The Privileged Role of Pork

In Slate, Sara Dickerman on pork:

The pig has powerful mojo in the world of cooking. We enjoy eating every bit of it: flesh, blood, and skin. We adore it for its versatility—for its fat, for the way it flusters anhedonists. One of the chicest things a chef or committed foodie can do today is pick up a whole pig from an organic farm and portion it out, cooking its defrosted chops and trotters for months to come. Perhaps that is why, over the past year or so, I have noticed the development of what I call the piggy confessional.

In the piggy confessional, a dead pig—usually killed, butchered, or eaten by the author—provokes a meditation on the ethics and aesthetics of eating. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan hunts and bags a wild pig. At the time of the kill, he reeled with disgust, but he later found a circle-of-life resolution in a meal of it. There is also Peter Kaminsky’s wonderful 2005 eulogy to the ham, Pig Perfect; and in his cooking memoir Heat, Bill Buford studiously dissects a whole pig that he hauled from the green market to his apartment. On TV, tough guys Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay have both broken down after watching pigs die (in Bourdain’s case, at the tip of a spear he was wielding). On the Web, Seattle chef Tamara Murphy documented the life of a litter of pigs from birth to banquet. And in a less culinary mood, both Pete Wells, the new dining editor at the New York Times, who wrote a 2005 piece for Oxford American, and Nathanael Johnson, who wrote for Harper’s in May, have offered harrowing glimpses at the lives of industrial pigs—raised in secrecy and so alienated from their brethren that some have died of shock after a door slam.