I get really excited when I meet a black man who eats pork. This is not so simple if you live outside the South and want to date a man younger than 45 years old. In certain parts of the black community, eating swine is a cultural no-no.
Alas, this can be a dating challenge in my world.
I went on a blind date with a guy who didn't eat pork. I know this because he had trolled my Facebook page and had seen that I was a "fan" of bacon. He confronted me and turned up his nose as I rhapsodized about the beauty of bacon. He told me why he didn't eat pork by quoting a 20-year-old Rakim rap song.
We never went out again.
Recently a friend came by my house, and I had just finished cooking my favorite Saturday snack of sliced avocado with crumbled bacon. The lingering smell of fat offended him. I had to tune out as he extolled the virtues of turkey bacon. Turkey bacon is crap.
Pork bacon, on the other hand, makes me smile. The juiciness of a pork roast is more succulent than a pot roast. Broiled pork chops with balsamic vinegar and fresh basil is a quick, yet fine, meal. Luckily for me, pork is the "it" meat in many restaurants — from pork belly to high-end pork rinds. Yes, there is such a thing as high-end pork rinds.
For some black folks, however, the pig is not the "other white meat." Instead it represents filth and a nasty animal that will afflict you with all kinds of diseases. (See Elijah Muhammad's How to Eat to Live.) Anti-pork ideology is a throwback from the black power era, when militants demonized pork. "Pig" also became a pejorative for the police.
As black consciousness in the hip-hop generation — those growing up in the 1980s and 1990s — blossomed, pork didn't fit into the diet. In Ice Cube's classic "It Was a Good Day," he raps: "I don't know but today seems kinda odd/No barking from the dog, no smog/And momma cooked a breakfast with no hog."
I don't begrudge eating choices that are based on religion. But even for non-Muslims, this no-pork edict is weighty. When my friends and acquaintances deride pork, I think it's more out of habit than based in fact. Something clicked in the black community about the pig.
Leni Sorensen is an African-American research historian at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate who specializes in food. She says it's a myth that slaves ate parts of the pig because it was the nasty animal that slave owners dumped on them. A butchered hog was not considered a punishment for slaves.
Sorensen says everyone back then chowed down on the hog. "Pork was the primary protein because it stored easily, salted easily, cured easily. It was more subtle and varied," she explains. White elites called all pork "ham." And the idea that pigs are inherently dirty? Not true, she says.
"Certain kinds of political ideas come out of the last third of the 20th century. I do think much younger people have bought into layers of mythology," Sorensen says. Black people today — especially urban Northerners — are less connected to agriculture, soil and cooking. Sorensen also says that many urban blacks, as a result of political ideology, began rejecting soul food or traditional country food that harks back to their ancestors' Southern roots. In a way, they're rejecting images of an enslaved past.
Full disclosure: I stopped eating pork at age 12 because of aforementioned peer pressure not to eat "swine." A close friend and neighbor shocked my impressionable mind about the "disgusting pig." My bemused parents indulged me and would fry me up turkey bacon. They also talked about me when I once sneaked a barbecue rib, all the while protesting that I didn't really eat pork.
But all roads lead back to bacon for me. At age 22 I had a piece of real bacon, and I've never looked back. I couldn't believe what I had given up! To this day my mother says she doesn't trust anyone who doesn't eat pork. I think she's joking.
I know that the American diet is fatty. Black people have higher rates of diabetes and hypertension. Healthier eating is paramount for our individual and collective survival. One friend who stopped eating pork says she did so because her family cooked too much of it in every meal. I get that. My relationship with food involves moderation, culture and socialization.
The pig is not the sole culprit when it comes to bad health. I have a small group of pro-pork foodie friends who trade emails about bacon marmalade, heirloom pigs and pork recipes. We realize we're an anomaly, but slowly we're trying to convert our peers. (Seriously, take a bite of real bacon.)
I'm dating a new guy — a wonderful, engaging man. On our second date, he ordered pork chops. Jackpot! I shouldn't have been surprised. He's 45 years old.
Natalie Y. Moore is a reporter for WBEZ Chicago and co-author of The Almighty Black P Stone Nation: The Rise, Fall and Resurgence of an American Gang.