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Pig Tales: An Omnivore's Quest for Sustainable Meat

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  435 ratings  ·  81 reviews
An eye-opening investigation of the commercial pork industry and an inspiring alternative to the way pigs are raised and consumed in America.

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 p
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published May 4th 2015 by W. W. Norton Company
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Aug 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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 25, 2015 rated it liked it
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 fel ...more
Susan Rainwater
Apr 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Pig Tales is divided into three parts.

Part 1 covers pig intelligence (about the same as a 3-year-old human), pig lifestyles (lots of rooting), and the worldwide problem of feral pigs (they're everywere and very destructive). Part 2 covers the problem of industrial agra-biz. Part 3 provides a glimpse into economically viable, sustainable ways of raising and slaughtering pigs. Think Chipotle and Niman Ranch.

Part 2 neatly dovetails into one of my previous reads, The World of the Salt Marsh. Both a
Erin Poll - Tanis
May 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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! ...more
Kristen Lo
Mar 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Carol Weisensel
May 10, 2015 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.
This book has changed where I purchase meat. Knowing what I know now, it's worth the extra money to eat meat free of hormones and pasture raised. And if I'm honest, I already knew that corporate owned hogs had a tough life, but now that the stories in this book have sunk in I can't in good conscience purchase blindly. ...more
May 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
The first emotion most have when presented with a book on animal agriculture practices or meat processing is guilt. In Pig Tales Barry Estabrook challenges the popular notion that any look at the meat industry is a vegan-biased horror show. Estabrook presents interviews, eye-witness accounts, and legal proceedings in a way that allows the reader to see that while not all meat practices should be halted, the public is more manipulated by "big pig" than we realize. The most salient aspect for me w ...more
Books on Stereo
A very informative, borderline info-dumping, tale about sustainable pig farming. At times highly repetitive, Eastabrook is able to keep the reader's attention even though not much is to be gained. ...more
Casey Kiser
Jan 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
a mighty and well-researched book that is particularly perfect for anyone interested in how their pork is being manufactured but may be turned off by a book written by a biased vegan or vegetarian. But, every American should read this! I found this book at the dollar tree (cries). A lot of research went into this book and it's well done in my opinion. I don't eat meat but my family does and I feel like it's SO important for us as humans (as well as for the animals) to care how the meat is manufa ...more
Jun 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Selim Tlili
May 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating look into the hog industry in America and a compelling argument for the dangers of prizing profit margins above all other principles.
I believe that Estabrook didn’t quite go far enough in his categorization of some of the troubles to which the factory animal farming model has contributed; he discusses environmental challenges but doesn’t go far enough in showing the correlation between consumer health and chronic illness beyond only increased infectious diseases.

Overall a fascinati
Mary Westbrook
May 11, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Aug 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
May 09, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I expected it to be more entertaining after hearing a highly memorable and endearing excerpt from it on NPR some time ago. These more interesting tidbits are interspersed with long slogs through "bad news" stories - endless tales of both people and pigs getting shafted by industrial farming, with very little accountability or justice. It's good to know, but it's not exactly an uplifting book. I realize now what I expected out of the book was actually more about pigs themselves, their personaliti ...more
Jul 26, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Part 1 was beautifully written, full of all kinds of wonderful pig facts and a ton of interesting information about the relationship between pigs and humans (domesticity and so forth). Part 2 was a complete let down for me. I expected/ hoped that part 2 would continue in the same vein as part 1, but alas, different source material, different approach to writing, completely different tone. Part 3 says, in essence, eat it or don't, but if you do eat it, find more sustainable approaches to doing so ...more
May 16, 2020 rated it liked it
Both engaging and repulsive, this thought-provoking book serves to educate and guide us toward a more responsible and respectful pork experience. We learn about pet pigs and their feral cousins, and the great general intelligence and mental capacity that led to pigs completing computer studies. We also explore humane and healthy pig farms and cringe through the truly inhumane (for both pigs and people) hog factories. I recommend this to any farm-to-table foodie, healthy eater, or animal apprecia ...more
Feb 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pig Tales is of full of stories and experiences of factory farms for pigs. Pig tales has given me the knowledge to make wise decisions that affect my everyone around me and the planet. They also showed me the ruthlessness of the factory farms. I am filled with disgust as I learn their practices to reduce cost like cramped living spaces where they can never turn around. I feel this book is a must read when forming the opinion of factory farms.
Chase Meyer
Estabrook provided a good overview of the pork industry, it's issues, and potential solutions for eating in a more sustainable way. There was not a whole lot of convincing to not eat meat (which I enjoyed), but rather a presentation of evidence gathered by Estabrook. I honestly would have enjoyed more discussion on the politics that have allowed the explosion of mass production - but the overview and storytelling was fine. ...more
I have a pet pig and recently read the Omnivore's Dilemma so this popped up in books I might be interested in and the algorithm was correct!

Barry chills us with peeks inside of large production operations and shows us some hopeful examples of smaller, sustainable farms free of the cruel practices seen at the large farms. I was especially glad to hear that there is a method of knocking the pigs unconscious before butchering that is reassuring.
Paul A. McCurdie
Jun 13, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a good book if you want to know where your food comes from. The abuse of the animals and workers is appalling. No one really cares because the meat is cheap. We are lucky to have a swineherd who raises pigs in pastures without antibiotics. They sell to a whole animal butcher shop. We’ve had cuts you don’t find in the store that are amazing. It’s more expensive but, if something has to die for your meal, I feel it’s better to eat meat from animals that haven’t been abused.
May 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A less biased book than others it paints a picture of modern hog farming in a mostly negative light but with some hope for the future. I would have liked a bit more about restaurants and consumers and their use of modern day pigs in this book but over all found it an interesting, in depth an engaging read.
Apr 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have always grappled with the morality of meat eating and I appreciate other omnivores exploring the sustainability of what we consume. Yes, we can simply stop eating meat but there must also be a better way in my opinion. We don't need to eat meat every day but once or twice a week, isn't it okay to consume something that is grown and loved correctly? Great read. ...more
May 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
An eye opening account of the commercial pork industry. Meticulously researched and described in fascinating detail from how pigs are raised, to slaughter and also about those who work in the industry. I will never look at super market pork the same way again. It also describes the influence of big money in politics and the politicians who look away from the transgressions of the big pork farms.
Oct 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The loveliest book about hogs, hog farming, sustainability, and how we promote and preserve this way of life. It explores the darker side of factory farming too, but Estabrook gives each type of farm a say to explain all about pigs, how they grow and butcher them, etc. Wonderful read if you want to know more about where your pork comes from!
Julie Reagan
Jan 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
I love bbq and by bbq, I mean chopped pork. So why wouldn’t I read a book about my favorite food? This nonfiction about the pork industry is fascinating and disgusting - eye opening and nostril filling. But not a great conversation starter. What do I do with all this information I’ve learned about pig poop? Let it stew?
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really like the way Estabrook balances the ugly story of our food system with the lovely people who are trying their best to make a difference. This is an important look at the pork industry in the US and some examples from abroad.
Mariana SW Castro
Amazing thrilling accurate - for those Americans consuming bacon and other parts of pig, a mandatory reading! Don’t fool yourselves.... health issue controlled by one of the top 3 most powerful lobbies in America!!!!
katie kirmse
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Truth be told, going into this book I was already fully on the bandwagon of only eating meat from wholesome and sustainable sources, this book only gave me more scientifically backed reasons. I also learned about how people* are negatively affected by the industry as well as more regarding the animals' situation. I honestly just can't wait to have this book on my shelf when the industry has changed and these industrial farming practices, which are good for no one, are history! Read it!! ...more
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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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