In a Pig’s eye

After the pain that was trying to find decent lentil recipes, I have finally moved on to a subject near and dear to all of our hearts.

Pigs.

…or pork, boar, sows, hog, swine, whatever you call it, it’s difficult to dispute the measure that the little pig has played in our culinary lives. It has played a major part in many cuisines, from China to Italy to America. No matter how you slice it, we likes the pork.

best estimates indicate that the pig has indeed evolved from the wild boar (Sus Scrofa). The domestication of the wild boar probably occurred in several areas of the world at the same time, roughly between 8000-5000 BC, depending upon which culture you’re talking about. The reason for the domestication has more to do with the fact that the newly developed villages produce a fair amount of refuse, which would have provided the boar with a steady stream of food. Any talk that the boar was domesticated under the will of man is probably (ahem) hogwash.

The first archaelogic proof of domestication comes from the sites at Hallan Cemi in southeastern Turkey. There, in the foothills of the Taurus Mountains, the pig was apparently kept as early as 8000 B.C., making it the oldest known domesticated creature besides the dog. It also pre-dates goats and sheep domestication, which runs contrary to the speculation that goats and sheep were the first domesticated meat source (a stance that even I have taken in previous posts…ahh well, live and learn).

Pigs are NOT native to the America’s, as they were introduced by the Europeans when they came over to claim the newly discovered lands for themselves. First dropped off by Columbus on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, they were also later placed in what is now Mexico, Panama and Colombia. The benefit of pigs over cattle, chicken or other medieval barnyard animals? You could allow the pigs to forage in the forest for food, instead of feeding them grain or having someone shepard them as they grazed. Then, when fattened by all the snakes, tubers and other forest foods, one could simply hunt them down. In short, they were a less resource intensive food source. Never discount laziness when it comes to figuring out mankind.

We Americans like pork, but not as much as the Italians, Spaniards, French and Chinese. We do like pork more than all of the Middle East and other Islamic countries. But we’ve also ruined the taste of pork for a variety of reasons.

I’ll spell it out for you carefully. Pork Fat rocks. The Italians know this and the Chinese know this. They use it to flavor many, many dishes. Given a choice between cooking with 2 Tablespoons of olive oil or 4 oz of bacon in order to fry green beans, which do you think brings the best result?

But we here in the states have “evolved” from the pork fat culture. It’s now seen as wicked, evil and unhealthy. Instead, we cook with *shudder* vegetable oil. So due to supply and demand, less pork fat is needed.

And because we also wish to eat “healthy”, the pork market has introduced pigs less in fat…and not-so-coincidentally less in taste. It’s a damn shame. Yes, pork fat is higher in unsaturated fatty acids than beef, veal, or lamb fat. And on the average, one 85-gram serving of pork contains about 79 milligrams of cholesterol. But still? Aren’t we the nation of Big Macs and Dorito’s? Why the double standard?

As with any meat, you should start purchasing from a butcher, or at least go to a supermarket that has an informed butcher on duty (For those with a Whole Foods in your area, compare how many folks are behind their meat counter vs. Kroger or Safeway. It’s almost a 3-1 margin). Ask for the fatter cuts of pork. Create the demand. Until then, we’ll be stuck with crappy pork chops.


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