Monday, January 25, 2010

Pork Rind Protectionism

A few months ago, it was the brouhaha over tires from China.

This time around, the protectionist fervor is aimed at Brazilian pigskin imports that will be used to make pork rinds. (Source of info: Wall Street Journal - requires subscription to see the full article.)

Now, I like fat, salt, and grease as much as the next junk food consumer, but, somehow, when I want to indulge myself, I seldom think "pork rind." (Sorry, folks, but I can't get the phrase 'hard on for a lardon' to stop rattling around in my brain unless I type it out. There. Satan, begone.)

No, give me a bag of Cape Cod potato chips, and I'm happy as a pig in whatever.

I have had pork rinds a couple of times, and remember them as tasty. (You just can't beat salt, fat, and grease when it comes to tasty.) But I can't imagine tossing a bag in the shopping cart. (Does Whole Foods even carry them?)

Pork rinds are, apparently, a rather healthy business. (And one that the US, by the way, leads the world. Who needs steel, automotive, or any other boring old industrial industry, when we own pork rinds? We're Number One! We're Number One!)

Last year, pork rind  onsumption grew by 5% - not bad for the midst of a recession, but still not at the pork rind peak of the early 2000's, when the no-carb, high protein snack was the darling of the Atkins diet crowd.

The company that got the Department of Agriculture to push open the door to pigskin of all nations is Rudolph, an industry leader that just happens to have a plant in Brazil. The decision to let masses of huddled pigskins into the US is, however, raising concerns about food safety.

"How essential is it that we start importing pork rinds from countries that have really bad diseases?" asked Dave Griswold, a veterinarian at the Bureau of Animal Health in the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

The feds counter that the new rules will actually make us safer from hoof-and-mouth, mad pig, and whatever other dangers are out there. (Swine flu?)

Rudolph, meanwhile, supports the new rule as "science-based", and in defense of the US consumer, since they say that their aim is to have the Brazilian option "in the event of a product shortage in the U.S.", which could happen if Rudolph succeeds in its quest to further popularize pork rinds.

Their web site provides all kinds of pork-rind based snacks, most of which seem to involve cream cheese for some reason.

They also sponsor an annual Pork Rind Heritage Festival in Harrod, Ohio. (Mark your calendars for the second week in June.)

There's quite a bit to do at the festival: corn hole contest, cake wheel, Bible School, Bessie Bingo, and entertainment by the likes of Arnold Coy, Jim Boedicker, and Rita Motter. City slicker snob that I am, the only thing on the list I actually understood was Bible School, and I'd rather listen to Arnold Coy, thank you. Of course, for those who need to ask, no explanation is sufficient; for those who don't need to ask, no explanation is necessary. But I do want to let you know that Bessie Bingo involves cows in a field and bets on where Bessie is going to let one fly. (You need to reserve a lot of time for this, since there's no guarantee that Bessie's going to go when or where you want her to. For quicker results, you can substitute chickens for cows.)

But the highlight of the festival will be the pork rind eating contest, which in 2009 was won by Jim Reeves, who devoured 11.32 ounces in eight minutes.

Naturally, when I read that, I figured there was some mistake.

Surely, they must mean 11.32 pounds (which is close to Reeves' world record for watermelon devouring - 13.22 pounds in 15 minutes).

But the Buffalo News, profiling their home-town hero, cleared everything up.

“That one is a real badge of honor because pork rinds sound benign and they are not,” says [George] Shea, [chairman of Major League Eating]. “They are impossible to eat. When you try to eat them quickly, they become like little shards of glass.”

Winning the pork-rind title, says Reeves, “tore my mouth up. They are kind of like little Brillo pads. When you’re just eating them socially, they’re kind of like cheese puffs. But when you’re trying to eat them fast and you are shoving them in your mouth, you are crushing them up with the roof of your mouth, rather than your teeth."

Fat, grease, salt, risk of foot-and-mouth, 'kind of like little Brillo pads.'

One can certainly see why Rudolph fears a shortage, can't one?


Today is the 39th anniversary of the death of my father.  He liked a tasty snack as much as the next guy, but I don't know if he ever had a pork rind. One of his favorites was, however, pickled pigs feet (crubeens), which was some kind of Irish thing. (I'm guessing my grandfather had them in his saloon when my father was a kid.)

Anyway, here's to my father. (Still miss you, Dad.)

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