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Chef José Mendin describes the variety of authentic Hispanic dishes to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. National Hog Farmer/Kevin Schulz
Chef José Mendin describes the variety of authentic Hispanic dishes to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds during the formal opening of the Innovation Kitchen at the National Pork Board offices to kick off October as Pork Month.

Pork Month off to a tasty start

Only a couple of days into Pork Month, but it’s already off to a roaring start. What will the rest of the month hold?

The most wonderful time of the year is upon us. No, I don’t mean the start of the football season, or even the beginning of fall harvest. Of course, what I am referring to is the start of October and with it, the start of National Pork Month.

Your friends at National Pork Board kicked off the month in fine form, as the Innovation Kitchen at the NPB HQ in Clive, Iowa, was formally opened, and what an opening it was. I had the good fortune of attending as Chef José Mendin, a Puerto Rican native, christened the new kitchen by treating a roster of Iowa ag and retail leaders to a trip through Latino cuisine by crafting dishes from Peru, El Salvador, Mexico and, of course, his native Puerto Rico.

National Hog Farmer/Kevin SchulzA representation of Hispanic cuisine created by Chef José Mendin to formally open the Innovation Kitchen at the main office of the National Pork Board.

A representation of Hispanic cuisine created by Chef José Mendin to formally open the Innovation Kitchen at the main office of the National Pork Board.

In addition to October being National Pork Month, it is also Hispanic Heritage Month, so appropriately the NPB was also discussing a new report addressing the need to meet the needs of the underserved Hispanic population of the United States. “Time to Tango” was released Oct. 2, and it addresses the need for the U.S. pork industry to recognize the important role that pork plays in the Latino culture. This is a populace that holds pork in high regard as a part of their diets and culture, as well as a populace that has a growing purchasing power. But, as they acculturate in the United States they tend to go away from making pork purchases. Is this because they no longer desire the pork diets of their homelands? No, it’s because the U.S. pork industry is not providing the pork cuts that they are familiar with, and thus they are turning to other proteins.

The “Time to Tango” report shows there is great potential for the U.S. pork industry to tap into one of the biggest growth opportunities for pork sales in the next several decades.

“Pork is entrenched in Hispanic heritage and culture, and extremely relevant to the fast-growing and economically powerful Hispanic segment,” says José de Jesús, director of multicultural marketing for the NPB. “The pork industry must proactively engage them and better meet their needs, otherwise we risk losing the Latino consumer.”

De Jesús knows what he speaks of, as the native Puerto Rican personally faces the challenge of finding authentic Puerto Rican dishes in the Des Moines area. He and Mendin are friends, so it made sense to bring the chef for the unveiling of the Innovation Kitchen to help spread the Latino love of pork.

Mendin loves working with pork for its flavor and versatility, so much so that he features pork in each of his nine restaurants that he is involved with, even a sushi restaurant. If we can offer pork in a sushi restaurant, I think the pork industry should be able to provide pork that this growing market of U.S. Latinos desires.

National Hog Farmer/Kevin SchulzNational Pork Board CEO Bill Even presents Chris Hoffman with the 2019-20 America’s Pig Farmer of the Year award.

National Pork Board CEO Bill Even presents Chris Hoffman with the 2019-20 America’s Pig Farmer of the Year award.

While the NPB tries to find a way to meet the needs of the growing Latino demographic that is hungry for pork done their way, the Pork Checkoff also continues to tell the story of the American pork producer. One of the biggest voices for the industry has become America’s Pig Farmer of the Year, and the new honoree was announced Day 1 of Pork Month.

Chris Hoffman is humbled and honored to serve the industry he has grown to love. Hoffman has been a pig farmer since he was 19 in 1994, but unlike the previous four America’s Pig Farmers of the Year, Hoffman is a first-generation pig farmer.

“My grandfather had one of those ‘gentleman farms’ where he had four pigs,” Hoffman says. “He had four or five steers, and I would help put up hay, but other than that, there was no connection to agriculture in my life.”

Though he may not have the bloodlines of a multigenerational farmer, he does have enough experience as a hog producer to be able to share the story of the U.S. hog industry. Twenty-five years offers a pretty solid past for him to speak from, and he is familiar with a platform from which to speak. Though he never attended college, he serves as a trustee for Penn State University, as well as vice president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

“Pigs are my passion,” he says, and he can’t wait to share the story that he has written on his Lazy Hog Farm near McAlisterville, Pa. He also can’t wait to share the story of his fellow pork producers.

I also look forward to see and hear what this seasoned first-generation pig farmer has to share.

Only a couple of days into Pork Month, but it’s already off to a roaring start. What will the rest of the month hold?

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