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The Day No Pigs Should Die

Photo: Jennifer Causey

“I had a cholesterol test. They found bacon.” Bob Zany’s comedic punch line is still taped to the refrigerator in my mother’s kitchen, a declaration of a vegetarian lifestyle she has lived out since I was in middle school. Although we lived in urban Los Angeles, on a breezy hillside not far from the Pacific Ocean, Mom managed our household like a farm. She grew organic vegetables, planted fruit trees, and set aside a bed for cantaloupes. Blackberries and raspberries brightened the north fence; beef steaks, roasts, and organ meats filled a freezer in the garage.

But her healthy-living philosophy isn’t the reason I eat so little pork. I am not afraid of trichinosis. I do not reject hog meat because Old Testament dietary laws considered the pig unclean, or because it is a slave food forbidden by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. My attitude is not meant as a boycott of modern industrialized animal husbandry.

I had a situation with a pig.

Courtesy of Toni Tipton-Martin

Above: Tipton-Martin's grandfather Sidney A. Dunbar II, après goose hunt in Texas

I was probably 10 years old the day my parents and I drove to what we called the country, to a pig farm in the San Bernardino Valley, but the memory is burned in my mind. I was playing outside a white barn, when the throaty voice of a man yelling and high-pitched squealing blared from the other side. I shouldn’t have, but I peeked. There was a little fat, black pig, running around the pen, under the drooping belly of an enormous pink sow, trying desperately to escape the butcher. They knew what was coming; I didn’t. Going home, as post-traumatic shock set in, I vowed never to eat pork again. Ever.

Pork is the centerpiece that makes my Thanksgiving table festive. The ham is tender. A garnish of pineapple makes it sweet and delicious. The family drools with anticipation.

And I didn’t. For a long time. My kids spent the first years of their lives nearly pork-free. Avoiding swine was easy as a nutrition writer for the Los Angeles Times, but after I became food editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, taste-testing made it harder to avoid. Pork camouflaged by smoke, salt, and sugar reentered my life in small bites.

View Recipe: Baked Ham Glazed with Champagne

Now, inspired by chef Leonard Roberts’ recipe for Glazed Sugar-Cured Ham with Champagne Sauce (one of the dishes “cooked with soul” in The Negro Chef Cookbook, published in 1969), pork is the centerpiece that makes my Thanksgiving table festive. The ham is tender. A garnish of pineapple makes it sweet and delicious. The family drools with anticipation. Mom and I wish them bon appétit.