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Snarling boars are everywhere in the Sunshine State, so Floridians are developing a taste for wild pork.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you feral pigs, make, uh, pork chops? That's what Florida is starting to do, with two wild hog meat buying stations doing booming business. "It took a while for people to believe that this was for real and that they could bring pigs here on a regular basis and collect their money," Keith Mann, owner of the Three Suns Ranch told local station WGCU. Ranchers and trappers sell Mann wild-caught animals—he, in turn, slaughters the pigs and sells the meat to the food industry, including local restaurants. "I think we're at the beginning of a much larger enterprise. And we have a couple of hurdles to clear, but it's gonna be neat here in the next few years."
The feral pigs are a nuisance in many parts of the state—they reproduce quickly all year round, dig up land, and damage property, all while rummaging around for food. Trapping and selling the animals saves ranchers from shooting the hogs—and provides a wild, local source of hormone-free meat to diners and chefs.
"My wife and I are big into the Paleo Diet and CrossFit lifestyle," Mann told Sarasota magazine last year. "We came to Florida and were looking for responsibly raised, high-quality grass-fed meats and weren't happy with what we saw. We've been doing buffalo since 2012; it was a leap of faith to do it ourselves. The problem with [today's] pork, it's so fatty—they're pumped full of carbohydrates just to put on fat. These wild hogs got dropped on a continent 500 years ago and they've taken the place over. Nothing can stop them, and they're much, much leaner."
And some regional restaurateurs—like Ed Chiles, who owns the Beach House, the Sandbar, and the Mar Vista on Anna Maria Island—are game to incorporate the meat on their menus. In fact, Chiles was Mann's first in-state restaurant customer.
"The most important movement in the 35 years I've been in business is 'local,'" Chiles told the Tampa Bay Times in 2014. He estimates he sells 250 pounds of wild pig meat each week. "It's what's making the food scene blow up. It's about reconnecting with our food... I love pork, but I try not to eat conventionally raised meat. Wild pork is nutty, rich and lean."