I'd run across Libbie Summers on the Twitters, and was looking forward to her book, The Whole Hog Cookbook -- nose to tail, heritage, etc., in a way maybe a trifle more accessible than Fergus Henderson. I was looking forward to seeing the book. And it's a handsome book -- interesting receipts, well articulated and well photographed. These virtues make the book's glaring liability all the more disappointing. The book begins by laying out Summers's assocations with hogs, and proceeds to a discussion of artisanal pork and runs through descriptions of heritage breeds. All very useful, and all very inspiring. And then:
"Armed with this information, you now have the luxury of being selective. But let's be honest. Let's be real. Not everyone has access to a corner butcher or farm that boasts heritage-bred and pasture-raised organic pork."
True enough. But, Summers continues:
"And that's okay, because you can still buy exceptional pork from a family run business at your local grocery store."
That family-run business? Smithfield. The notion that a cornerstone of the big ag meat oligopoly is somehow just like an organic/heritage/artisanal pork producer because it is not publicly held is the sort of late capitalist hallucination that would have Fred Jameson reaching for the smelling salts. What's more, the branding permeates the book, up to and including little logos next to trademarked meat products.
The Cod was pretty indignant at first. The idea that the difference between, say, a hog from Caw Caw Creek is to Smithfield meat products as, say, Cognac is to Armagnac puts the whole fautisanal enterprise in the shade. Summers works w/ Paula Deen, who shills for Smithfield. So, is The Whole Hog Cookbook a diabolical effort to coopt the heritage/artisanal meats movement for Big Ag?
In short, how do we read this cookbook? I read a bit, and this fall, have spent a bit of time with two chestnuts that constantly challenge the reader to decide how seriously to take them. The Whole Hog Cookbook is shorter than Moby-Dick, and more exciting than The Scarlet Letter, but like those books, we can't afford to dismiss the idea that as DHL said of Hawthorne's jawn, this is a colossal satire.
Nobody would write a book hailing nose-to-tail heritage pork, and then suggest that cryovaced loins sliced from factory hogs by harassed and beleagured assembly line workers are just as good. It would be impossible to take that book seriously. Summers is winking at us, cashing checks from Smithfield/Deen, and actually telling us that we need to find local and sustainable food, right? I sure hope so.