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What has made me happy today: fat!

OK, the information content there was just about zero, because every post here is about fat in one way or another. The particular kind of fat, though, is the kind which routinely gets trimmed off of meat, so that when you buy a cut, there's just a tiny little shaving between an eighth and a sixteenth of an inch.

Well, it's Yuletide; the solstice is tomorrow, and I want to cook a pork roast in honor of the great boar hunt of the ancient Northern solstice celebration. However, many pigs now are bred to be excessively lean, because "we all know that fat in meat is bad for you." My goal was to find some butcher, somewhere, who could sell me a roast with fat on it.

After being told, "Nobody cuts their own meat anymore," and "No one wants meat with fat on it," I finally wangled a referral to a small butcher shop pretty close to our house, one I'd never heard of. Daughter L. and I visited the charming old butcher man, and we did find a suitable roast for the celebration. Not only did it have a good 3/4 inch of fat on it, there was skin as well.

"Do I take it off?" I asked.

He laughed a little. "That's where all the flavor is! You can cut it off after cooking, put it in the oven, and bake it for 10 minutes or so to make cracklings."

Now cracklings are this legendary pork-skin treat I had heard of only through the Little House books; definitely something held over from the nineteenth century.

The nice old butcher "chimed" the roast for us; that is, he cut it so that the ribs were disjointed and would be easy to carve. Mr. B. and I went out to pick it up the next day, and had another good chat with him about the demise of neighborhoods and of old skills - how there are so few meat cutters left; how meat cutting now is done by robots and lasers in big facilities, and how as the traditional meat cutters vanish, very few are there to take their place. With all that standardization, if someone at the top decides that you don't get any fat on your meat because of breeding, genetic engineering, or trimming, well, you mostly have no choice but to buy the standardized "product."

It's like that with all the old skills. The butcher man said, "I have people in my family, people with two, three million dollar houses and huge kitchens, and they eat out every night."

I have no doubt that if there was any possible way, people would be encouraged to "breed" as in the film Gattaca, where everyone was expected to be genetically engineered to be "perfect," and those whose parents refused to take part were relegated to the bottom rungs of society. Fat would be bred out of us just as it is out of those pigs, and what's left over would be ruthlessly "trimmed" in one way or another. If that seems like a dark perspective, well, this is the darkest night, and it can't help but affect my mood a bit.

But that old man made me happy, because he left me with some hope that in the midst of all the commercial standardization, there *are* people still working and living as traditional craftsmen, as individuals standing in their own quiet ways against mass processing. Similarly, with all the standardized images of love and sexual attractiveness, there's still room for loving fat people. He also encouraged me to dig my heels in a bit more against the cold dark tide of modernity; to love fat men and fat in food, especially in meat and butter and cheese, in the old recipes of both love and cooking. For there's no reason to fear either.


(P.S. I had to go to a UK cookery page to find a picture of a pork roast with a respectable blanket of fat - and notice, the skin is on, too.)

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September 2013

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