Kaminsky explains that little mystery, and many more, in his comprehensive ode to the Ossabaw**, a compendium of all things porcine.
Let’s start with a fair warning: there is no doubt that some animals are necessarily harmed in the making of luscious pork loin and succulent hams. If you are uncomfortable with eating meat at all, and I know many people that are, you should probably avoid this book, not because it is ugly or graphic in any way, but because you have already made decisions that will make the logic of this book less tenable for you. I admire that.
But I should also add a statement of responsibility: the reason that people like Mario Batali and Michael Pollan have enthusiastically recommended this book is because it supports a kind of meat eating that is both sustainable and rare – the kind of meat-eating most likely practiced by humans for millennia. Pig Perfect, at its heart, is a tribute to flexitarianism. It agrees with animal rights activists that the current methods of mass producing animals are heinous, cruel, and environmentally destructive – that humans are simply getting far less out of livestock, energy-wise, than we are putting in. In fact, the environmental disasters that accompany large-scale pig-farming are well documented by Kaminsky.
Instead, Kaminsky looks at the paleo-biological, historical and social roots of humans’ love of pork. He also devotes a fascinating chapter to the pork taboos found in Jewish and Islamic cultures. Ultimately, Kaminsky comes down on the side of moderation, arguing that pigs and humans actually evolved to live together, and makes a compelling argument that Europe’s “primordial” forests were actually products of the human/pig/acorn relationship.
Roaming forest and field is what pigs were born to do. Long-legged pigs are the natural form of this animal, able to move nimbly through woodlands eating acorns and grasses. That they should be raised this way is as self-evident to me as the fact that cattle should be raised on grasslands and not in feedlots on corn and soy. Grazing (as well as rooting, in the case of pigs) is the natural way for these domesticated animals to sustain themselves and us. p. 112
I really liked most of Kaminsky’s message. I can’t say the same for the recipes, which just didn’t look so appetizing to me. And having persuasively advocated for people to be thoughtful consumers of pork products, I really would have appreciated a section on Internet resources for jamón ibérico or Southern hams. Seriously, why create a demand for something, and not help satisfy it? The people who helped him from the book, and might benefit from interest in their products, were poorly served by that omission.
Also, as a strategic communications professor, I was totally put off by his chapter called “The PR Guys,” in which he seemed to be amazed that one of the best studies of the pork industry in the US was produced by a PR firm –to which he attributes negative intentions, without any evidence on his part, even though he finds no fault with the history. It was disappointing to read something so totally biased from someone who prides himself of being a “journalist.” He seemed to miss the fact that half of the people that spoke to him for this book from various companies and farms were probably PR professionals, or performed PR functions in the companies in which they worked – um, that’s why they spoke to him, to get their story out there. Kaminsky seems to subscribe to the notion that it’s “information” when he likes you, and “PR” when he doesn’t. Sorry, he lost credibility with me at that point.
But, in general, I’ll say I agree with his main thesis – and I’ll mention that Kaminsky is not saying anything that Pollan and Mark Bittman haven’t been saying for some time: namely, that we have to be more responsible about what we eat. If we only eat a little meat, we can assure that it is of high quality, and insist that it is treated humanely. I can certainly appreciate that.
Another foodie simul-blog with the Desperado Penguin. Next time we need a title that doesn’t make me so hungry, Jess!
As a non-fiction title, this counts for the Dewey Decimal Challenge. Thanks to Jen at The Introverted Reader for hosting!
*I do share a lot of vegetarian and vegan recipes, but I hope I’ve always made it clear that I do eat a small amount of meat and fish. In fact, since I don’t eat a lot of meat, I go out of my way to enjoy what I do eat, by making sure it’s of high quality (usually organic) and sustainable, which is why this book was so interesting to me.
**An American pig breed that is apparently related to the original pigs left by the Spanish conquistadors and early missionaries. And also apparently, as Alton Brown might say, good eats.