How Pig Parts Make the World Turn

Christien Meindertsma wondered what happened to the pig parts that don’t make it into the grocer’s freezer as pork. Long ago, people used all the parts of the animals they raised for food. She asked herself, “Do they still use all the parts?” And then she tracked one pig from the farm to the processor and through all the products he ended up in.

She wrote a book about her research, called Pig 05049, and divided the chapters by skin, bones, meat, internal organs, blood, fat, and miscellaneous. She lists the products derived from each body part.

It surprised me how many of these are in everyday products. Before the day even starts, she says, we use shampoo, conditioner, soap, face cream, lotion, toothpaste.

But there were more surprises ahead. Did you know that pig hairs are used as “dough improvers”? The hairs? Hair in bread?!?

In low-fat products, removing the fat removes the flavor and texture, so food manufacturers add gelatin to make the products palatable. Gelatin is in a lot of processed foods, so that didn’t surprise me so much. I hadn’t realized it was in butter or chocolate mousse, but now I know.

The bones are ground up for use in road building, brake liners, fertilizers, glue, and china. Pigs are also life-savers, with heart valves from the pig being transplanted into human hearts.

There’s more in Christien Meindertsma’s TED talk. It’s good to know that no part of the animal was wasted. It’s a bit surprising to find just how many ways the pig is used in our society:

Image of a pig peeking through a fence by Paul Stevenson, used with a Creative Commons license.

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