More Than Pork Chops & Bacon: PORK 101 Offers Perspective on Industry

Pork loins used for carcass fabrication in PORK 101
( Jennifer Shike )

From chefs to accountants to human resource managers, a variety of career paths converge into the swine industry but have little to do with the pig itself on a daily basis. 

Enter PORK 101. This exciting “course” provides participants the opportunity to gain a broad perspective and hands-on experience during an immersive course at cooperating universities across the country. The University of Illinois in Urbana, Ill., hosted PORK 101 on October 8-9. The program is hosted by the American Meat Science Association (AMSA) in cooperation with the National Pork Board and sponsored by Merck Animal Health.

Dustin Boler, associate professor of meat science at the University of Illinois, says, “We hope participants walk away with a deeper appreciation for the effort required to produce pork on a daily basis.” 

In the course, participants evaluated eight live hogs. Then, the animals were processed during the class while participants learned about grading, food safety, product processing and more. 

“The people who work on the line make their job look easy,” Boler says. “But it’s not. It takes great skill. We want to help participants understand the value of the workers on the line while opening their eyes to a newfound knowledge of the cuts of pork and what they can do with the various cuts. Pigs are more than pork chops and bacon.”

AJ Sween

For AJ Sween (pictured above), an accountant with Pine Ridge Farms in Des Moines, Iowa, this course helped him gain a better appreciation for all parts of the pork production process.

“I’m a process improvement guy,” Sween says. “This helps me figure out how accounting relates to the frontline guys. The more I know about the process, the better I can help discover ways to improve it.”

And it doesn’t hurt that he learned new ways to prepare cuts of pork while he was there, too. Sween says the nature of the course allowed for the opportunity to ask questions and have side-conversations with the teachers.

“As an employee in the industry, I am starting to buy many different cuts of pork I know nothing about,” Sween says. “Getting to visit with the instructors helped me learn how to prepare those different cuts and get the most out every piece. Now my freezer will be full of a variety of pork products, not just bacon and bratwurst.” 

Davis Jaeger, a product developer with US Foods for the past three years, is no stranger to pork preparation. He previously spent 10 years as a chef in Tampa, Fla., before going to Clemson University for a degree in food science. He says he registered for PORK 101 to learn more about the science behind pork processing.

“I wanted to build my confidence and knowledge,” Jaeger says. “PORK 101 helped me develop a better understanding of how and why we do things within the pork industry.”

Jaeger learned about the course through his membership with AMSA. 

“The proctors for the course knew everything about the industry and pork in general,” Jaeger says. “We were able to pause the course and dive deeper into subjects where we had further interest. They also explained the science and biochemistry at the molecular level which was fascinating and helped connect so many dots for me.”

For others like Melissa Mark, an accountant and colleague of Sween’s at Pine Ridge Farms, it’s fun to see the information presented in a classroom setting while getting hands-on experience.

“Pork is very a big business in the global market,” Mark says. “Learning how we distribute to our customers is important to me as a consumer, but also in my role at Pine Ridge Farms making sure the customers receive the product and get the invoices for what they purchased.” 

Mark says it will make her job easier to understand the overall concept of the pig industry.

“Learning about the processes, pricing, and best practices helps me see the big picture from the beginning to the pork product to the customers,” she says.

The next PORK 101 is sold out at Iowa State University on Oct. 22-24, but openings are still available for the March 4-6 course at the University of Florida. For more information, visit