Local food is overrated

At least that’s what Heath Putnam says on his blog. And he has a point: their is no direct correlation between quality and size or proximity. But to listen to the food writers, it’s nearly quantifiable.

There are many reasons to seek out local products: support the local economy, perhaps environmentally better, for example. But to just say local or small is automatically better is wrong.

And the bias denies us of great food. I love Michael Ruhlman’s contention (I believe it was in The Reach of a Chef) that FedEx has done more than any single company to change the way we eat; an Iowan can have fresh black truffles shipped overnight.

Finding a local specialty is always a special treat, no matter where it is. But there is no way that I’ll say, for example, Maytag makes the best blue just because it’s produced ninety minutes away.

A match

I understand the appeal of bacon in forms other than cured pig-belly meat. Bacon wallets, bacon bandages, bacon T-shirts. I’m still trying to find bacon gum. (Just think: Chicklet-style crispy outside, juicy inside. Mmm.)

But a friend just gave me what might be the next best thing to bacon gum: Uncle Oinker’s Savory Bacon Mints. (Purchased, he says, at The Machine Shed Restaurant, the Iowa’s answer to Cracker Barrel.) The ingredients list “bacon and mint flavors,” but I taste a sweet smoke flavor with a hint of mint and not much pork. The manufacturer, a Seattle company called Accoutrements, says on its Web site that “mint and bacon is a match made in Heaven.”

That description isn’t as apt as the old version, available via Google’s cache, that has one subtle-yet-key difference. “It may sound weird but once you taste it,” it reads, “you’ll see that mint and bacon is a match made in China.”

Another bacon item, too good to let languish in the comments: bacon cake with beer (and by the looks of it, well-aged beer). At least as awesome, but not fitting with the fake bacon theme, is this real bacon cake.

Countdown to slaughter

On my calendar, on the square for Feb. 28, it says simply “Kill Pig.”

Nine months ago, I held a two-day-old piglet in my hands. She was about the size of a chihuahua. The pig was clean, warm and soft. The pig struggled a little because I wasn’t her mother, and her hooves, not yet worn smooth, were sharp against my bare forearms.

Still, before this month is over, I will have killed her.

When I called to arrange the date, I had expected to do some convincing. I was surprised how unfazed he was when I called to set the date and said I wanted to shoot and stick the beast myself. To him, of course, this is the way of the world: animals become meat just as blossoms become fruit. To the man standing next to me when I do just that, it will be another day at work.

Still, butchers distance themselves from their work. They have their own euphemisms: animals, for example, aren’t slaughtered, they’re harvested. They joke about the blood and guts.

On the one hand I hope I can distance myself in the same way. On the other, I hope I feel the full impact of my intended action.

NPR on slow cookers

I wrote about the necessity of slow cookers in every Midwesterner’s kitchen. NPR’s Web site has an ode to the device (text only, no audio).

There’s something incredibly satisfying about coming home hungry on a snowy winter’s day and breathing in the savory scent of pork braised in wine — especially when it’s ready to eat when you walk in the door.That’s the beauty of the slow cooker.

Recipes, too.

Death of a Pig by E.B. White

Today’s post isn’t news; it’s exactly 60 years old this month. But because of the blog’s name, it gets a lot of hits from people looking for E.B. White’s essay “Death of a Pig,” the forerunner of his children’s book Charlotte’s Web. It is rightfully held up as a example of how a writer doesn’t have to use flowery language to convey personality.

The opening paragraph:

I spent several days and nights in mid-September with an ailing pig and I feel driven to account for this stretch of time, more particularly since the pig died at last, and I lived, and things might easily have gone the other way round and none left to do the accounting. Even now, so close to the event, I cannot recall the hours sharply and am not ready to say whether death came on the third night or the fourth night. This uncertainty afflicts me with a sense of personal deterioration; if I were in decent health I would know how many nights I had sat up with a pig.

Anyway, I recently dug up a link to the full text for a class and offer it up — and implore you to read it. 60 years old and it’s still beautiful prose.

Augusta in Oxford

Two guys who left New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina made life there unbearable, Scott Attias and Ben Halperin, have opened a restaurant called Augusta (after the street it’s on) in Oxford, Iowa. I have heard good things in the week and a half since it opened.

My friend Emily Grosvenor wrote a nice story about the latest piece — well, the only piece — of the Oxford dining scene. My impression is that it’s going for the same type of business and atmosphere as Mount Vernon’s Lincoln Café (locally focused food in a restaurant that they hope becomes “ a destination — but also be a place locals can come to for good food,” as Scott, a former co-worker of mine, told Emily) .

Good luck to them.

Killing is killing is killing

The sentiments expressed in today’s letters responding to last week’s piece on the importance some chefs place on animal slaughter aren’t surprising. (I had a similar discussion with a reader in the comments section.) The meat-eating debate often seems to be the gastronomic equivalent of the abortion debate: both sides so entrenched — and not even arguing over the same basic points — that there is no way to reach a middle ground.

Anti-meat-eating letter writer Kathryn Dalenberg is right: “Killing innocent life is killing is killing is killing.”

But so is pro-meat-eating Mary Hammett: “If you can not look a Mediterranean daurade in the eye, you have no right to eat it!”

The problem is that often we have a hard time understanding how someone can both respect an animal and kill (and eat) it. Doug Havel has been butchering for over two decades, beginning on disassembly line and now in his own small abattoir (and I’m glad that Heritage Food USA partner Sarah Obraitis points out that small slaughterers are the vital connection between family farms and consumers). The first pig he ever slaughtered his dad’s pet Fred: “Then he was Dead Fred.”

It is possible to respect animals and still kill and eat them. But yes, it is still killing. And killing is killing is killing, no matter how humanely or carefully or respectfully it is done.

Not a bad recipe — for a copy editor

John McIntyre, The Baltimore Sun‘s assistant managing editor for the copy desk (he does wear a bow tie but not a green eye shade), is a Kentuckian by birth. His blog usually deals with the precision of language, but today it offers an imprecise recipe for his mama’s fried chicken. The tricks, as far as he could tell (remember, he is a man of the copy desk, not a man of the kitchen), are small pieces of chicken, cracker breading and a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet.

I may just have to give it a try.