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The Belly of the Beast

Lamb belly, from the very cool blog Chadzilla

Three weeks ago, the lamb stand I work for got a new product. Eugene, the usually tactiturn farmer (except on his blog), was telling everyone who’d listen that lamb belly was the new pork belly; Frank Bruni or Mark Bittman, or some big shot at the New York Times, had said so. Good news for us. We were selling lamb bacon.

For some people, the farmer’s market may be the consumerist institution where they shop without the pressure of knowing what is the new what. Vegetables are always vegetables, and weather is weather, and there’s food to be bought and prepared from the hands of the people who grew it and that’s that.

Not in Union Square. I can’t number the times I’ve offered a customer a sample of some product only to be silenced with a wave of the hand, oh no, thanks, I already know I want it, I read a review in the Times. Sometimes they’d have brought the clipping, just in case I tried to push some less desirable jar of pickles in their bag. You could substitute there New York Magazine or The Voice or Time Out New York. This was when I was working at the very hip, and very deservedly so (it’s a wonderful place, with the biggest, tastiest vegetables I’ve ever enjoyed) Hawthorn Valley. We were darlings of the print media. Someone came by to interview the managers every other market day, and it was utterly banal to have what looked like a customer suddenly transform into a photographer, rearranging the goods on the counter and looking a lot happier if the staff started crossing our arms, staring off into the distance and appearing farmerly.

Anyhow, Eugene wants a piece of the action, and lamb bacon is his ticket. Three weeks in, we already have some brand new regulars. I’ve been selling it hard to everyone who shows the least bit of inclination (people give off a certain…I-like-bacon-je-ne-sais-quoi). It’s made from the same part of the animal as regular bacon, is smoked, without nitrates, just like all the best hippy breakfast meats, and is cut from animals that were raised in the best conditions that I as a worker and visitor on farms around the country have ever seen. I bought and ate about a pound of it, and now I’m bringing it to the Jew and the Carrot. I thought you all might want to know.

Why would a bunch of Jews want to know about bacon? Jeff Yoskowitz pondered that same question in this post, so I’ll leave most of that thinking to him. I do want to add another layer of associative weirdness to the argument though, or rather, the same layer under a different name: Brisket.

Brisket: Belly: Bacon. All start with B, all come from the same cut on the animal. Amazing, but true. I discovered it when the farmer from the bison meat stand came by on lamb bacon day one. He said hello to Eugene and asked how Eugene was doing, Eugene replied that he was doing fine because he had just acquired lamb bacon, to which the bison farmer responded that he had bison bacon, thank you very much. He said, sometimes I just sell it as brisket, but sometimes I smoke it, and with that, blew my little mind.

Now maybe this is something you already knew, but to me it says that all this time, there has been no physiological reason why we would have to do horrible things to pulverized turkey with red food dye and chemical flavorings in order to achieve something resembling bacon. All we had to do was smoke a particular cut that comes on every single quadruped (and it does, I checked). Only the lack of variety on supermarket shelves and the received and preconceived nature of food in America could get in our way, and has.

Unfortunately, at this moment of a thousand farmers markets blooming, it gets in the way of kosher-keepers even more than the rest. I wonder if any of the farmers who are part of Kol Foods, the kosher sustainable meat suppliers, would make alternative cuts like lamb bacon for their interested customers. Otherwise, I think it’s unlikely that kosher meat producers will start making bacon on a large scale, just because on the large scale, Jews probably don’t want the stuff. As Jeff pointed out in his earlier post, a lot of Jews find bacon to reek of assimilation far more potently than breakfast.

In the meantime, I enjoyed real BLTs and onions fried in drippings until my pound was gone. Now I’m detoxing on kale, collards and brown rice for a few days, but it was worth it to know that brisket = bacon. Give it a little thought when (and if) you’re laying thick strips of brisket on your plate this Pesach, over a pile of carrots and asparagus au jus, or something similarly northeastern Ashkenazi-iconic. Sometimes as minorities in this culture, we end up in thrall to identity and its signifiers, while what we take to be our essence and our antithesis, as usual, are awfully alike.

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4 Responses to “The Belly of the Beast”

  1. Mia Rut Says:

    But when are you in the Union Square Farmer’s market selling your lamb bacon-y goodness?

  2. Nina Budabin McQuown Says:

    Saturday, all day, though the bacon’s often gone early, the rest of the cuts and sausages are there from 8am to 6pm and fantastically good.

  3. Making Love In The Kitchen Says:

    I have been trying to get meat back into my diet for a good two months now. Every time I go into the meat store, I look around at all the meat and then leave empty handed, go home and make more lentils. I think I am inspired to give it another try.

  4. Rabbi's Wife Says:

    Aarons used to market Beef Fry, which was awesome and fooled my dad, a die-hard bacon lover. Can’t get it anymore. too bad.

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