Long rows of pork bacon hang to dry in a dark room. The rags come directly from the slaughterhouse; here, at a factory in a dilapidated industrial area, paprika and salt are added to make the torrezno sausage.
“You must not mind the rust on the poles,” says Samuel Moreno Manrique, a sausage producer in Soria, a town of 40,000 inhabitants more than 200 kilometers northeast of Madrid, during a tour of freezers and smoldering coal pots. There are puddles all over the factory; mop water from cleaning after a morning of sausage making, but also from a leaky pipeline. “It is a building from the 1960s. Working here is getting harder and harder, so I’m very happy that we’re moving to new premises soon, ”says Moreno Manrique as he walks through the puddles in his sneakers, up the stone stairs to the next room where sausages hang.
The factory has burst at the seams since the popularity of its ‘torrezno de Soria’ has grown in recent years. The factory now processes about thirty tons of pork a week. The factory’s workforce has grown from ten to thirty people over the past ten years. With the move, an old custom will be lost: the charcoal pots with which the sausage is smoked will be replaced by a machine.
A Spaniard eats an average of 99 kg of meat a year, according to figures from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) from 2018. This makes the Spaniards the largest meat consumers in Europe ahead of Portugal with 95 kg and Poland with 88 kg. The Dutch eat 69 kilos a year, the global average is 42 kilos.
According to the trade association ANAFRIC, the Spanish meat industry is responsible for around two million jobs in the country and accounts for almost 27 billion euros in turnover, 2.25 percent of Spain’s GDP. According to the FAO, meat production in Spain has increased fivefold in the last 50 years, a larger increase than in most other European countries.
This size comes with some issues. In addition to issues of animal welfare and human health, meat production contributes greatly to climate change and locally pollutes the soil and groundwater.
Large parts of the regions of Aragon, Catalonia and Castilla y León, where Soria is located, suffer from severe nitrate pollution. Intensive pig farming – Spain has the largest pig herd in the EU with 56 million slaughtered animals a year – produces large amounts of manure, a mixture of faeces, urine and food waste: about two cubic meters per pig per year. Its nitrogen concentration is forty times higher than in wastewater. If the manure is not stored properly, it can end up in the soil and groundwater. This problem occurs e.g. also in North Brabant.
It was these arguments that tempted the left-leaning Spanish Minister Alberto Garzón (Consumer Affairs, Unidas Podemos) to oppose the British newspaper in December The Guardian says that so-called mega-farms are “not sustainable at all”. “They find a village in a depopulated part of Spain and bring four thousand, or five thousand or ten thousand cattle there. They pollute the land, they pollute the water and then they export the bad meat from these abused animals.” And while many people in Spain know that greenhouse gases are a major contributor to climate change, the minister said, “they often associate it with cars and transport.” The connection with emissions from the meat industry, which is responsible for 14 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted by humans, has not been made.
Although the minister focused his criticism specifically on mega-farms, his words in meat-loving Spain – especially in a foreign newspaper – were interpreted as an attack on the entire industry. The opposition party Ciudadanos erroneously claimed that Garzón had said that Spanish meat was of inferior quality, but the tone was set. Social Democrat Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, a coalition partner for Garzón, felt compelled after saying similar comments from his minister that there is nothing better “than a well-cooked steak”.
Minister Garzón’s statements have also penetrated the sausage town of Soria. That people eat meat, says Moreno Manrique, is a reality and part of the culture. “I understand what Garzón is saying, but meat is not bad. You should only eat it in the same way as with other things. Only the pollution of large farms is bad. So solve it. But the reality is that we need the big farms. ”
Meat consumption, says Moreno Manrique, is enormous and continues to grow. That requirement must be met, the sausage maker believes. ‘People eat meat and they want it at low prices. Garzón is also my minister. We meat producers contribute to GDP, families live off this. “
That the Spaniards have such a deep love of eating meat is primarily due to the fact that it has been embedded in the cultural tradition for centuries. Torrezno de Soria already appears in books from the fifteenth century. The Catholic Inquisition used the sausage to check if anyone was a Christian – after all, Moors and Jews would reject the pork for religious reasons. “Our ancestors already kept pigs and cows,” says sausage maker Samuel Moreno Manrique. “It’s in our genes.”
In a hip work area in the center of Madrid, which is shared with other organizations, co-founder Javier Moreno (no relation) of the animal rights organization Animal Equality is also trying to look into the Spanish soul. The Spaniards, he says, live in a culture where they are constantly exposed to meat commercials. “The meat lobby is very influential, comparable to the tobacco industry of the past.”
Moreno also points to the dictatorship under General Franco (1939-1975), “when the country was isolated and stagnant in its development. As a result, things are a little slower here than in other western countries. ”
Opinion polls show that a large majority of Spaniards want animals to be treated better, but still want to eat meat, said Estela Díaz Carmona, a consumer market researcher at the Papal University of Comillas in Madrid. In a coffee shop near her office, she distinguishes between social, personal, structural and economic factors for why people in general, and Spaniards in particular, eat meat.
An important social pattern in Spain is the relationship between meat and masculinity, she says. “Vegetables are seen as feminine food. I think three quarters of vegans are women. Even though it is slowly starting to change. We live in a time where people are questioning what it means to be a man or a woman. ”
The Happy Cow app, which shows restaurants with vegetarian options, counts fifty in Madrid alone vegan dining options. But meat eaters also sometimes try a substitute, notes Díaz Carmona. “It leads to the paradoxical situation that both the consumption of meat and counterfeit meat increases” – a situation also known in the Netherlands.
Torrezno from the air freezer
Torrezno de Soria is an ‘impulse product’, says sausage maker Samuel Moreno Manrique. “The sausage tastes good with beer or wine.” To make the perfect torrezno, first immerse the strips of pork in a bowl of salt and let them dry for days. Previously, the consumer had to buy the pork rind, el pancieta, and then cook for another hour before it becomes torrezno. Then you threw it in the frying pan, which made it crispy. The long cooking time made it a cumbersome product for consumers. If you immediately threw it in the frying pan, then, according to Moreno Manrique, a tall man with a short beard, it tasted of nothing.
Eating meat and dairy products should not be a moral dilemma, writes publicist Pepijn Vloemans. Read his opinion article: Not less, but more meat (but grown)
Fortunately, his father came up with a crucial innovation: For several years, the sausage has been pre-cooked at the factory. Now it is only five minutes missing in the fryer or air freezer.
The sausage has its own brand that guarantees that it actually comes from Soria. Competitions are held regularly in Soria for ‘the world’s best torrezno’. The winning restaurant is secured business that year. The jury consists of actors and other famous Spaniards.
Until 1990, the Moreno family’s factory slaughtered its own pigs, but it could no longer compete with specialized slaughterhouses, which could kill thousands of pigs per hour. Since then, she has bought ready-to-eat pancieta from the slaughterhouses.
Is Moreno Manrique concerned about animal welfare in slaughterhouses? “The slaughterhouses have a certificate showing that they live up to the standards.” In response to the minister’s statements, the farmers’ union UPA said there are “no abused animals” in Spain. Garzón even said after all the fuss that he had said “nothing new”. “I just pass on what scientists say. Everyone knows that factory farming causes pollution and emits greenhouse gases.”
In January, the EU brought an action against Spain before the European Court of Justice for excessive nitrate pollution. The European Nitrates Directive contains the goal that nitrate must no longer pollute groundwater, a goal that is also set out in the European Green Pact. The European Commission had already announced legal action against Germany.
And then there is health: Garzón also pointed out that although the Spanish Food Safety and Nutrition Agency recommends eating between two hundred and five hundred grams of meat a week, the average Spaniard consumes more than a kilogram of meat every week.
Although even his left-wing ministers reacted violently, shifts are noticeable. Both national and regional governments are working on measures to regulate the number and size of livestock farms. “I think,” says activist Javier Moreno, “that politicians will eventually have to consider the planetary evidence against meat. For example, they can put less stress on vegetables. If you want a healthier population, focus on prevention. ” He expects that the transition to smaller meats will eventually be unstoppable. “Today there is even vegetable chorizo.†
Somehow, therefore, Moreno is “happy” that Garzón’s statements spawned so much criticism. “Spain discussed factory farming for two or three weeks. It usually never happens.”
Read also: Also read this interview with anthropologist Roanne van Voorst: ‘Eating meat is not normal, necessary and natural’
A version of this article was also published in the newspaper on May 10, 2022