From time to time various members of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) decide that they are the defenders not only of public welfare but of public morality and even of our dining habits. Now, as happens from time to time, a bill has been introduced that will outlaw the raising, processing or sales of pork within the confines of the country.
It is clearly understood by all that pork products are strictly forbidden to observant Jews and Moslems. It seems not to be all that clearly understood that not all of the population of Israel are observant and that pork chops, bacon, spareribs, ham and other pork products are well beloved among many.
Personally, I find this proposed law ridiculous and offensive. As is fairly well known, I have great respect for those who choose to keep the dietary laws of either the Jewish or the Moslem faith but I find this proposed law ridiculous – an infringement upon the freedom of those who choose, for whatever reason, not to follow those laws, No-one forces, nor would anyone force any person to eat ham and no-one forces anyone to patronize either a restaurant or butcher shop that sells pork based products. What can I say other than that some like chicken soup, some adore couscous, some like pork chops and some like all of those.
This is not the first time such a law has been proposed. Following is an Op-Ed piece I wrote in HaAretz in 1993. It applies as much today as it did then.
Pig, Let Me Speak His Praise
Pig is ill and, because it is in bad taste to speak ill of the dead or the dying, this may be an appropriate moment to reflect on some of the kinder things that have been said about him.
According to historian Carleton Coon, pigs were first domesticated in the area of Iran and Iraq about 9,000 years ago. Thus, oddly enough, the people to first learn the pleasures of dining on pork and who were later forbidden to eat it as Jews or Moslems were the inhabitants of the Middle-East. Until the advent of Mohammed, pork remained the most prized meat of the region and dining on spit-roasted suckling pig was a culinary activityequally adored by peasants and royalty. The joys of roast pigspread rapidly to Greece and Turkey and, by the time of Homer,some 2,900 years ago, roast pork was so popular that the great poet would probably have had a hard time describing the feasts of Odysseus had he ignored the pig.
Nowhere, however, was pig more appreciated than in China. In his diaries, Marco Polo described a piece de resistance that wasserved while he was visiting the palace of Kubla Khan. After a pig had been stuffed with dates, it was encased in a coating of wet clay and roasted until the juices were sealed in, the skin
soft and the clay dried out. The shell was then broken off andthe skin removed and pounded together with rice flour and water. The pig was coated with this mixture and then deep fried until itwas a crisp golden brown.
Finally, the meat was cut into slices which were placed on a bed of herbs and steamed for several hours. After tasting the dish, Polo wrote that "the pig was as soft as the best Genoabutter, exquisitely aromatic and the purest delight to eat". Eventhough this recipe is over 4,000 years old, it has never lost its popularity, and was one of the dishes prepared when Richard Nixon was feted in the Forbidden City.
North and South American Indians never domesticated pigs, but held the flesh of wild boars in high esteem. They considered pork especially appropriate to celebrate births, marriages and victories in battle. Because wild pigs were so readily available on the North American continent, the Europeans that later settled there made it one of their favorites. In 1725, William Byrd II wrote that "in Virginia, especially, pigs seem to find the climate and foods so congenial, that many southern larders appear ready to burst at the seams with pork and hams".
The pig also found a niche in literature. In his Dissertation Upon Roast Pig, which appeared in 1822, Charles Lamb held that "the entire realm of edible things, roast pig is the most delicate". Dr. Boswell pronounced that he "could linger long and lovingly over the succulence of pig"; and Samuel Pepys concluded that "there could be nothing better for the digestion and the spirit than pickled oysters, a young roasted pig and good, heavy ale". In the realm of fiction, the characters of Odysseus, Tom Jones, Gulliver and Gargantua would have been much diminished without ribs of pork as a major part of their diets.
Even modern writers have found pig much to their taste. Ernest Hemingway found fried pork chops with sauerkraut "a delight .. a marvelous feast for a damp autumn evening" James Joyce consideredthem "fit fare for kings"; and Lawrence Durrell thought them "particularly succulent and delicious, especially when taken with an appropriate quantity of light beer".
It is true that not all people delighted in the succulence of pig. Fiji Islanders kept them as house pets (pigs can be easily housebroken), but did not eat them, believing that souls in transit to heaven found temporary resting places in the bodies of pigs. Jews and Moslems consider pigs unclean; Carib Indians avoided eating pork believing that it would give them `pig eyes'; and for many centuries Trobriand Islanders did not eat pigs because they feared that dining on pork would rob them of the power of intelligent speech.
Whatever, several members of Israel's Knesset (parliament) have decided that pork is not appropriate for the holy land. No matter how many want to eat it, it is said to offend some and because of this a law has been proposed to outlaw the raising or sales of pork within the country. Pig, as we said, is sick. It is up to the members of our Knesset to decide whether or not he will become healthy once again.