Gone whole hog: Here's what happens to the rest of your Easter ham

From pudding to face cream and fine china to car parts, 'The Fridge Light' explores what happens to a pig after you serve that prime cut of breakfast bacon.

Pig parts are used in everything from gelatin to fabric softener. 'The Fridge Light' explains how

(Ben Shannon/CBC)
Listen to the full episode34:36

You might know it as the "other white meat," but to the pork industry, pig by-products are also toothpaste, ice cream and maybe even your favourite fabric softener.

Once the prime cuts for your breakfast bacon and Easter ham are trimmed and prepared, there is plenty left over — porcine scraps that have some unexpected uses.

"If you eat bread from the supermarket — cheaper bread that stays good for a long time — there might be … contents of hair in the bread to keep it soft," designer and author of Pig 05049 Christien Meindertsma tells host Chris Nuttall-Smith on The Fridge Light episode, "The Rest of the Pig."

Animal rendering is the process of turning waste animal tissues into usable materials. It has long been a hidden industry and it's not difficult to understand why.

Once the edible meat and fats are removed from a pig, butchers are left with a carcass that gets processed in a plant like Vancouver-based West Coast Reduction.

The coastal plant is essentially a recycling centre, but instead of cat food cans and milk jugs, they handle all sorts of animal by-products.

From salmon to pigs, the animal parts fill a vat and are fed into a grinder where they're mashed up and the remains are cooked.

Out of that comes two products: a meaty slop called bone meal and liquefied fat.

According to Christien Meindertsma, you'll likely find pig parts in your loaf of grocery store white bread. (Dominique Patton/Reuters)

A quiet industry

It's a sustainable approach to using animals for meat.

"The idea that we were using every piece of an animal was very important to me," says Jessica Meisinger, a director at the National Renderers Association, whose members include those involved in production in Canada and the U.S.

"I think it's pretty disrespectful to kill an animal and not use it all."

According to statistics from the organization, Canadian animal renderers collect more than 2.7 billion kilograms of animal scraps each year.

In the United States, Meisinger says, even more animal scraps are recycled: over 25 billion kilograms. If it was all sent to the dump rather than a rendering facility, the animal parts would consume every square inch of each landfill within four years.

The association represents companies that find a use for these parts, but they also fund research into novel uses of animal proteins, for example.

One project put animal proteins in your car.

"He was making whatever goes into a car door," Meisinger says. "It was self-healing … so it if was scratched it would, kind of, pop out."

Surrounded by pork

If not car doors, you'll likely find pig remains in most parts of your everyday life.

Meindertsma published Pig 05049 in 2013. It explores all the ways a pig can be used if it's not on your plate.

"The most surprising one was a bullet that is produced in the United States where gelatin is used in the production process," she says.

A lot of everyday items have gelatin in them: hand creams, desserts like pudding or Jello and even sandpaper.

   

While plant-based variations exist, gelatin is made from collagen in animal bones.

Then there's a certain type of lightweight concrete made from pig. Protein in the animal's blood fills the wet mixture with air bubbles.

In case it wasn't clear from the name, even fine bone China has origins as a farm animal.

"[The materials] are so transformed that even if you read the ingredients list on the package, you wouldn't recognize it as an animal," Meindertsma says.

What she discovered is that there aren't many places you can go without finding a pig somewhere.

'I think it's pretty disrespectful to kill an animal and not use it all,' says Jessica Meisinger (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

Finding what's safe

For those who avoid pig for religious or dietary reasons, all these unexpected pig-based products can make navigating food and everyday items a challenge.

Salima Jivraj, who runs Halal Foodie, a website that provides information about halal restaurants and products says it's not something she always worried about.

Salima Jivraj is runs food website Halal Foodie. (Submitted by Salima Jivraj)

She discovered the ubiquity of porcine elements in everyday items when reading the ingredients on a bag of marshmallows.

"They have gelatin," she says. "It was brutal for me to find out, too, because growing up my family wasn't as careful … and I found out that marshmallows and gummy candies have gelatin. It was a life-altering moment."

Jivraj's website has become the go-to source for people stumped by what they can and cannot eat. When she raided Nuttall-Smith's fridge, she found plenty of non-pork items that contain pig.

Processed cheese slices? They're made with lipase, an enzyme sometimes made from yeast but typically sourced from pig pancreas.

In a world where she's seemingly surrounded by pig-infused products, she admits it can be tough.

So, as the interview drew to a close, Chris asked what Jivraj thought of being in a world where even concrete and motor oil contain pig parts.

"You can't think of that," she said with a laugh.


To hear how pig is transformed from animal to household product, listen to The Rest of the Pig from the CBC Podcast The Fridge Light.