I woke excited to prepare huge quantities of bean soup with vegetables and ham. I lit a candle…fire is essential to any artistic endeavor. I chopped and caramelized sweet red onions in organic butter, then added garlic and carrots and parsley. I drained and refilled a bowl containing a medley of 13 rehydrating types of beans. My spirits were high and the house smelled incredible.
This was the second batch of inspiration bean soup I had made. In the first, I had used half a cut of “ham in natural juices” and the soup had turned out aggressively salty. This time, I had soaked the ham in water for about 8 hours…in effect performing a reverse-brining. I drained the ham and began to prepare it for its introduction to flame. I popped a cube of ham into my mouth. Three chomps in, I stopped chewing. The ham was no longer salty…but it was no longer anything. Even the texture seemed imitation…as if the layers of muscle had not been incubated in an actual sus.
I chewed a few more times hoping my taste buds had been wrong. Nope, there it was – or more accurately – there it wasn’t. The taste, the texture, the mitigating pleasure that allows me to swallow the killing and eating of sweet Wilbur had been stolen. This little piggy had died in vain. It had likely been raised in confinement and inundated with antibiotics used to fend off the diseases that arise from close-quarter living.
It is estimated that 10 million pounds of antibiotics are used each year to keep factory-raised pigs healthy. That is three times of the amount used to treat human illness per annum. Wonder if there is a connection to the evolution of antibiotic resistant super bugs?
But back to the point, I knew antibiotics were used and conditions were not good in mass farming, but that did not stop me buying this ham in natural juices in the first place. For that action, I am truly remorseful. I am very sorry, piggy.
Rather than racing to the bottom in cost, perhaps if I – and others like me – never again paid for factory farm pork, things would be different. But I was part of the tasteless, inhumane, and pollution-producing problem.
I had heard of an aquaculture farm called Veta La Palma located in Spain. Their production methods stress biodiversity and eco-relationships. Fish farms usually pollute massively and demand more protein sources to feed the fish than make their product economically wise. But the kind of “farming” done at Veta La Palma demands no feed and in fact cleans the water that flows into it from the Guadalquivir River. This fish farm masquerading as marshlands has actually saved the wetlands and created a de facto bird sanctuary that hosts some 250 species of birds, of which some 50 are in threat in other areas. Folks at Veta La Palma will tell you that they lose 20% of their fish to birds, but the interplay of all species right down to phytoplankton make it all work, and make their fish delicious. They say, they farm extensively, not intensively. A new motto for business?
Closer to the trough, I remember visiting my Great Aunt Ruth’s and Great Uncle Glenn’s farm in Transylvania, North Carolina when I was a child. While there, I was treated to a porcine taste that seems to have been a culinary mirage. Life-long blue dogs, Ruth and Glenn’s dogs were named after the Kennedy boys and their pigs were named Kissinger and Nixon. These pigs were raised traditionally, eating scraps from the house and crops from the farm. Each slaughter season, the ham would be cured and hung. When it was brought into the farmhouse for preparation, it was encrusted with mold. With farm-breed familiarity and nonchalance, Aunt Ruth cut off the mold and set about making Sunday dinner. I must tell you, I have never, ever tasted the duplicate of that ham’s taste and texture. One better, Aunt Ruth made a “hog honey” that – as near as my six-year-old brain could comprehend - as the scant collected dripping from the fried ham. There was so little, but I wanted to eat it all…with my fingers…then rub it on my skin to have the goodness absorbed there too. No joke, even at six, I knew hog honey was food of the gods.
I could try to inject flavor into the store-bought piss-poor replica meat* before me this day, but I knew the soup would likely be better off without it. Still, a pig had died for my sins. We had better eat it.
I dropped the pan-fried porkesque nuggets into the soup as I made a vow. Never again would I buy anything other than “ham” grade pork and I would – from now on – purchase all my meat products from family farms. Meat is used sparingly at my house. My health is worth the investment of better meats as is the treatment of the animals that feed us, our shared ecological system, and the message sent to big agra. Food should taste good, animals should be raised and slaughtered humanely, and producing food should not toxify our planet.**
*Not the pig’s fault.
**Apologies as well to all vegetarians and vegans. You are absolutely right. But I cannot yet join your ranks.