light on terrible conditions for humans and animals -- to begin with -- and the awful consequences of "advances" such as low-does antibiotics. The intelligence of pigs was a n
Kristen Lo
Mar 28, 2016 Kristen Lo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Pig Tales has an amazing amount of information-- and what's wonderful is even though the information is mostly terrifying, the stories are so well told that just when you want to put the book down in disgust, hope comes into the picture and you feel like everything could be ok. Also, the book is pretty empowering because it's very clear what we all must do. Factory farms are bad for people, animals, the environment, and the health of the world.
Pig Tales is a thorough and comprehensive book that is also a quick and easy read. Estabrook divides the book into three sections - exploring pigs as animals, the world of factory farmed pork, and how some farmers are going back to traditional, sustainable hog farming. Pigs are easily trained and incredibly smart animals with an intellectual capacity comparable to a three-year-old child. Because of their high intelligence and social nature factory farming is even crueler for pigs. Estabrook goes ...more
Oct 16, 2016 Serge added it
The author seems to be perceptive enough about the evils of commoditization of sentient beings like pigs, and he accurately describe the intelligence to be higher than of a dog and comparable to human toddler. Yet he still prefaces that his family still eats pork and his final paragraph I find perverse:

"She [the pig] had done her part in saving a rural corner of New York State from development and had contributed to the livelihoods of farmers, slaughterhouse workers, cooks, and servers, and done
April Willis
Nov 30, 2016 April Willis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school
Quite distressing.
Sep 24, 2016 Rob rated it really liked it
There's not a lot better than a pig living a good life. So, if we're going to eat these guys, let's at least give them that good life.
Stephen Simpson
While there were some very solid aspects to the book, I think it ultimately fails to live up to its title as a "quest for sustainable meat".

This book is basically an anti-Big Ag screed, with the "Little Guy" constantly described in glowing terms (several references to "handsome", as if how the people look matters) and Big Ag generally described as an amorphous, faceless, indistinguishable evil.

I am no fan of Big Ag as it pertains to animal husbandry, and the book does a good job of detailing h
Kathy Piselli
Mar 07, 2016 Kathy Piselli rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The promotion for this book focuses on the negative aspects of pig tales; in fact I was afraid to read the book for a long time because of that. But it turns out Estabrook does not focus wholly on the negative - far from it. It's kind of an arc which begins with a Trinidadian head of research at a major university, who gave us our understanding of pigs' intelligence. It moves on to feral pigs (bet you didn't know how many there are!). It then covers family farming of pigs - the kind of farming ...more
Jul 09, 2015 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have always been concerned about animal welfare and was a vegetarian for 12+ years for that reason. After having health issues, I needed to reincorporate meat back into my diet and I made sure I found the most sustainable/organic/healthiest meat not only for me, but for the environment. I am also from central Illinois and have several family members who raise hogs in CAFOs in both IL and IA. I have smelled and experienced pig "farms" first-hand, and let me tell you, 2 minutes in one of those ...more
David Ketelsen
Jun 07, 2015 David Ketelsen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Barry Estabrook has an uncanny way with words. In Pig Tales, despite spending a lot of time on courtroom battles and in filthy factory farms, he's able to keep the reader captivated. His writing skills across sections ranging from horrid to the sublime never falter and that allows the reader access to experiences that we'd never encounter otherwise. Fortunately the section near the end that celebrates bucolic farms that nurture the true nature of the intelligent and sensitive pig leave the ...more
This book is a great read, despite all the devastating and gruesome ground it covers. Estabrook is such a warm, inviting author, creating well-drawn characters of all the people he interviews (as well as some featured pigs). I feel that is has changed me and that those of us who choose to purchase and consume meat need to read in-depth considerations of the animal food industry instead of forming our opinions and basing our buying/eating choices on information gleaned from the usual Huffington ...more
Sep 26, 2015 Kristina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Estabrook takes a long, hard look at pig farming in the US (and abroad, as a comparison) and, using a multifaceted approach, lays out a compelling argument for more humane pork production. He leaves no stone unturned - - the intelligence of pigs, the cruel workplace that is the slaughterhouse, the environmental impact of our current practices, and I imagine most people who read this book will seriously contemplate where their pork comes from. Where Pollan laid out the issues of all kinds of ...more
Terry Earley
Jul 22, 2015 Terry Earley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Listened to this NPR interview with Estabrook:

All in all, a very comprehensive book. The meat industry has a lot to be ashamed of, but Estabrook shares some fascinating insights into pigs themselves, and how the industry could be more self-sustaining. It is being done elsewhere, why not here?

I have to agree that Upton Sinclair would write an updated "Jungle" if he saw conditions today.
Aug 29, 2015 Catherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food-farm-garden
The author of Tomatoland turns his attention to pork production. The close ties of politicians to Big Agriculture resulted in increasingly slack food safety measures – but the demands of consumers once these conditions became publicized have begun to turn this around. The research process takes the reader from CAFOs, to whistleblowers, to court proceedings, and finally to the growing number of farmers raising pigs humanely.

The book is well paced, and I liked that the author always provided a goo
Howard Hewitt
Jun 16, 2015 Howard Hewitt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was written in a way that opened my eyes to big commercial farming.
I never realized the personal atrocities that took place and inhumane conditions.
Barry wrote in a way that made me feel that I was right there with people and feeling their pain.The pages kept turning and my terror never stopped.I love pork and I don't know what to do now. Maybe I will just raise a couple hogs myself. Maybe trade in dogs for pot-bellied pigs after all I can train them to go get me a beer and they won't
May 23, 2015 Marielle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book from the First Reads program, and was so excited to read it. I don't eat pork or beef, so I wasn't terribly affected by the book. I was thrilled to read about the science and practice behind the pork industry, and learn quite a bit about different styles of hog rearing. After reading this, I would love to visit one of the smaller operations that does not use confinement to see the process for myself. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in science or the ...more
I knew the pork industry was bad but this is just gross. The author is so fair and almost without judgement that I applaud him with one hand (is that physically possible) and shame him with the other. I really wouldn't have been able to stay objective doing this research and writing; I would've been exposing reality in every way I could. I love eating pork products, though: we will be researching and carefully selecting who raises the pigs we eat.
Aug 24, 2015 Becky rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a fun and fascinating read. Estabrook weaves together history lessons, farm visits, interviews, and first-hand observations to tell us the full story of pigs--the destructively feral ones, the confined, factory-farmed ones, and the happily free-roaming ones. I was a wee bit disappointed with the abrupt ending, leaving me wanting some final wrap-up and a call to action. But the rest of it was great, so I'm not too mad.
Similar reading: The Omnivore's Dilemma or Eating Animals.
Jul 17, 2015 Kathy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a must read for anyone who eats meat of any kind, not just pork. Estabrook gives a reasoned argument as to why we should all be concerned about how animals are treated and raised before they get to our dinner plate. It is also an interesting education on how smart pigs really are. And yes, you can still feel okay about eating bacon! Just make sure you know how that bacon was treated before it got to you.
Aug 05, 2015 Jackie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food
We all should read and learn more about the food we eat and how it is produced, this well researched and well-written book is a perfect way to learn about pork. It is informative without being preachy to either side and chock full of interesting tidbits. Would love to read a similar book about all the types of meat.
Kara Humphrey
Dec 01, 2015 Kara Humphrey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Estabrook's novel on hog farming is both insightful and witty. I gained a bunch of knowledge about Big Ag and small farming operations, as well as international Big Ag operations we could model back here in the U.S. A great overview of problems and viable solutions to large, looming agricultural problems here in the States. Highly recommend!
Jun 10, 2015 Stephanie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was such a good book. I already was not a fan of eating factory meat, but now I absolutely will not touch it. For health, moral, and ethical reasons. It's awful what big factory farms are doing to not just animals, but also the environment and the people who work in them. It's not right, and people should stop turning a blind eye to it.
Jun 06, 2016 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, food
This book about modern American meat production is an illuminating read for anyone in this country who eats meat. The author is not out to put you off meat or convert anyone to vegetarianism, merely to show where our food comes from, how it is being produced, and how we are doing damage to both the animals and ourselves with current practice - and how it could be improved.
Mar 25, 2016 Greg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting, depressing, and it doesn't really say whether the author did or did not find what he considers to be sustainable pork, though it does talk about a few better pig farms toward the end of the book.
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The author of Tomatoland and Pig Tales and a three-time James Beard Award winner, Barry Estabrook is a former contributing editor at Gourmet. He blogs at and lives in Vermont.
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