Breaking News Stories

L.A. barbecue restaurants and owners react to Proposition 12

Ray’s Texas BBQ in Huntington Park at 10am on a hot July Friday. Sebastian Ramirez, who supervises Smoker with his brother Raul, has already been up for five hours. Slow-cooked pork spare ribs are aged for 4 hours in a smoker.

“Las Costilla, Sebastian,” says Raul, touching the brim of his hat that says “GoodEnough.”

“Oh. Shi. Las Costillas,” says Sebastian. While the rest of the kitchen prepares simmering macaroni and cheese, crunchy coleslaw, and a side dish of signature barbecue rice, Sebastian wears thick rubber gloves that burn his fingertips. First right, then left. Then he threw open the metal door to reveal a long board of ribs that glowed under aluminum foil and beet-red parchment. Smoke billows out from behind the door and drifts below the ceiling.

“Ristos,” he says. We are ready.

Sebastian Ramirez, center, co-owner of Ray’s Texas Barbecue in Huntington Park, takes customer orders at lunchtime.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

In less than two hours, hordes of industrial workers are lining up at the cash register to eat a pound of meat during their brief lunch break. Though they may not realize it as they ring the lunch bell, Los Angeles’ BBQ Pitmasters carry an invisible burden.

In the 2018 California general election, 62.66% of voters Proposal 12 A green light to make meat production more humane. One of the latest, and perhaps most controversial, statewide animal welfare initiatives is the use of calves, laying hens, and breeding pigs raised for calves on farms where products are sold in California. are trying to expand their breeding area.

Five years later, pork moves surprisingly slowly through the supply chain. Travis Cushman, deputy general counsel for the American Farm Federation, estimates that up to 7% of his breeding farms meet the criteria for the proposal, and some may never get there. .

In response to continued backlash from the pork industry, the Sacramento County Superior Court has established a temporary relief period starting July 1 this year that will allow suppliers to continue selling nonconforming pork until January 1, 2024.

catch? The supplier should have purchased enough pork for that six months by July 1st. Pork prices have risen dramatically as pork producers look to expand their non-conforming stocks through the end of the year and make much-needed updates to their farms.

In July, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Pork prices expected to rise In a statement, the ministry said that due to “a tighter-than-expected hog supply and the expected relatively strong demand for hogs at the national level,” said it would be postponed. The USDA does not directly report on the state of the local or state pork market, but it does take some account of how state-level policies can affect the national market. The monthly forecasts don’t show pork prices this high since Proposition 12 took effect earlier this year.

In the face of supply constraints and soaring pork prices, the Los Angeles pitmasters who define LA barbecue style with their oak smoked pork ribs and chunky pulled pork sandwiches can now eat the last piece of pork they can find in stores. I’m raking it up to make sure. for opening day.

Amid growing customer frustration over rising menu prices, Pitmasters and others fear Prop. 12 could be the last straw to finally collapse margins. Arnold Rodriguez, founder and veteran pitmaster of the Black Sugar Ribs Company, said inflation is straining operations at levels he has never seen before.

A person wearing a straw hat uses tongs to lift a rib off the grill

Arnold Rodriguez, owner and pitmaster of Black Sugar Rib Company, checks the condition of pork ribs at ROW DTLA in Smorgasburg.

(Camryn Brewer/Los Angeles Times)

“Jalapeños went up a few dollars apiece,” Rodriguez said, wiping the sweat from his brow while wearing a baseball cap. “Mayonnaise has more than doubled by the gallon, but they don’t even sell mayonnaise!” “

But it’s the pork that Rodriguez is really worried about. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) said in a statement that the reasons for the rise in pork prices included supply chain issues, labor shortages, high production and distribution costs, and very strong consumer demand for pork. He said there were various reasons. The past few years. Proposition 12 puts even more emphasis on an already tense market.


The tight supply of the various coveted pork cuts makes Pitmaster’s price hike even worse. “Fortunately, here he’s been finding enough ribs each week to survive every Sunday for three weeks,” says Rodriguez, who is staying in Smorgasburg on Sundays at ROW DTLA. We specialize in the exacting craftsmanship of our back ribs. “But if I get a call tomorrow, or Tuesday, or Wednesday, about a big event, I’m going to panic.”

When Sebastian Ramirez heard about Prop. 12, he worried that we wouldn’t see a steady supply of pork for smokers anytime soon. To avoid a shortage and get through Ray’s opening hours, Sebastian drove as fast as traffic in Los Angeles would allow across the city to stock up on various pork suppliers. He now has multiple refrigerators full of pork between the restaurant and his home, which he hopes will be enough to survive the current shortage.

For some companies, such as agriculture giant Smithfield Foods, the cost of doing business in California is not considered to be a steep climb to meet state regulations. So in April the company Farmer John’s closed, a subsidiary meat packing plant in Vernon. The move is part of a larger strategic plan to reduce sow herds in Arizona and California, which will also reduce the number of sow farms needed to fully comply with Proposition 12. will do. The factory has been the scene of numerous peaceful protests. Animal rights activists accused Smithfield of animal cruelty and exploitation of workers. For Sebastian, losing the largest pork supplier west of the Mississippi only adds to the obstacles he faces in a day’s work fighting pork shortages.

Two men enter an orange stucco building under a sign that reads: "rays barbecue"

Customers Ruben Reyes (left) and Ruben Rosas at Ray’s Texas BBQ in Huntington Park.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Jonathan Robbourne, founder and manager of the Humane Society’s Animal Litigation Program, said the shortage was “suspicious.” He recalled what Minneapolis District Judge John Tanheim had said earlier this year. Approved a $75 million settlement between Smithfield Foods and consumer groups that accused the company of withholding pork supplies to inflate consumer prices.

While a settlement doesn’t necessarily amount to an admission of guilt, Lovvorn is interested in where the pork supply for these restaurants really is being bottlenecked. “I do not doubt that [pitmasters] What they say they’re experiencing, they’re experiencing,” he says. “The question is, why? And that makes me a little nervous.”

A possible answer is that when the Sacramento County Superior Court issued the temporary relief order, suppliers may not have purchased enough noncompliant pork to offset the delay in Proposition 12-compliant pork. .

Growers such as Hormel Foods, Purdue Farms and Applegate Farms can and will all supply Proposition 12 to restaurants struggling on the frontlines of pork shortages, Lovvorn said. Call the supplier directly and ask them why their supply is being limited, even though their records state that they are. – Provide compliant meat within the required deadlines. He suspects Pitmasters may need to approach another supplier that has bandwidth on the farm to comply with Proposition 12.

The proposal requires breeding pigs, known as sows, to be kept in an area of ​​at least 24 square feet where they can stand and stretch their legs, rather than in a 2-foot-by-7-foot metal gestation crate. barely larger than their bodies. Not only do California farmers need to adjust their housing protocols, but so do all farmers who sell produce in the state. The egg and veal industry has been quick to implement changes since the proposal passed in 2018, but the National Pork Producers Council and the Farmers Federation of America accused Prop. 12 of violating dormancy rules in 2019. filed a lawsuit. commercial terms It violates the provisions of the U.S. Constitution and violates interstate commerce.

Both groups, based in Iowa and Washington, D.C., respectively, say that out-of-state suppliers will unduly bear the burden of California’s Proposition 12 because they import the majority of the pork that California consumes. claimed. After the group appealed the district court’s decision to the Court of Appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled on May 11, 2023, reinforcing California’s Proposition 12 and allowing other states to enact similar legislation. It acknowledged that it could pass and protect California. Animal Health and Welfare.

Weigh the pulled pork on a kitchen scale

At Ray’s Texas BBQ in Huntington Park, pulled pork is weighed on a kitchen scale.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

For pitmasters like Jason Selva of Beatdown BBQ, keeping pork in rotation is still a core part of the business, offering pork ribs and pulled pork sandwiches to make up for thin margins on brisket. Compared to pork, brisket has abysmal margins, Selva said, and he can’t imagine having to base an entire menu on beef products. He thinks of his loyal Hindu clientele, who can’t eat beef but return every week for their pork barbecue.

“We use pork to spread the infection,” he says.

Selva worries about the fate of East LA’s barbecue communities and other neighborhood infrastructures that depend on pork products for a living.

“Many of my East LA BBQ buddies [and] Carnitas people literally rely on these pork products for their family’s livelihood, and seeing prices double will have a significant impact on profit margins for many of us,” Selva said. says Mr.

In recent weeks, Selva has noticed that the price of pork at the Costco business center, where prices are always the cheapest, has nearly doubled per pound. He realized that he was paying $1.19 for pork rump from 99 cents a pound before, but now she was paying $2.29. Pork back ribs, one of the most popular cuts of pork among LA pitmasters, cost as much as $3.04 a pound, taking a big hit to his profits.

But the beauty of barbecue, says Selva, is that it gives you the freedom to be creative in times like these. Next month I want to try the smoked oxtail biria without worrying about the pork.

Share this post:

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Around the Nation

Apache County News
Cochise County News
Coconino County News
Gila County News
Graham County News
Greenlee County News
La Paz County News
Maricopa County News
Mohave County News
Navajo County News
Pima County News
Pinal County
Santa Cruz County
Yavapai County
Yuma County