Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Animal Wrongs

It isn't often that food and news collide at the Stranger, but this week, they did. Bethany Clement and I have a story in the Stranger's news section about a local chef who's been targeted by anti-foie gras activists. However, as we report, they're missing the real story: Despite his stated commitment to local, artisanal, and heritage foods, he recently signed on as a spokesman for the National Pork Board--a group whose name is synonymous with factory farming, "lagoons" of pig poo, and CAFOs.

[Lark chef John] Sundstrom disputes the notion that taking money from the Pork Board means shilling for Big Pork. The group, he told The Stranger, "represents anything from Big Pork, which I would not really support... all the way to artisanal pork," like the Carlton Farms, Lilly Pig, and Mangalitsa products on previous Lark menus.

Sundstrom compares working with the Pork Board to his experience as executive chef at Earth & Ocean, the restaurant of the downtown branch of the W Hotel, a chain. Noting that the Pork Board has programs that support heritage breeds, he says, "I'm really comfortable working with them."

While it's true that the Pork Board does have a "niche" division dedicated to promoting heritage pork—the website is, literally,— the group's work on behalf of factory farms, which most small-farm proponents believe displace and destroy smaller producers, belies their "all pork is welcome" claim. (Small Washington State pork producer Heath Putnam, who raises Mangalitsa "wooly pigs" near Spokane, says he has never had any contact with the group.) And a Pork Board spokeswoman—asked why the group chose Sundstrom as one of its celebrity chefs—said only, "he was interested in pork" and "he does a nice job with pork and has pork on the menu."

The spokeswoman said the goal of the celebrity-chef program was to "promote the product of pork. We don't care where [that promotion is] coming from. We want consumers to know what pork is, about how good it is, and nutritious, and useful." Meanwhile, the Pork Board's website features gushing testimonials from previous celebrity chefs, calling pork "versatile so your family won't get bored with the same old dish," "family-friendly," and a meat that "can really stretch your budget." Pork raised with the aid of hormones under factory-farm conditions can be had at bargain prices; heritage pork can cost upward of $30 a pound.

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