I think not!
As promised in my last post about my local-vore diet being incredibly healthy despite what the vast majority of of people eating the modern, western diet allow themselves to believe, this post will focus on lard.
First though I want to mention two comments that were made by readers of my last post. One was a request for information on sourcing ingredients in urban environments in order to eat local and eat well. I’ll address this at the end of the post.
The other comment was a single word – genes. Firstly, the reader deserves kudos for an awe inspiring literary prowess. Summing up an argument in a single word so effectively is something at which I’ve never excelled (you’ve read my blogs right? Verbose much?) and the reader’s comment is still making me smile days later. Aside from the nature in which it was delivered however, the argument has no power. Unable to refute it with a single word I will instead ask two questions.
First, prior to about the 1920’s what did the vast majority of people in the United States eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Second, at any point in history before that time where were all the people with diabetes, heart disease, diet related cancers, who were overweight or obese?
The fact is that for the entire span of human history, but for the last 70-100 years depending on your location, people have eaten like me. In the morning you ate the eggs you’d gathered from the hens outside your door or stole from a nest in the woods, drank and cooked with the whole milk you’d collected from the cow or goat or sheep or horse (for interesting information on this I recommend Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History series on Mongols). For lunch and supper people ate the vegetables they either harvested fresh from the garden, collected from the woods and fields or brought up from the root cellar, mixed with whatever fresh, frozen, salted or smoked meat they themselves had raised, caught, slaughtered, butchered and preserved. As to the second question I’ll save you the trouble of looking up the data. People with the problems I mentioned just didn’t exist. In fact, when the did pop up it was such an anomaly that we remember them through history.
If, for some reason you don’t believe this you can discover it for yourself. Look at photos from the early part of the last century. Read books written at the time. Read poetry and look at paintings. Art has a tendency to offer fairly accurate reflections of contemporary society.
Before I get too far afield I need to remind myself of my own self interest. If you don’t believe what you’re reading, that saturated fats in combination with lots of vegetables (raised and grown properly) is a key to human health that’s ok. You can continue to listen to your doctors tell you that you need to cut out fats, eat more carbohydrates and whole grains and fiber and continue to be frustrated that your weight, blood sugar, heart rate and pressure and bad cholesterol won’t come down. If this describes you it may be time to do your own research. What you’ll find is what many people have been saying since the 1970’s and what a now healthy (intended) body of research corroborates. Our species used to eat the way we did for a very good reason…it was good for us.
I’m not here to give medical advice or even food advice – eat what and be how you want. I’m here to tell you how I eat and remind you that my diet has a lot in common with a healthier, earlier version of ‘us’. And part of that diet now consists of foods containing and/or cooked in lard.
If you want to make lard you need to start with fats from healthy pigs that lived the way pigs have lived forever. That means the pigs had to live outside on a mixture of forest and grasslands. Before the advent of the industrialized hog ‘farm’ there was more genetic diversity in the country’s (and the world’s for that matter) pig population. Indeed, many breeds existed which produced an especially high quality fat. These were lard pigs as opposed to meat pigs. At my farm I raise a cross between a pure bred Large Black and a Duroc/Landrace mix. From this combination I get piglets that are a good compromise between a meat and lard pig. Once the butcher has given me the nicely cut and wrapped Fat back and Leaf Lard I need to cut it up.
This is another great way for children to be involved in the processes surrounding their food. Here my son is helping me load the crock pot, asking great questions and learning about how and why I cook what I cook as well as why I’ve built our life around farming the way I do.
You need to render the fat from the meat that is marbled within it at a very, very, very low temperature and thereby do so slowly. Ideally, I would like to have a gas stove with a pilot light. You can render pork by putting it into a pot on a burner overnight with just the pilot light beneath the pot. But I don’t have that luxury. Instead I used the crock pot set on low. The next time I render lard I’m going to put in a lot less and use the ‘warming’ setting. That way I can avoid the problem you see with the small jar on the left below. That’s the last of the lard that was poured from the pot and it has picked up the color, flavor and odor of the cracklins (By the way ‘cracklins’ are in and of themselves worth rendering lard. Best egg sandwiches I’ve ever made). There’s nothing wrong with that really except that it makes things cooked in that lard taste like bacon. That’s OK for my eggs every morning but if I want to make a pie crust I’ll use the pure, snow white lard that came out of the pot first.
Now, as promised here’s some advice on locating quality animal fats. You can always simply use a search engine to locate farmers who raise pigs or chickens or whatever animal from which you wish to render fat. The Maine Organic Farmer’s and Gardener’s Association has a great resource as well. Mofga.net is a searchable database and you can limit your search by county and type of product you need. Don’t search for lard. You need to search for pigs or pork. Get a list of farmers who offer what you need and start emailing or calling. As always, ask if it’s ok if you visit the farm. Remember a farmer’s time is incredibly valuable and be respectful and flexible. But if a farmer won’t let you come and see the farm there’s a reason. Say thank you and move on.
If you live in another state I know there are other organic and sustainable ag groups in nearly every one. You can also attend farmers markets in the spring, summer and fall (as well as winter in some cases. Hampden has a winter market for instance.) and start having conversations with farmers about your food and how to get what you need. Just because you don’t see something on a farmer’s table doesn’t mean he/she doesn’t offer it. Also, many times you can find someone who does by asking someone. I’m always happy to point people in the right direction, even if that direction is away from my farm and toward another farmer who offers the items for which they’re looking (as long as I agree with the farmer’s methods).
Remember to start your conversations and searches early. You should not expect to call a farmer in February and come up with much other than a suggestion that you call back later in the year or put down money on a share for the coming season. Small-scale farmers cannot just raise a bunch of pigs or chickens or turkeys or lettuce in the hope that enough random people are going to randomly call them in the winter. We raise that for which we think we have a market. If you want to be healthier, feel better and show your taste buds some love at the same time, maybe you can be that market. Local Food. Eat well – be well.