Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"They Actually Eat That:" Sausage and Pork Rinds.

Every so often, you will find someone (possibly an Avatar fan) who wishes that we all were living off the land like Native Americans. Prod them enough and you will no doubt receive a speech about how the natives used every part of the buffalo to the point of using the eyes as lollipops. They will also chew you out for eating livestock simply because modern Americans do not do that.

Lies and taffy. We make use of every part of the pig. Not as majestic as the buffalo, but hey, it's still making the most of the animal.

First off, most of the pigs we eat are coming from horrible conditions. They are not happy pigs on a farm like Wilbur in Charlotte's Web. We wish that were the case - really, we do - but the food industry is called an industry for a reason.

In the U.S., there is a practice called factory farming which forces pigs into tiny metal cages. If the Simpsons Movie has taught us anything, it is that pigs, though cute, are also very unsanitary animals. Imagine what it must be like to be in a room with hundreds of sick, pooping pigs with no way out. Worse, imagine what it must be like to give birth in such an environment.

Before I hear "oh, they're just dumb animals that are lower on the food chain," pigs are smarter than dogs. True, they are still ungulates, but they should not be portrayed as "dumb." If you avoid dog meat because dogs are "intelligent," pig meat should be taboo as well. This is a very strange, disturbing double standard in the American mindset.

Enough about how the piggies are caged. They're going to become meat, anyways - and how!

Sausage is our first stop when talking about exactly how well we use pigs. Ham is a fairly common meat wherever there are pigs, but most people do not eat the innards (except for the ancient Greeks, who apparently relished the intestines and livers of their meals). The intestines and other miscellaneous organs that most of us recoil at wind up in sausages of all flavors and varieties.

There are millions of different sorts of sausage, and not all of them are from pigs, but they all boil down to this: Animal organs and other spare, but edible parts wrapped in either genuine intestine or a waxy synthetic casing. Some sausages have blood in them; others have "mystery meat," which is exactly what it sounds like ("we don't know WHAT'S in there, but it came from something"). They usually have a lot of spices and herbs in there to conceal that you are, in fact, eating exactly what most people would not want to eat.

Do you know what's in that? It almost looks like there's a claw on that bun...

This came about as a good way of preserving animal bits that were left on the butcher's floor. Practicality came first; then people decided to try and make sausages tasty. That they could be containing anything is still a little creepy.

So we have a good use for most of the innards of the pig, but what about the outside? Pig skin is no longer good for wearing (it was when they had fur), so people do the next best thing: Eat it.


Pork rinds are, well, pork rinds. They are strips of pig skin fried and puffed like potato chips. They practically are potato chips; they have very little nutritional value and a lot of fat and salt. Pork rinds, also called "cracklings" in the U.S. or "scratchings" in Britain, are often eaten as a snack food. Many varieties of pork rinds have a little bit of flesh and fat still in there after being puffed and deep-fried; therein lies the charm.

This bag is not even trying to conceal the horror.

It's probably a good thing that most people buy the pre-packaged puffed pigskins. The more one thinks about pork rinds, the weirder they sound.


The hooves, snouts, and ears do not go to waste, either. Okinawan, Chinese, and Korean cuisine sport dishes of pig hooves; look at one's local pet store and one will find dried pigs' ears sold as dog toys. See? We use every part of the animal for something; it's just kinda gross, so we do not talk about it much. 

Next week: SPAM deserves an article all to itself.

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