Great American Hog

“Fifty years ago we couldn’t have done this,” says Al Snedegar.

Standing in the center of the Clinton County, Michigan 4-H fair livestock arena, just out of reach of the late-July sun, Snedegar is an award-winning retiree of Michigan State University and the day’s swine judge. He addresses a dozen youth and a crowd of spectators at least 100 strong. The kids are showing off pigs they raised as part of a market hog class. They each drive a pig weighing between 280 and 300 pounds around the arena as he speaks.

“But pigs today can take it,” he says, pausing to gesture to a few of the pigs being led around the ring by the rhythmic tap of a hog stick on their side, and he’s right. Fifty years ago, pigs carried significantly more fat. A 280 or 300 pound pig back then would have been obese. A simple trot around the ring would have been a feat. Even at this fair, just a year prior, every hog in the ring would have been considered overweight by rules which had set the maximum weight at 280 pounds. But today’s pigs aren’t made of fat — they’re made of muscle. And the fair, like so many agricultural institutions, is evolving along with the pork industry itself. These heavyweight hogs are one indication. As if on cue Snedegar says, “There’s not one pig here I’ll say is too fat.”

And I think to myself, “There’s no more pointed way to sum up modern swine.”

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