Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A brief dissertation on why I think the pig should be the culinary national animal

I could be totally virtuous and loyal to the lifestyle of a vegetarian, except for one little porcine detail.  Pig.  I could live without beef, without chicken, and even without seafood.  But I don't think I could live without what I consider to be the most delectable of all meats: pork.

Now, I have friends who love to eat, love to cook and who are sadly, allergic to pork.  I really do feel sorry for them, they are missing out on so much.  And their suffering is clearly intensified because they're aware of it.  But I can only cry a little bit because after all, more for me!  If I'm gonna have meat for dinner, chances are I'll want pork.  If I order breakfast in a restaurant, likely I'll want bacon.  If I crave something from the grill in my backyard, it's probably sausage and peppers (or as we say up North, "sooawsehg 'n peppahs").  Thinking of having Mexican food in south Austin?  Tacos al pastor!  Honoring your grandmother's Christmas Eve tradition?  Pork roast and sauerkraut!  Feel like whipping up a little snack from interior Mexico?  Carnitas!  Having a Superbowl party?  Aren't pork rinds de rigueur?

Let's just start with a brief, but not exhaustive, rundown of the reasons why I think that the pig and not the turkey should be exalted above all others on High Holidays and should be our culinary national animal: succulent BBQ baby back ribs, old fashioned smothered pork chops over buttery mashed potatoes, herb and garlic crusted pork tenderloin sliced just so, thick slabs of bacon (with anything), crown roast of pork with those cute little frilly things, spicy New Mexico pork and green chile stew, the Friday pork chop lunch at Perry's (apparently, it's a Texas thing), country ham with Jezebel sauce and little biscuits, Hungarian pork goulash rich with sour cream, Southern pan sausage and cream gravy, medallions of pork glazed with Calvados, apples and shallots, Boston butt covered in a dry spice rub crisping on the rotisserie...my eyes are glazing over!  And I haven't even begun to tap the limits of what our friend Mr. Pig contributes to my happiness and well-being. 

I'm sorry, National Turkey Federation of America, but I don't think Mr. Turkey can compete.  After all, Mr. Tom Turkey has one day (well, possibly two days) a year to shine, and then it's all over.  But no, it's not really all over because there's this thing called leftover turkey you have to deal with.  And I don't know about you folks, but I can only eat so much turkey.  What's worse is that dozens of women's magazines have devoted themselves to dedicating half their November print space to leftover turkey recipes!  That's because it's hard to be creative with dried out, leftover turkey!  Have you ever heard anyone complain to you about having to use up leftover pork?  No siree, Tom!  That's because there usually isn't any. 

And I haven't even gotten around to waxing eloquent about pancetta, one of my favorite seasoning ingredients.  Or proscuitto.  Or tasso.  Or bratwurst.  Or chorizo.  Or jamon Iberrico and jamon Serrano.  Or applewood-smoked slab bacon.  Or all the wonderful, garlicky Polish sausages my grandmother used to make for us.

But instead of just appealing to your baser instincts, let me also mention that the pig is considered a fairly intelligent animal.  Not to malign the turkey's smarts (and by extension, Ben Franklin's judgment), but the pig has been referred to as "the smartest domestic animal in the world" (McLaughlin 2008).  Pigs are also adorable (when they're piglets), they make cute little squealing noises and they make great pets!  You can train a pig to use a litter box!  Pigs have charm, personality, and presence!  They even snort without having to be taught!  And let's not overlook the five most famous pigs: Porky Pig (Warner Bros. cartoons), Arnold (mid 1960's TV show Green Acres), Miss Piggy (The Muppets), Babe (the 1995 movie that won an Oscar), and Wilbur (of Charlotte's Web).  Sadly, there is no comparable list of famous turkeys.  Except perhaps in our nation's capital...

One last-ditch effort to convince you: in 2006, national turkey consumption was averaged at 17 lbs. per person (National Turkey Federation 2010).  The figure for pork consumption in the US the same year?  Almost 64 lbs. per person (preliminary statistical data for USDA 2006).  So case closed.  I'm writing my congressperson immediately to petition that the pig be recognized as the culinary national animal.  Now, how's that for pork-barrel politics?


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