When we first started dating, my husband took me to a fancy-schmancy restaurant for my birthday. What he remembers was my visible confusion when the waiter asked if he could ‘whip the garlic’ into my mashed potatoes for me (while the restaurant was fancy, I am not). What I remember is how great the pork chop was that I ordered.

It had this incredible, juicy flavor I hadn’t experienced in a chop before. Which got me wondering—what did the chef know, that I didn’t? Whenever I cooked a chop at home, it quite literally paled in comparison.  This succulent chop not only tasted different; it looked different.  Could only an expensive plate provide that kind of culinary experience?

Spoiler alert: No.

Turns out, I just didn’t know how to properly prepare pork, and I don’t think I’m alone.

Once upon a time, guidelines for cooking pork called for an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Today’s recommendations for “whole muscle” cuts, which include loins, chops and roasts, is 145 degrees with a three-minute rest. The first time prepped it this way, I was a little unease. It still looked a little pink when I cut into the middle, and I’d been taught that means it’s not “done.” But food safety experts have said if the internal temperature has been reached, the color on these cuts is not a cause for concern. My worries were quickly dispelled when I took a bite. I hadn’t quite accomplished culinary greatness but darn if it wasn’t so much better than my previous attempts (it also lead me to this pork dry rub I’m slightly obsessed with).     

No matter what cut or rub I use, my family members are avid pork fans, and in Iowa we’re not alone. According to Iowa Farm Bureau’s 2019 Iowa Food and Farm Index, a survey of more than 500 Iowan grocery shoppers, 93 percent of respondents said their household eats pork with nearly 60 percent serving up pork to their families weekly. Why do Iowans continue to choose pork, pack restaurants to try Iowa’s best pork tenderloin or stand in line for an hour to throw down a Pork Belly on a Stick at the Iowa State Fair? For most people that answer is obvious—taste. But pork also is a top-notch choice in nutritional value.

In fact, pork loin has been named in many fitness magazines and bodybuilding articles as an excellent lean protein source (a 3-ounce serving of pork has 23 grams of protein!). Protein is essential to maintaining weight and building muscle, and while we’re not all looking to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger, we can all agree protein does the body good; it helps provide structure for our bodies, boosts our immune system and provides energy.

Pork is also a good source of protein for little ones. I know my one-year old gobbles down pork, and while we’re glad he enjoys other sources of protein like a sticky peanut butter sandwich, the protein from real meat is easier for our bodies to absorb. That’s great for my little guy who is always on the move!

Taste and nutrition aside, Iowans are also fans of pork because they know our state’s farmers are raising animals responsibly. In fact, two-thirds of Iowa Farm Bureau Food and Farm Index respondents feel farmers are transparent about how food is produced. Even with biosecurity as an obstacle for unscheduled ‘drop ins’ at farms, I see many hog farmers finding a way to talk about and show how they raise hogs through social media pictures, live video chats and annual on-farm visits. It’s a great way to protect the health of their hog herd while also being able to “open their doors” to grocery shoppers who want to know more.

That’s why new technologies like electrostatic fences to reduce odor or “natural” odor filters like trees and using third-party coalitions to minimize environmental impacts are used by farmer’s today. These are just a few examples of the many efforts farmers are doing to stay sustainable not just for the next generation of farmers but also for their communities where agriculture plays a big role in the local economy.

I think about all these things when I consider what to put on my family’s dinner table.  And, if you’re a meat eater looking for a product that tastes great and is raised with care for the animal and environment, pork is no doubt a winner; not just during October Pork Month, but every day.