Yes, this family loves pork...but I hate "the other white meat" and everything it represents as the nadir of factory farming. Not even a Komodo dragon would be happy with today's cardboard chops and the animals who provide them after a short, miserable, and pollution-producing life.
So I have done something rash: signed us up for one-quarter of a pig, pieces of which start arriving this Thursday from a bucolic family farm called the Piggery in upstate New York. It's a meat version of CSA: "community-supported agriculture," where you pay a farmer for a chunk of harvest every week. We have to travel to the darkest depths of foodie hipsterdom--a place called the Meat Hook on the fringes of Williamsburg--to carry home our first shipment of the farm's own charcuterie, chops and bacon.
I remain very conflicted about this venture, and not just because I have spent two weeks' marketing money on this quarter-pig. And not because I am ill at ease with eating cute little piggies like this one when they grow up. Sweet as they are, I can gaze in their eyes and see a God-gifted dinner source, despite the current surge in vegan righteousness in the Zeitgeist. (This is one of the Piggery's heritage breed babies, a cross between a Mulefoot and a Gloucester Old Spot.)
No, my qualms are two-fold.
One: Stop and think about the whole "humanely raised" conundrum. These pigs live upstate in pig paradise. They roam freely, munching on acorns and pumpkins, and are killed respectfully by a charming and articulate chef. Um...isn't it sort of worse to kill happy pigs and end their idyllic lives? Could one not better justify taking some sad, crate-raised hog and putting it out of its warehoused misery? Sort of like Switzerland...for pigs...with the second effect of bacon.
And two (seriously): This whole sustainable-locavore thing is both hyper-trendy, elitist, and a bit absurd. Sensitive urban gourmets will not save the earth by buying $20 organic free-range chickens and $8/pound microgreens and $300 pig-quarters, although we will set a very good example for people who can't possibly afford to do likewise (while supporting some wonderfully idealistic farmers). We will, however, be making progress when this stuff comes down to Wal-Mart range. It helps when a chain like McDonald's kicks out some horrible product or raises the standards for its ingredient providers (as has sometimes happened). I'm splurging on luxury sausage without a side order of guilt, but I can't kid myself that such efforts are changing more than a tiny corner of the big, bad world, and if you hear me lecturing anyone on my virtuous path, poke me in the eye with a locally sourced chorizo.
No, what it's about for me is...marbling. As I've learned from the pricey Flying Pigs pork at the Greenmarket, pork can still be mouth-wateringly juicy and tender, unlike the factory-farmed "lean" chops that cook up like Dr. Scholl inner-soles (and are raised over a toxic "lake of manure"--not a phrase easily forgotten at dinnertime). We seem to be in a curious cultural moment, meat-wise, with carnivorous foodies signing up for butchering courses on the one hand, and vegans lecturing us from the best-seller list and op-eds on the other.
I just want fatty chops from happy pigs. Look for "Pig-Blogging Mondays" between now and February to find out how it goes.
Komodo dragon: American Museum of Natural History
Other images: The Pigger's Flickr stream