On the slaughterhouse floor at Quality Pork Processors Inc. is an area known as the ‘head table,’ but not because it is the place of honor. It is where workers cut up pigs’ heads and then shoot compressed air into the skulls until the brains come spilling out.
Five of the workers … have been diagnosed with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, or CIDP, a rare immune disorder that attacks the nerves and produces tingling, numbness and weakness in the arms and legs, sometimes causing lasting damage.
The working theory as to why head table workers fell ill is that the air compressors turned some of said brain matter into a fine mist, which was then inhaled by the workers. Head table employees all wore safety glasses, helmets, gloves, and belly guards, but nothing over their mouths or noses. Scientists do not know what in the pig brains might have caused the CIDP.
The process of evacuating pig skulls with compressed air is not, apparently, a common one in slaughterhouses, but some pork processors do sell the brains:
Quality Pork has not said what it does with the pork brains. Sold fresh and in cans, pork brains are fried and eaten in sandwiches or gravy in some parts of the country. But it is a small market, and the American Meat Institute, which represents most of the nation’s pork processors, does not even track sales.
Someone, somewhere—perhaps the Great Porcine Entity in the Sky—is determined to make vegetarians of us all.