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Elevate your taste buds and your health with pasture-raised pork.

written by

Michelle Sroka

posted on

June 1, 2023


Pork deserves its share of the spotlight in your weekly cooking rotation.

Although chicken and beef are popular - and rightfully so - I find that pork is one of the most versatile and flavorful ingredients that I can add to my meals.

And, contrary to popular belief, pasture-raised pork is good for you, too.

I find that when I talk to customers, there's often a hesitance toward pork. Some people simply can't eat it. Some people, because of their cultural or religious background, believe it's unhealthy or unclean.

Still others may have had a "bad" pork experience in their life - like the all-too-often dry pork chops - that convinces them it's not worth their time or money to cook. Or, others may simply be unfamiliar with how to even cook it.

We're going to delve into all of this today -- why you should be incorporating pork, why it's an excellent choice for those of you who are "health-conscious foodies", and what benefits it can bring to your kitchen (and budget).

Why should I eat pork?

Whether you're eating conventionally-raised meat or pasture-raised pork, it's an excellent source of vitamins, proteins, and minerals - like all meat.

As a former vegetarian, I can't stress the importance of animal-based products enough -- they provide essential nutrients that our bodies need to function properly.

But I think there's an even more compelling reason: because eating pork contributes to a well-balanced diet.

Let's think about what each animal offers to a place - and the people who consume them.

A cow is the mower. She grazes the grass down to an appropriate height, creating fertile, well-managed land that is welcoming to all. Because of her long and healthy life, she offers many vitamins and nutrients in her meat. One of the most important is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which helps our own immune systems.

A chicken does the dirty work. She literally scratches up manure to spread fertility and reduce parasites, keeping everyone healthy. She takes down garden beds in the winter and prepares them for the following year. Because of this short, intensive work, she offers rich, deeply dense eggs that are essential for cognitive function, and in the case of meat birds, meat that's plump, juicy, and adapted to nearly any circumstance.

A pig, however, does the heavy lifting. By moving and re-shaping the earth, she produces strong, hearty muscles that provide one of the healthiest sources of fat, and the deepest flavor.

Just like "eating the rainbow" helps us access different nutrients from vegetables, consuming different types of meat bring new health benefits as well - due to the unique ways these animals live and work on the land.

What's the difference between "conventional" and pasture-raised pork? 

Picture the life of a confined pig. They're a particular "industrial" breed, in which breeders have tried (and failed) to eliminate all of their natural rooting tendencies. In other words, they've tried to create pigs that aren't pigs. The first thing pigs do in any new location is to stick their nose down and explore. However, since conventional animals are raised on concrete, conventional growers need to eliminate this as much as possible.

Since it can't be eliminated entirely, however, it produces all sort of horrific consequences. Industrial pigs can be aggressive. Their tails must be "docked" (or cut) to prevent them from biting them off of each other, out of boredom and aggression.

And the meat? Well, besides resulting in lower-quality fat, less flavor, and virtually no Vitamin D (as a result of little exercise and no outdoor access), it's also labeled a carcinogen due to the antibiotics, hormones, and various chemicals that must be pumped into a conventionally raised hog to keep it alive until processing day.

Now let's imagine the opposite: the pasture-raised pig.

This pig spends its day in the sunshine, working. It's a heritage breed, so it retains its natural tendencies and proclivities, which means that it wants to root up as much as possible. This rooting and exercise produces strong, hefty muscles which lend themselves to high-quality fat, tenderness, and flavor in its meat.

And because these pigs spend their days outdoors, they're calm, happy, and produce food that's literally bursting with nutrients. Vitamin D and E levels increase significantly because of this environment.

So let's talk about nutrition.

What are the health benefits of pasture-raised pork?

There are three big reasons why pasture-raised pork is good for you: it contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, significantly increased levels of vitamin D and E, and offers heme-rich iron.

Let's dive into these.

Conventionally grown meat typically produces higher ratios of omega-6 fatty acids, which are seen as dangerous for our heart and overall health. However, pasture-raised meat has better ratios of omega-3 fatty acids. These help lower inflammation, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, improve brain function, and support healthy fetal development during pregnancy. 

Likewise, the consumption of Vitamin D-rich food is important because it maintains healthy bones and immune systems functions, as well as potentially reducing the risk of some diseases. And it's especially important to consume in the winter months, when we aren't receiving as much sunlight.

Vitamin E protects our body's cells from damage. As an antioxidant, it can help reduce inflammation. So when you think of "antioxidant-rich" foods like blueberries or dark chocolate, you should also be considering pork.

Finally, heme-rich iron helps our body transport oxygen, and it's a much more digestible form of iron than what we find in plants. 

What should I make if I'm cooking pork?

By far, the simplest way to elevate your meals - and cook pork - is to purchase some mild breakfast ground sausage. You can form it into patties and fry until browned on all sides, or crumble it into eggs for a more nutrient-dense scramble.

But I encourage you to also extend beyond sausage. My two favorite recommendations? Pork chops and a good, hefty roast, like a pork shoulder or picnic roast.

Pork chops are so easy to make - and so good with minimal seasoning. We love to simply fry ours in butter, seasoned with salt and pepper. The key, we've found, is searing them until golden on each side on the stovetop, and then finishing them in the oven.

The other key? Learning how to identify by temperature and touch when a pork chop is "done".

We like our chops to be on the rarer side. It's more forgiving - there's no coming back from overly done, dry chops! - but I think it tastes better as the days go on, too. Leftover pork chops ARE one of those things that taste just as good, if not better, after a few days in the fridge.

But pork chops are bested in ease and leftover quantities by the clear winner, the pork shoulder or roast. It takes hardly any preparation - usually, just a dry rub of salt. And then, cooked low and slow, it will produce its own flavorful juices, and shred into unbelievably rich, generous amounts of meat.

It's so versatile, too - we love it for tacos, stir fry, pizza, soups -- you name it, we've tried it.

Need help learning how to cook either of these cuts? Here are two recipes we've compiled for you:

I hope this has been a fruitful (and thought-provoking) conversation about pork. I'd love to know what you think - now and when you get cooking.

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