PW met Kaminsky, author of Pig Perfect, at a lunch at the Manhattan restaurant Daniel, where we sampled Black Truffle and Homemade Pistachio Sausage; Five-Month Cured Pancetta, Italian Style; and Crispy Pig's Feet, among other delicacies.
PW: First things first: why does bacon taste so good?
Peter Kaminsky: There are two parts to it: (a), bacon is cured and it's smoky. We love salt, it's in our DNA. The smoky flavor, I think, sort of sets off ancestral triggers about fire and cookery. And (b), there's fat in bacon, which was in very short supply in the human diet before hamburger stands became popular.
PW:Why did you decide to write about pigs and not, say, beef, or lamb, or poultry and game birds?
PK: I call it the Mongo Santamaria factor. [If you were to ask me] what's your favorite musical artist, [I'll] say the Beatles or Frank Sinatra. And then you go and look at my record collection, and I have like 15 Mongo Santamaria albums. Ergo, I must really like this guy. So I was thinking one day that whenever I've traveled, whenever I've found myself on the road with time on my hands, I've always seen if there's a good place for ham. There are patterns that are in our lives about which we're unconscious, but when you go back and you look, the statistics don't lie, and apparently I'm in love with ham.
PW: What do you think the future of pork is in America?
PK: I don't know. On the one hand, there's industrialization. Factory pork is full of hormones and antibiotics, and that's the face of the industry. At the same time, there are enough people who are conscious of nutrition, of the environment, of that green and healthy aspect of life, that it's not just a few hippie farmers on a commune. There is Whole Foods. There is Garden of Eden. You can get pastured pork, you can get organic stuff. Once people taste the real stuff, they don't go back. The alternative, classic supermarket stuff, is pretty bland. So I'm hopeful. It'll be like Volvos or Macintoshes. It's not going to go away—there's a market to sustain it.
PW:What do you think about the "Pork: The Other White Meat" ad campaign?
PK: It's both successful and unfortunate. [It was launched at a time] when cholesterol and fat consciousness happened, and pork had a bad reputation that way. [That campaign] led to dry, superlean meat and was also part of an overall sort of fear of fat. And we need fat. If we didn't have fat, we wouldn't have brains. If you look at evolution, if we had kept with the roots and shoots diet, we'd have the same brains as chimps.
PW: You write, "There is nothing quite like the blood-curdling yell of a pig being led to the slaughter." How were you able to distance yourself from the inhumanity of killing hogs?
PK: On the one hand, you tell yourself these pigs [who live on artisanal farms, compared with huge factories] live outside their whole lives, they get to raise their young, and what life they have is certainly a whole lot better, and they're treated more humanely. It's one of those things. I've hunted, and in the quest for food, human beings kill. You tend not to anthropomorphize. It didn't bother me all that much, would be the honest and surprising answer. You do want it done quick; you don't want them to suffer.
PW: Do you eat deli ham?
PK: In extremis. When you're traveling and it's 10:30 at night, and you're in the middle of Ohio, and you stop in at the Mobil station and all they have are those plastic-wrapped sandwiches. There's nothing like refrigerated bread and old lettuce.