Saturday, January 23, 2010

Four-letter word

To most people, lard is a four-letter word. It was for me, up until about five years ago. Synonymous with gross, the word brings visions of greasy food and greasy hair into most people's minds. Why would anyone want to use the stuff? It's pig fat, for gosh sakes! Why would you want to cook with pig fat?

Well, because lard is good to cook with. Really good, in fact. I'm not talking 'spread it on your toast' good -- even I would shy a bit before doing that. But nothing can beat lard in a pie crust, and it's just the thing if you want really crispy hash browns.

Some folks are deterred by the fact that lard is, indeed, fat from a pig. I am amazed by this -- don't people realize that 1/3 of the fillings in hot dogs, brats and sausages are pig fats? Are folks unaware that bacon is streaked with pig fat? And what is it that makes a good pork roast so succulent and tender -- magic fairy water?

America is fat phobic, thanks in large part to our two world wars. Animal fats were in short supply during wartime, so agribusiness (such as it was in those years) began huge advertising campaigns to convince folks to buy margarine and shortening, instead of butter and lard. They told folks that these new wonder foods were far more healthy than their old-fashioned counterparts. Lots of talk about saturated fats and high cholesterol, and lots of studies linking those things to a wealth of medical problems.

But wait! Holy triglycerides, Batman! It seems we were being misled all along. It seems that margarine and vegetable shortening have gone through a procedure called hydrogenation. It seems this hydrogenation process creates somethings called trans fats. And, it seems that trans fats are a lot worse than saturated fat for your health.

But forget about the science. Truth to tell, trying to keep up with all the science is a little daunting to me. Especially since I'm not sure what to believe. Scientific studies can be manipulated to reach any outcome, depending on who's paying for the research. That's why I try to rely more on common sense. Three particular bits of common sense, in this case.

Common sense tells me that the closer a food is to its original form, the better it is. Lard passes this test -- no hydrogenation, no chemical additives, no artificial anything. Straight from the pig. Watch out for store-bought lard, though -- likely it's been hydrogenated to lengthen shelf-life.

Common sense also tells me that hundreds (or thousands) of years of people eating something is better research than a few decades of human experimentation. Lard has been around a long time, folks. People know just about all there is to know about it, and nobody is trying to keep that knowledge hidden. Which is more than we can say for most of the processed, industrialized food out there.

Common sense tells me that if I can pronounce a food and its ingredients, it's better for me. Anything longer than three syllables and a red flag goes up. Any hyphens between syllables and a siren starts going off. Again, lard passes this test with flying colors. You can't get any easier than 'lard.' One syllable, no hyphens.

After all, it is just a four-letter word.


Caffeinated Mom said...

Hi Jo! Although I haven't begun cooking with lard yet, I couldn't agree with you more. I want to know where my food came from, how it was raised, what's in it, and how it was made. Still living in suburbia (and in Georgia) it's difficult to get a lot of good meats and dairy. In fact, raw milk is illegal here. Still, I make all of our breads, deli-style meat for sandwiches, preserves, yogurt (even though it's from store-bought milk), and pretty much every meal from "scratch". What amazes me is that people think I'm weird for doing so. I find it sad that our culture has bought entirely into the "convenience" of industrialized food. When did feeding ourselves (and our families) become of such little importance that we can't spend just a few short hours each week preparing quality food!??! This is what gives us health and life, for Pete's sake!

...sorry... you found one of my hot spots. I'll step down from my soap box now... :-D

Erin said...

Well said, Jo! I too, pass on "new, healthy alternatives" in favor of just plain eating intelligent amounts of things! Like Splenda? Never did jump on that bandwagon. When I see kids juice that says LOW SUGAR! I read the label, and if it's lower because the real sugar was substituted with a chemical sugar, that's a no-go. I would much rather eat sensible amounts of the real deal than put God-knows-what in mine and my family's bodies. I have never used lard, but now I know why Grandma's hash browns were so good and the ones I try to cook with olive oil are just burnt, LOL

Mr. H. said...

You said it all with the word common sense. I agree that you can't believe many of the so called "scientific" studies out there and that simply eating real foods, especially the ones you have grown or raised yourself is the many things.

I raised my own pigs many years ago and will never forget how good that meat tasted. Now we rarely eat any meat, mostly because we do not have the inclination to raise our own at this time. I can't remember ever cooking with my own lard though, I would love to try it...price of cooking oil goes up much more and I might have no choice. Great post.

Mama Pea said...

Gosh, Jo, you wrote this all out so well that even someone who wasn't "into" the whole nutrition thing could/should have gotten the basic idea. It's such a complex topic that it's hard not to get to involved and complicated when speaking about it. But you sure did a great job.

I just recently had the opportunity to get hold of some rendered bear fat (lard) and is it wonderful! Much the same as good hog lard, I'm sure.

P.S. For anyone who doesn't have access to good organic lard (domesticated or wild), unflavored coconut oil is good for high temp frying/cooking and also very beneficial for us.

jenny said...

Hear hear!! WELL SAID! We used to use lard all the time when I was a kid, then we moved away from our country environment and our whole diet changed due to location. (from country Illinois to town Louisiana) I am working on convincing the husband to let us try raising our own pig(s).. just one or two and then getting a local butcher to process it for us. I don't see it happening this year, but maybe 2011.. wait and see.

Jessika said...

I LOVE lard! Good old fashioned pig doesn't get much better, well REAL farm butter is pretty good too!

Thistledog said...

Pork fat rules!

Emeril Lagasse has been touting the benefits (and good flavor) of lard for years. Bless him.

We can't get good lard here. SoCal, you know. In Kentucky though, it's widely available. I'm looking forward to rendering my own lard from my own pigs.

Great post!

Maple Lawn Farm said...

Love it! Well written! I am going to be sharing this post with others! Thank you for writing it!


Corinne said...

Very interesting article! Makes you realize how industry has swayed our opinions and thoughts on basic foods.

Sharon said...

Hi Jo ... very well said! I too like to be able to pronounce the ingredients in my food! I make most of our meals from scratch, make my own mayonnaise (with eggs from my chickens) and even started making my dog's food after the pet food recall a couple of years ago. My Dad raised pigs when I was growing up and we had to help render the fat. We always had a container of bacon fat on the back of the stove .... ready to use to grease the skillet or biscuit pan. I think preservatives and chemicals are killing us. If everyone would read the ingredients on labels they would be scared to death.

Love your common sense approach!

Karen Sue said...

We also had a little container of the grease from the bacon and sausage in the frig, ready to use to fry our eggs or potatoes with. I even had one when I was first married, but 'healthy' hubby wasn't into it and I sort of forgot it. Maybe it's time to get it out again!

Leigh said...

Hi. I found your blog by following links. I've just recently discovered the truth about fats and think this is an excellent post. The common sense fact that got me was, why the colonists and pioneers could eat fats like lard without all the health problems these fats are blamed for today. Learning about the agri-industrial push toward vegetable fats and the nutritional truth really made sense to me because of that.

Jo said...

Hi Caffeinated Mom! Sorry to hear that raw milk is illegal in Georgia. It's legal in MN, with limitations. Like you, I also wonder why food preparation is seen as such a drudgery. I enjoy cooking, and my kids love to help. As you can see, this is one of my hot spots too!

Hey Erin! I'm right there with you on sugar. When we go to the grocery store, my kids know what yogurt they can have, and what gum they can choose. And they've finally figured out that there is no way on this green earth that I will ever buy them a 'Lunchable.' Ha! My poor deprived children!

Hello Mr H -- Yep, common sense is key. But some people's common sense tells them that there's no way a big conglomerate food company would stoop to lying about their product and how it affects your health, just to boost sales. But this is naivete, not sense. I guess sometimes you need to learn from experience about the lengths to which people's greed with take them.

Howdy Mama Pea -- Thanks for the kind words! Bear fat -- wow! Is that common up where you live? Maybe I could get my hands on some bison fat down hear, but not bear fat! I also like coconut oil, but have only used it for making soap. I think I should try it out in cooking, though. Thanks for the tip.

Hi Jenny -- Thanks! Good luck with convincing hubby on the pigs -- I'm working to convince my hubby (and myself, for that matter) that a dairy cow would be a good idea. Like you said, wait and see!

Hello Jessika! Speaking of dairy cows, you are the expert! When I finally get a cow (someday) I will be pestering you with questions all the time. Be forewarned!

Hi Thistledog -- Sorry to hear about not having good lard where you live. Although you probably have ready access to fresh sea food and citrus fruits, so maybe I shouldn't feel too sorry for you. Jealous would be a better word! Hey - we should do a swap -- lard for lemons! How about it? ;)

Howdy Tammy! Thanks, and feel free to share. I'm flattered!

Hello Corinne -- Yes, advertising has done a number on our general psyche. In many, many ways. Glad you liked the post.

Hi Sharon -- Homemade mayonnaise! That's something I haven't tried yet. How long does it last in the fridge? I should really start saving bacon fat, like your family did. It would add a lot of flavor to some dishes.

Hello Karen Sue! Yes, it's definitely time to get it out again!

Hi Leigh -- Welcome! I'm glad you liked the post. I looked at your blog - you have a lovely home. I covet your pecan and fig trees!

Anonymous said...

THank goodness for people like you! Lard is germany they render it down mix it with bits of sour apple and seaon it well then use it as a spread on heavy rye bread...also they make a good fat out of renderd out butter and to make it a bit cheeper if you cut that with half the weight in lard it makes fantastic donut frying fat! :)

Karen said...

Okay, Jo. Time for a blog about your family. I need updated pictures and descriptions of their activities! I want funny Graham stories to giggle over and pictures of peoples' feet that Benjamin took when he stole the camera! I need a nephew-fix! Owen too!!!