The minute a pig’s trotters hit our Hawai‘i soil, it magically becomes kama‘aina.
|You're browsing the meat case in the supermarket and reach for a package marked
"Island Pork." You pick it up, read it and toss it into your cart, thinking that
you are about to purchase pork raised here in the Islands, as opposed to pork
brought in from the Mainland. And you'd most likely be wrong. |
"Island pork" or "Fresh Island pork" or even "Island-produced pork" on the label could mean that the pork is from a Hawai'i-raised, processed and sold animal. But odds are it is from a Mainland pig that was only processed here.
Apparently, the minute a pig's trotters hit our Hawai'i soil, it magically becomes a kama'äina. Local processors of pork make no distinction about the origin of the pig, and neither do supermarkets. This is both good and bad. The fact is, there are just not enough pigs raised in Hawai'i to support the local processors. So to keep the facilities open, some processors must import Mainland pigs, arguing that it's good for area farmers: Without those pigs, there would be no way for local producers to get their pork to market.
Dr. Halina Zaleski, extension specialist in swine at the University of Hawai'i's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, agrees, "Mainland pigs are supporting local farmers." Zaleski adds that local pig farmers are under pressure anyway, as most of the approximately 200 pig farmers in the state have found it difficult to comply with the federal regulations written for large-scale, Mainland operations. "The regulations are written for farms with 10,000 pigs. Local farmers with 20 pigs just can't meet the all the requirements. Most of the local pig farmers fill niche markets-people who buy whole pigs, for ethnic populations and lü'au."
The proximity of Island farms to residential areas is another challenge. Pig farms' neighbors tend to be unsympathetic; as much as they might like real local pork, they don't want pigs in their back yards.
Add to that the high cost of shipping grain to feed pigs and it's no wonder pig farming is on the decline, especially on O'ahu.
All the more reason to applaud Ron and Daphne McKeehan, of Ähualoa Hog Farm on the Big Island. The McKeehans have 20 acres of land devoted to pig farming. Since 1994, they have raised pigs the old-fashioned way, feeding them recycled food waste product-the politically correct term for swill. That means trips to Kohala Coast hotels to pick up food waste, hauling it back to the farm, cooking it for 10 hours and feeding it to their pigs. "The pigs also eat grass, where they get minerals from the soil, and grain, which has a higher protein content," says Daphne. "But pigs like to eat swill."
The McKeehans keep about 300 pigs on their farm and send six to 10 of them, ideally weighing in at 180 to 200 pounds each, off to the slaughterhouse each week. Kulana Foods in Hilo processes only Big Island-grown pigs and its pork is distributed to supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and small stores, exclusively on the Big Island.
Daphne McKeehan is especially proud of the quality of pork produced by one of the four breeds on her farm: the meaty, brown Durocs. And, according to Zaleski, pigs raised like the McKeehans', the old-fashioned way, have less saturated fat.
There's another benefit as well.
"I like the flavor of the Ähualoa Farm pork," says Peter Merriman, chef/owner of Merriman's Restaurant in Waimea, where most of the menu is sourced locally. "Modern pork is so bland; the Mc-Keehan's pork has the original pork flavor."
And it's really Island-raised pork.