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December 20, 2010

Be forewarned, this post is going to a deep dark place.

I have ham envy.  I do.  The only ham I grew up with was sliced deli ham for the occasional ham sandwich.  It’s one of those odd quirks of being raised in a Reform Jewish home.  Ham sandwiches were fine but a ham dinner would have been out of the question.

Bacon and sausage for breakfast weren’t a problem.  But nobody was serving pork chops for our evening meal.  Cheeseburgers were fine though.  My family would even eat moo shoo pork when we went out for Chinese food.

Naturally, the end result of this experiment in depravation was a dramatically increased appetite and enthusiasm for all things pork-tastic.  This just happens to be the season for ham, so it’s at the top of my mind.

Maybe you will have ham for Christmas dinner.  Maybe you will even take me up on my favorite wine pairing with the joint.  Maybe you will have to endure a lot for it.  You know, like putting up with family, or taking a long airplane flight and getting shoved into a middle seat.

But imagine if you had to spend your entire life in that seat.

Turns out that’s how pigs get made in this country.  They are called gestation cages, and momma pigs get shoved in them, and they don’t get to move.  Like, at all.  They sit there and go crazy and get sores and infections.  Their babies then get turned into your hams.  And my hams too.  And my ham hocks, and my bacon and my hot dogs.

As much as I would like to, I do not eat foods exclusively made by small local farms with humane animal husbandry practices.  The siren song of the bacon and the hot dog bring me crashing to the rocks.

Granted, the above example is a gross oversimplification.  Not all U.S. pork is produced using gestation cages.  But have you seen the video from the Humane Society about the production of pigs at Smithfield, the country’s largest pork producer?

It’s stunning.

Now I have no illusions about where meat comes from or what is involved to produce it.  Frankly, it is one of the reasons I don’t eat much of the stuff, and try to find the best meat I can when I choose to indulge.

In this case “the best” could refer to two things.  One is meat that was raised and processed with the utmost respect for the welfare of the animal and the land. The other is meat that is just so damned tasty I’m willing to take the karmic plunge for its cruel treatment and environmental degradation in exchange for my pleasure.

As far as I am concerned it’s one of the reasons the Tour de Hot Dog is actually important and not just an exercise in gluttony.  You know, to determine which of those joints makes a hot dog that is truly worth sacrificing my principles about meat and animal husbandry.

That said, please, for the love of all that is good and holy, if you are going to buy an impossibly delicious HoneyBaked Ham this year READ THE DIRECTIONS FIRST BEFORE YOU RUIN IT!

Do not heat it up.  Do nothing to it, besides bring it to room temperature.

If you are one of those people who insist that food needs to be hot for it to constitute a meal, please do not consider the purchase of a HoneyBaked Ham.  Yes, you will make it hot.  But it will destroy the perfect harmony of water and salt and glaze that some poor sentient creature had to suffer for so that you could enjoy it.

And you should enjoy it.  Ham is delicious stuff.  But if you can find one from a small-scale farm that takes good care of its animals and lets them engage in their natural activities you can enjoy your meal without the side of guilt.  Regrettably HoneyBaked doesn’t offer that as an option.  Lucky for them, their ham is simply fantastic.

Perhaps you will consider joining me and Christina from the From Scratch Club in sending a Christmas card to Paula Deen.  She’s the spokesperson for Smithfield.  And while I cannot imagine she knew about this practice before signing on with them, she certainly knows now.  I believe that she has a good heart, but she may need some more positive encouragement to exit her contract than the good denizens of the Internet are currently providing to her Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Merry Christmas.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 20, 2010 11:20 am

    Phenomenal Post.

  2. December 20, 2010 11:26 pm

    Great post on so many levels- very comprehensive & thoughtful.

    Thank you for linking to our blog, more specifically, my labor-of-love {weekend reading} national edition (sometimes I wonder why I spend hours making that post every week) Merry Christmas!

  3. December 21, 2010 12:03 am

    You should really think about joining an affordable meat CSA (like Tilldale Farms in Hoosick, they have Albany pick-ups, once a month now in winter). We’ve been eating their humanely raised, environmentally-conscience, organic, grass-fed beef and pork all year and IT…IS…GOOD! And affordable. And the farmer’s are nice/informed. Give it a try!

  4. December 24, 2010 9:15 pm

    That’s… bizarre. So basically, the Honey-Baked ham, that beautiful dinner-table centerpiece, is only supposed to be used as lunchmeat? ‘Cause honestly, the idea of a big, fancy holiday dinner with a tepid ham is just freakin’ weird. I can’t imagine it. Dinner meats are supposed to be hot, case closed.


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