The Pig in the Room — An Ode to Stan
I have a pig in my living room. Not a whole breathing living pig, mind you. Just a part of a pig. A big pig leg with a pointy black hoof and a few course black hairs sticking out. I would be absolutely repulsed by it if I did not know what lay under the slab of fat that covers the open slash in the leg to keep it from getting too dry.
For the uninitiated, jamon iberico is to Spain what caviar is to Russia. People pay exorbitant amounts for it and can spend hours debating the merits of different brands and different breeding regions. The pigs are special black-footed pigs with a pedigree. They roam free in the oak forests of certain regions of Spain and eat acorns to their hearts content, after which they are slaughtered and hung to dry for up to two years.
it’s not a bad life….
My husband is obsessed with jamon Iberico. Sometimes I wonder whether he only married me for my American passport and the steady supply of pork products my Spanish heritage offers him. This summer, my mother, although usually frugal, tried her best to please her gourmand (or dare I say, piggy?) son in law by buying a whole leg of the beast. Problem is, she couldn’t help going low end within the specialty jamon spectrum and, well, the quality was disappointing. It cost over 80 euros, which is nothing to snort about, but we bought another, more expensive version (because we all know that if you pay more, it must be better). We smuggled it into the car without telling her so she would not feel insulted that we did not take her leg, which was offered with so much love.
What lies underneath the lard cover is heavenly. Truly. And I don’t even like dry ham that much. It melts in your mouth. It does not taste smoky. It does not taste hammy. It is just pure joy.
It has also served to spur some actual thought. It reminded me about Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I know how my pig ( I am beginning to think I should name it) lived. Wilbur, um, oh no, I mean Stan, had a good life. This good life came at a cost, to both Stan and me. This red and white marbled meat, has made me think about the origins of what I am eating in a more conscious way. What I put into my mouth has a political, economic and environmental impact. This does not mean I am not going to go out and become some typical Brooklynite who only buys organic and looks down on people who don’t, because I do not think that that kind of knee jerk fanaticism is the answer to our society’s food crisis. And I do think we are in crisis. I noticed this year in Spain how many overweight children there were. It was staggering. I think in a country like Spain that prizes good, healthy food, the importance on quantity as a signifier of wealth and plenty coupled with the insiduous arrival of junk food has been leaving its nasty mark.
As Pollan so rightly points out, the personal decisions we make about food matter. He writes eloquently and passionately about the many reasons why and I will not attempt to rehash them here. The point is that they matter, and most importantly, they matter to our lives directly and personally. If we think about food more consciously and critically, we will simply appreciate it more and the quality of our lives will increase.
So, Stan will be with us for the coming weeks. We will enjoy his company and his offerings to our life with respect and gratitude. We will end his visit with a warm, hearty soup to make our hearts and bodies warm on a crisp Autumn day.