FWIW, here's Corby Kummer's take on the book that we've been discussing here. FOC Gastropoda pointed out that the Whole Hog Cookbook had gotten a writeup in the Times not long before I shared my thoughts on the book. Gastropoda wondered, "what was a promotional book doing in the NYT"? My guess was that a danger of a holiday cookbook roundup is that with a giant stack of promo cookbooks, it's easy for stuff to slip through the cracks. I figured Kummer didn't know about the Smithfield connection. Turns out, he knew but didn't really care:
Thanks to Bourdain for sharing my reservations about a cookbook, and taking that conversation from the literally dozens of readers the Cod has to his considerably larger audience. A few things, in hopes of steering the conversation in positive directions:
1) The Smithfield cobranding is a major problem for folks who care about eating responsibly, but there is a lot to like in the Whole Hog Cookbook, and I'm looking forward to Libbie Summers's next project. She has a good eye and a good palate.
2) Given the circumstances as they appear, Emile DeFelice has every right to be furious that pictures of his farm were used to promote Smithfield-branded product raised under very different circumstances. Check out his farm here, and buy his pork here.
3) In the meantime, if you are looking for a Southern-inflected cookbook by someone who is serious about working with local producers.* Hugh Acheson is the man, and a New Turn In The South is the book. Cookbooks either codify (MTAOFC, Lee Bros), or extend (Momofuku, Zuni, most socalled ethnic cookbooks). Acheson does a bit of both and rethinks a lot of Southern verities -- with exciting results.
*When they stopped selling pigs at my day job, and I needed a pig, I called Hugh, and he told me where to go, which turned out to be near Ila, GA. It was in the shadow of a bucket loader w/ my pig dangling from it that I formed my theory that it is impossible to talk to a Georgian for more than five minutes before Michael Adams is mentioned unfavorably.
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.
Yes, the picture (see left) illustrating the chicken skin jawn in DI/DO yesterday was, how you say... rather Ingres? But like, whatever, bro.
Except for PETA. This publicity-shy outfit broke its tradition of silence to opine: It's downright offensive, not just to people who care about animals but almost to everyone. It's a plucked, beheaded, young chicken in a young pose." The Cod was not wild about the initial illustration, but this makes the bones in his head hurt (more on those later). The general inference of the PETA beef is that the pose is inappropriately sexual. But, PETA's whole schtick is sexualizing animal rights issues, including a forthcoming porn site. So if selling stuff w/ sex is PETA's meat and potatoes, the only recourse remaining to them to criticize DI/DO is to claim that the chicken skin illustration is the wrong kind of porn -- thus one "plucked" amd two "young"s in the description of the image. I can check w/ my poultry scientists, but if I am correct that a commercial chicken's lifespan is measured in weeks, the category of "young" is not that helpful. The DI/DO image is creepy, yes, but it is not the avian kiddie porn PETA alleges.
They don't divulge the actual name, but the working title, "Jamie Oliver's Ethical Fish Fingers," is somehow about as creepy as having Tim Robbins's character from High Fidelity smell your hair, and then compliment you on it.
FOC Cmackadon frequents the same supermarkets as the Cod, and thus keenly felt the aforementioned chicken dilemma, where it's either the Tyson chicken, or the better chicken with Paula Deen's picture. Cmackadon was kind enough to share this elegant solution, which I share with you:
It's the beginning of the school year. And football season. Equals beer. Not quite Guiteau Monday country, but it's interesting to see a passage in America's paper of record that has all the logic of a Dali painting. Bittman gets with the beery zeitgeist the Sunday mag, and the receipts look decent, but in the accompanying article:
Guh? In a world where Bittman has gone straightedge vegan, (well, except for beer) and is touring w/ Minor Threat, maybe, but the three receipts include carnitas (made out of pigs) and a soup which contains bacon, not to mention actual chicken stock. So, agreed, beer is more flavorful than water, not sure that "more flavorful than any store-bought chicken stock" is true, or helpful. Sub the beer of your choice for stock the next six times you cook w/ stock, and let me know how it turns out. Some ruude lentiles du puy, I am guessing. And unless you are a Baptist, beer might be less ethically objectionable than canned stock, but you really lose your ethical gains if you are using beer with stock, not instead of stock. It's like putting sustainably harvested laces in your sweatshop Nikes. And subbing beer cup-for-cup instead of wine or liquor? This just makes my head hurt.
This short graf makes sense only in the context of a need for a graf after the one before it, and before the one after it. Thanks to my day job, I see a few grafs like this now and again. I suspect that many of them are the product of Adderall. I doubt that is the case here, but does the NYT hire folks to read stuff people write before they print it?
Until I was back in the SE, and in the market for some chicken (click to enlarge to see Paula in all her glory):
I confess, I considered buying the low end chicken instead -- the kind where they feed them to one another and shoot them full of Tetracycline, rather than walk out of the supermarket having purchased something w/ Deen's face on it. (Given my day job, buying groceries is always a small town adventure, but that's another story.)
If we take as a postulate here that there is some meaningful difference between Tyson chicken and Springer Mt. chicken, my reaction was more legitimately snobby and, you know, elitist, than what Bruni calls Bourdain out for. The Cod is no Cayce Pollard, what with her brand allergies, but is Deen-averse enough that this was a struggle -- the association with Smithfield is bad, her characatures of Southern foodways worse. Until Bruni's comment, or maybe the dawning of the age of Palinaquarius, it would not have occurred to me to feel bad about preferring things that are good to things that are not as good. I think Sean Brock and Hugh Acheson, to name two, do a better job representing the culinary possiblities of my adopted region than Deen does. It ain't all qunioa and sprouts with them, but they seem concerned about the impact of their food on both its sources and recipients. Is it bad to think that's better than deep frying butter on the Food Network?