An Introduction To Pork: The Other White Meat
The genus and species for the pig whose meat ends up on our dinner tables is “Sus Linnaeus”. As a scientist, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to add the scientific name of the pig to the opening of this piece. It’s classified as an “Omnivore” which means it eats both animal and plant matter itself. The meat I referred to in the opening sentence is the “other white meat”, pork. I’ve actually never considered pork to be in the company of poultry, but a commercial from earlier this century described it as such. Throughout my life, the other white meat has stirred numerous emotions in those around me and has frequently been a discussion piece. With Thanksgiving 2021 approaching, it will likewise serve as the basis for this humorous reflection/story.
Pork In Children’s Media
“Th-Th-The…..Th-Th-The….THAT’S ALL FOLKS!” Before I get into the meat and potatoes of this piece, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the celebration of pork in pop culture. Perhaps the most famous cartoon pig is none other than “Porky Pig” from Warner Brothers “Looney Tunes” gang. Porky’s iconic ending for the cartoons featuring the famous cast of characters came to mind as I was close to preparing this piece for publishing.
There’s also “Ms. Piggy” from The Muppet Show and the “Pigs In Space” skit. “Piglet” was also one of “Winnie the Pooh’s” sidekicks. There was also the popular children’s story Charlotte’s Web about a pig which was eventually going to be used for a meal and a spider it befriended.
Perhaps my most memorable pig caricature didn’t come from TV though. It came on a summer visit to Atlanta, GA. My eldest cousin and an auntie had one of their many legendary dust ups while a bunch of us stepped out. When we returned to the house there was a picture of a cartoon pig in a colorful plaid shirt covering up a hole in the dry wall. Whatever the conflict was, my cousin unleashed her frustrations there. Ahhhhh family.
Pork In The Movies
“My God. You killed a fucking pig!” In one of my favorite movies of all time, the original Predator movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dutch Schafer, a pig became the topic of discussion. Late at night while trying to trap the alien predator hunting them down, a wild boar sprung one of the traps created by Dutch’s gradually shrinking elite special missions team. “Poncho” played by Richard Chavez observes that “Mack” played by Bill Duke has bludgeoned and killed the wild boar, instead of the alien he has become obsessed with.
Breathing heavily Mack returns a f-bomb to Poncho as “Billy” played by Sonny Lanham bellows out his characteristic laugh. The pig in this movie was more of a supporting character if you will, but there are also movies where the animal was featured in the title. Two examples are Wild Hogs starring John Travolta and Ray Liotta. There’s also silly early 1980s film Porky’s.
“We have some tomatoes, sausage and nice CRISPY bacon!” This classic line is from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring movie. In this iconic scene, the four Hobbit protagonists camped out at “Weathertop”. They were in the early stages of the quest to destroy the one ring. Frodo played by Elijah Wood wakes up to see Merry played by Dominic Monaghan (quoted), Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Sam (Sean Astin) preparing a hearty snack which unfortunately alerts the Nazgul (the Ring Wraiths) to their presence.
“I want to eat some of those HOG MAWS! I want to eat some of those PIG FEET!” This final iconic movie scene that I’ll cite comes from Ice Cube’s classic comedy, Friday. In this early scene in the movie, Craig (Ice Cube) is in the refrigerator foraging for food. Mr. Jones played by the late John Witherspoon, finds Craig and mischievously chastises his son for eating up all the food and for losing his job.
Hail The Hogs And Hog Heaven
This may all sound absurd to you as the reader, but pork has also been celebrated in the sports world. During the former Washington Redskins championship run under Head Coach Joe Gibbs, their offensive line was nicknamed “The Hogs”. They were large and imposing and ‘hogged’ the line of scrimmage to the benefit of their many great running backs. While many people lamented the Native American symbolism, many passionate Redskins fans also wore pig snouts in the stands to show their support for their beloved franchise.
Finally, the University of Arkansas-Fayettville’s sole national championship on the basketball court was nicknamed “Hog Heaven” by Sports Illustrated. The school mascot for Coach Nolan Richardon’s Arkansas basketball team was the “Razorback” which is basically once again a wild boar. An avid college basketball fan at the time, that was a memorable championship for numerous reasons. One of the biggest was President Bill Clinton, an Arkansas native and his wife Hillary attended the national championship game. Okay now I’ll get on with the main discussion of this piece which involves pork as a food.
Our Early Diet And Proteins
Mom, who cooked for us most of the time, never prepared or served pork to my brother and me when we were growing up. That said, we could have it on occasion, particularly on our pizza (pepperoni) on Friday nights. Those Friday nights in Buffalo, which I have fond memories of, were our designated eating out nights where the cuisine was either Burger King, Chinese food or pizza and wings.
For those of you who don’t know, one of Buffalo’s signature cuisines is pizza and wings. You can get them on pretty much any of the main arteries of the city. My brother and I readily ordered pepperoni on our pizza and it’s still something I order on my pizza these days, along with mushrooms.
If you ever go to Buffalo, by the way, you must get the pizza and wings with blue cheese. Most any restaurant will do, but some of the bigger pizza restaurants are the Anchor Bar, Bocce’s, La Nova’s, Leonardi’s and Santora’s. There are also lesser-known pizzerias like Avenue Pizza and Just Pizza. You know you’ve got the real thing when the pepperoni slices curl up into little cups with oil pooled in the middle. Seriously.
Oh. One more Buffalo/Western New York-related treat you absolutely must try if you haven’t, is the “Sahlen’s” hotdogs which are made with pork and beef. I have wonderful childhood memories of consuming the long and flavorful hotdogs at church picnics and barbecues. When grilled over coals, the casings develop a signature ‘crunch’ when you bite into them. Many Buffalonians fiend for the Sahlen’s hotdogs when they move away and even order them for consumption at their current home.
My family had beef more readily when we ate out, but our proteins at home consisted mostly of fish and poultry. Though you might not expect it, Buffalo also has its share of steak shops similar to those found in Philadelphia. The “City of Brotherly Love” is known for its cheese steaks, and we also have them in Buffalo.
A Porkless Diet
Some of you may be wondering how one could grow up not eating pork chops, pork ribs, pork bacon or “souse“, but it is entirely possible. For those who don’t know what souse is, it’s pickled, specially seasoned chopped pork parts (ears, for example) held together in a gel-type of substance. If you ever go to Miami for example, you can get it at most barbecue rib shacks along with “rib sandwiches”.
By the way, a rib sandwich isn’t a sandwich per se. At one of these shacks, I actually asked how you could eat a sandwich with the bones still in the meat, and they looked at me like I was crazy. It’s just a portion of ribs served with white bread on the side in a styrofoam container.
Finally, pork never made it onto our holiday dinner tables. There was no holiday ham, or chitterlings (aka chittlins). To this day I’ve never tried chitterlings. My late grandmother made them for the above-mentioned anonymous aunt one time. It might’ve been Thanksgiving. They stunk up the entire hallway and from childhood on, I was never interested in them.
For the older generations, other parts of the pig were popular too such as pickled pig feet. I was never interested in those either. It’s also worth noting that vegetables like collard greens were often made tastier when cooked with pork, but there are other methods today.
Dad’s Aversion To Pork
“There’s no pork in this right?” I’d made a pot of Jambalaya with chicken and sausage as the featured proteins, one of Emiril LaGasse’s succulent recipes. Before scooping some out, Dad saw fit to verify that I wasn’t about to poison him with the “swine”. In Black Muslim circles, pork is referred to as swine. I knew of Dad’s aversion to pork and wouldn’t dare think of feeding him the other white meat.
“No Dad, there’s no pork in it,” I said, partially smiling. Knowing of his disdain of pork, I was both surprised but not surprised to hear his suspicion that I would attempt to feed it to him.
I don’t recall when Dad became averse to pork and pork products. One of the many books he had laying around his home was How To Eat To Live, by the legendary Honorable Elijah Muhammad of the Nation of Islam. I first heard of the book in the song Beef, by the rapper KRS-One in my teens, a song that I might still have mostly memorized. In any case, yes, Dad became averse to anything pork-related at some point.
Any of you who have read my writings up to this point know that my Dad has told me interesting stories over the years. Several have involved pork. One of my favorites that I first heard was when I lived with him in my early 30s as I was transitioning into my federal science career. Read on to see it for yourself. During that two-and-a-half-year stretch, we got how shall I say, better acquainted, as my parents divorced when I was three years old.
Beef Chop Suey: The Breakfast Of Champions……For A Little While At Least……
Dad was a man of routines, especially when it came to his diet. Part of his routine involved getting Beef Chop Suey from one of the local Chinese restaurants. He would have it for breakfast on Friday mornings. In fact, he was so regular that he said they knew what he was going to order whenever he walked in the door.
“What’s Up?”, I’d wake up seeing him bent over his kitchen counter in his undershirt and boxers, eating the protein, vegetables, and rice out of the Tupperware he warmed it up in. He was in a state of euphoria as he gobbled it down. It would be his biggest meal of the day because he, “Ate breakfast like King, lunch like a Prince, and dinner like a Pauper!”
Dad’s kitchen smelled good on those Friday mornings when he nuked his Beef Chop Suey. Just like the Long John Silver’s fish planks he ate on Thursday night; it was like clockwork. Then one day, the beef chop suey stopped abruptly.
“I think they put pork in my Beef Chop Suey. After I ate it, I could feel little things running across my body!” He acted out the sensation, moving his fingers in a piano-playing motion from his right side to his left side. He was convinced. It’s one of my favorite father-son moments of all time and it makes me laugh every time I think about it. It was possible, I guess. I also noticed that he would change his routines every now then just to ‘do something different.’
Dad’s Most Astounding Pork Story
Dad’s most powerful pork story, though, involved some of relatives from down south. I never met them because of the divorce. He told me that these people ate pork all the time, in addition to putting mayonnaise on everything. By the way mayonnaise, just like cheese, does make most everything taste better, though it is loaded with calories. I think using them together in a meal on a burger, for example, is considered “doubling your fats”.
“My one cousin ate so much pork that he started to look like a hog!” This one claim from Dad is forever etched into my mind verbatim. It also makes me laugh every time I think about it. It was like a classmate from South Carolina at Johnson C. Smith University. This individual insisted that he witnessed someone’s limb regrow as the person was prayed over during a church service. Like Dad’s pork story, I wondered if this classmate was delusional, imagined it or if the story was true.
“His face started to elongate into a snout, and his ears actually started to become pointy like those of a pig,” Dad said with conviction, once again affirming that he saw what he thought he saw. If it sounds like a fantastic story to you, the reader, imagine how I felt listening to it in real time.
You Are What You Eat
In any case, maybe the Honorable Elijah Muhammad was right in that you are what you eat. In closing, I’ve never officially sworn off pork myself. I still like it on my pizza, and there’s nothing like the crunch and the taste of pork bacon or a fried pork chop every once in a while.
My best friend and my Uncle “Ice” also both prepare very, very tasty barbecue pork ribs albeit in different ways. The Midwest is in fact known for its barbecue which includes the afore mentioned ribs, but also pulled pork sandwiches. Finally there’s also nothing like a Sausage McMuffin with Egg (and cheese) from McDonalds; again, every once and a while.
Pork is also a popular protein in the cuisines of other countries and ethnicities. Look at pretty much any Asian or Latin American menu for example, and you’ll see several pork-based dishes available. As a postdoctoral scientist in a lab with mostly Chinese colleagues, I noticed that pork was a very popular protein at our lab gatherings. I recall a Canadian friend of West Indian descent ordering some “Jerk Pork” one night in Toronto, ON. Chicago is known for its Polish Sausages, which are very, very good. I’ve also heard individuals from Pennsylvania discuss a Dutch pork dish called “Scrapple”. Finally, there’s the stereotypical whole roasted pig with the apple in its mouth at Hawaiian luaus.
The Author’s Post Thoughts/Reflections
“I WON’T GET MAD AT YOU IF YOU DECIDE NOT TO EAT IT. BUT DON’T TELL ME NOT TO EAT IT EITHER!” If you haven’t deduced it from this piece, pork consumption can be a big deal depending on your values and the circle you come from. At a church service years ago, a clergyman whom I’ll call Pastor Gray of the Jordan River Missionary Baptist Church in Buffalo, NY started passionately preaching about eating pork.
It was probably a bit of a pushback on the resurgence the Nation of Islam’s doctrines at that time. One of their biggest teachings of course involved not eating pork. Those doctrines were reenergized by the conscious Hip Hop music of the time (the late 1980s and early 1990s). When he got deep into his sermons, Pastor Gray became very passionate. His high-pitched voice ascended to a bit of a scream or a wail, a hallmark of many black preachers. His passion would startle you back to consciousness if you just happened to doze off for a moment.
I told this story here on Big Words Authors partially out of humor. However, it also is a bit of a thought piece. My mother was very vigilant about our diets early on. I’m very grateful for that as the majority of her dietary habits have stayed with me. We never got sick much and to this day I still don’t. As we all age, it’s also important to be mindful of our diets and incorporating more fresh fruits and vegetables.
I didn’t always understand his eating habits and his eating schedule. That said, Dad’s avoidance of pork may be a contributor to a relatively healthy life. Perhaps it is true that, “You are what you eat!” The opening quote of this piece, by the way, comes from the afore-mentioned song by KRS-One Beef.
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