What We Talk About When We Talk About Pork
Someone I know recently sent an email blast to inform his circle of acquaintances that he had finally settled down in a new home in Washington. It was brief and fairly direct, as these things go, including his new coordinates and a terse professional update. He also wanted us all to know that he was "trying to keep up my writing, and preparing to cure and smoke a large piece of pork belly in the next several weeks."
Why do people insist on being so much more ostentatious about their pork consumption than they are with any other food? As any look at a menu clogged with lardos and specks will reveal, we're clearly deep into — if not far beyond — a pork moment. The bacon-based cocktail or chocolate bar has become a tired joke. Google informs me that there are books and blogs and t-shirts based around the notion that "everything tastes better with bacon." (This is plainly false, as thousands of unnecessarily defiled plates of beautiful figs can attest.)
But food fads aside, I am not certain that my friends are necessarily eating more pork than before, only that they are increasingly unable to shut up about it. If I got all my news from Twitter or Facebook I would be convinced that when my peers spend their domestic lives doing little other than curing, smoking and eating fatback. Every recap of a restaurant visit always seems to start, and often ends, with a description of how amazing the pork-belly sliders were. (They always seem to be the most amazing dish, everywhere.)
The National Pork Board, which spent all those millions years ago trying to convince us that pork was a lean option "other white meat," now has to contend with an embarrassment of fatty richness. Thanks to an immeasurable amount of free and social media exposure, pork has become not only the reddest red meat but our legal meth — smuggled and doctored by home cooks, a taste of country-shack excess surreptitiously revived in the cul-de-sac.
Everyone wants to imagine themselves as Ayaan Hirsi Ali ordering an off-menu pork chop in a Mogadishu café, audaciously challenging their culture's pieties in the name of modern bourgeois liberation. Sadly, these gestures at pork provocateurship instead evoke Hirsi Ali plucking a BLT off an American Enterprise Institute sandwich platter, surrounded by a like-minded crowd yearning for a salty taste of transgression as they rail against the Caliphate.
Photo by smwarnke4 via Flickr Creative Commons, Attribution License