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“Nothing But White Meat”

December 2, 2005

A distinguishing feature of Southern cooking is the use of pork renderings to add flavor to a variety of down-home dishes from turnip greens to green beans.  We expect to see a piece of bacon curled up in our collards, bits of ham among our black-eyed peas, and small pieces of side meat in our boiled cabbage. We know instinctively that a pot of pinto beans should include a ham hock.  Bean with bacon soup is a comfort food in winter as is a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich in summer.

Our taste for pork violates the teaching of the Old Testament. Jewish dietary law notwithstanding, many of us enjoy “the other white meat,” as the Pork Producers Association advertise their product.  On a recent visit to our local grocery store, displayed among pork chops and ribs, I saw split pigs’ feet.  The sight reminded me of my grandfather’s favorite Sunday supper: sharp cheddar cheese, saltine crackers, sardines, and pickled pigs feet.

In the days when folks still cooked with lard, before any of us had ever heard of cholesterol, we did not know that pork renderings were bad for us.   Before bagels and muffins took over, sausage, country ham, and bacon were as much a part of breakfast as eggs, grits, and biscuits.  Mercifully, my grandfather died before he knew that many of the things he enjoyed eating were bad for him.  He also died before heart catheterizations and coronary bypass surgery were commonplace.  Pappy died of heart disease.

The late Lewis Grizzard wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and had a syndicated column that was read nationwide.  His book, They Tore My Heart Out And Stomped That Sucker Flat, relates the story of his open-heart surgery.  A valve from a pig’s heart replaced one of the valves in his heart.  Grizzard, speaking in Spartanburg at a Chamber of Commerce dinner, said, “People ask me if it bothers me that I have part of a pig in my heart.  It really doesn’t bother me that much, but every time I drive past a barbeque place, my eyes water.”        

Recently, at a barbeque supper, a friend was reporting on his latest visit to his physician.  He, like so many others in our county, has an ongoing struggle with the cholesterol and triglyceride levels in his bloodstream.  His medical doctor had commented that the Upstate of South Carolina has a rate of coronary disease that is elevated compared to other parts of the country.  My friend raised the obvious question, “Why?”

Perhaps because we were having our conversation over a plate of barbeque, I remembered a story told by my grandfather.

A resident of the Pauline community who was both a carpenter and a farmer had a heart attack that just about killed him. The heart attack left the man unable to work. He had always been a good customer at the lumberyard, so my grandfather and grandmother arranged a visit to the home.  My grandmother baked one of her fine apple pies for the family.

When Mammy and Pappy arrived, the ailing man was sitting in a ladder-back rocking chair on the front porch.  The women went inside the house; the men sat together on the porch. 

“How you doing, Captain?”  Pappy asked. 

“Mr. Ed, I ain’t doin’ no good at all.  This heart attack has left me short of breath. I can’t work very much at all.”

‘What’d your doctor say to do about it?”

“He told me I couldn’t eat nothing but white meat.”

“No ham or roast beef?”

“No. Sir, nothing red at all, just white meat.”

“How is that going?”

“Not good at all, Mr. Neely!  I’ll tell you the truth, I’ve done eat so much fatback, it’s about to kill me!”


No doubt!  Old habits die hard.

-Kirk H. Neely 

© H-J Weekly, December 2005

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