`Pig Perfect' by culinary and fishing journalist, Peter Kaminsky is almost like the flip side of Eric Schlosser's 'Fast Food Nation', in that Kaminsky is in search of the very antithesis of modern American industrial pig husbandry. One very important note is that while the title of the book brings the whole pig to mind, Kaminsky really spends over half his book dedicated to the ham, and more specifically the hams created from the `iberico' black pig of Spain and southwestern France.
I really have to love a book that engenders connections between widely dissimilar areas such as the opening scene of the movie `2001 A Space Odyssey', Jewish and Muslem dietary laws, and analysis of linguistic usage. The first of this triad arises when Kaminsky discusses the speculation that the origin of the large brained arthropod in Africa came about when a particular tribe developed a taste for animal fat and protein, thereby scoring the nutrients which fed a larger brain. As you remember, the great epithany in the first scenes of `2001' was the teaching of tool usage to proto-hominids, who used the tools to kill their piggy looking competitors for scarce grass on the veldt. This brings up the third leg of this triad, where Kaminsky rapsodises over the `humane' language of the Spanish farmers who `sacrifice' their pigs, in contrast to the American usage where pigs and other food animals are `slaughtered'. Kaminsky imagines the first word establishes a stronger connection between the two levels of the food chain, the humans, and their meat animals. I will offer the thought that Kaminsky is reading far too much into this difference in wording, as my consulting Webster's confirms that both words are simply two different words for killing animals. The first is for killing them simply for food, the second is for killing them as an offering to the gods. Both words are intimately connected with animals, just as the German verb `fressen' means an animal's eating. But then, I'm really just playing Kaminsky's game here, as both of us are simply `playing with words'.
Kaminsky's review of explanations for why middle eastern cultures such as the Jews and the Arab Muslims both forbade eating pork or any other meat from an animal with cloven hooves.
The first reason is traced back to Egypt, where pigs are hardly ever mentioned because, as Kaminsky speculates, they were raised by individual families, as it was very inexpensive to support a pig or two, in contrast to cattle, sheep, and goats, which required state supported resources. It also meant that cattle, sheep, and goats were a lot easier to tax, as their husbandry was more involved and required larger establishments. Thus, states preferred endorsing those animals whose herds produced better tax income.
The second reason is the fact that pigs are major competitors with humans for the major Middle Eastern grains, wheat and barley. So, the pigs had to go.
The third reason was always my favorite. It is based on the fact that historically, the Arabs and Jews both arose from nomadic tribes, and pigs are a lot harder to herd than cattle, sheep, or goats.
Kaminsky's favorite expert has a fourth reason. He theorizes that with everything else going against pigs, they were immediately replaced by chickens which were even cheaper to raise in small homesteads, did not compete for wheat and barley, and could be easily slung over the mules when the tribe travelled from place to place.
The point of all this theorizing is to strengthen the picture for those cultures in Spain and France where the pig had exactly the opposite reception and was treated as the mainstay of the culture's animal protein. This brings us to Kaminsky's central venue, western Spain and its oak forests, where pigs can happily grow fat on its abundance of chestnuts. From Spain, Kaminsky takes the story to colonies of the black `iberico' pig in the United States and how superior the fatty meat is in these animals compared to the commercially raised white pigs.
Kaminsky also reviews all the facts which back up Emeril Lagasse's famous explamation that `pork fat rules'. It is well known to me by now that lard is superior to butter and to all other common animal fats in its level of unsaturated lipids. This advantage has been bred out of American pigs to create `the other white meat' which seems to be a pale shadow of its more active and more fatty `artisinally raised' porkers.
I delight in the prospect that this book may add another pebble to the movement to return to a better source of pork, just as Julia Child was able to change supermarket stocking habits by demanding on `The French Chef' that she needed her shallots and leeks!
Good luck, Peter, for all of us who look forward to a better porky future.
This is a great culinary read, with a worthwhile agenda to consider. Not exactly `Silent Spring', but not chopped liver either!