Every summer, my parents drove me 100 miles east of Minneapolis to a distant relatives' farm in rural Minnesota. They'd drop me off for a week in the town of Wanda (current population: 103), and hope that Aunt Patsy, Uncle Marv, and the half dozen second cousins who lived on the farm would teach me a thing or two about hard work.
The only thing I learned, though, was how to make friends with their pen full of pigs. I'd pluck weeds and stuff them through the fence, and they'd snort in my palm. I'd give them names, and make up piggy backstories about their lives before this farm.
Despite being just an afternoon's drive away, the pigs on Patsy and Marv's farm were a far cry from the discount supermarket meat that graced my family's table: Mom was a loyal Shake 'N Bake customer. That meant dry pork, with crunchy breading on top, and soggy mush clinging to the bottom. I hated it, and most of the other meat Mom served (think ground beef, with variables like ketchup or taco seasoning).
So it was no surprise that I went veggie as soon as I escaped my parents' house. I landed in the Northwest, and quickly started replacing Midwestern memories of canned corn and starchy potatoes with discoveries of avocado, asparagus, radishes, and kale. I didn't even have time to miss meat, I was so busy exploring fresh produce and less-processed foods. A decade later I was a budding foodie, always up for exploring new restaurants or whipping up complicated recipes.
That's how the pork snuck back in. One Saturday afternoon, while browsing Epicurious.com, looking for something to cook the next week, I spotted a pork loin. Wrapped in bacon.
My stomach growled, and my mouth watered.
I took it as a sign. The only thing keeping me a vegetarian—I didn't have ethical qualms about eating humanely treated animals—was a lingering distaste for meat, thanks to things like Mom's pork chops. I wanted to be omnivorous, but I wasn't sure I wanted to eat meat... at least as I remembered it. Until I saw that pork loin. It looked delicious. I nearly ran the eight blocks from my apartment to New Seasons, eager to strike before the meaty mood faded.
At the meat counter, staring at all that raw flesh, I started to worry about my digestive system—could it handle pork after so many years of tofu? I decided to go slowly: I'd start with bland, boring chicken, and maybe get to a second species by the summer.
But pork, again, was my undoing. Just two days after cautiously nibbling that chicken (to no ill effect), my girlfriend was snacking on a bacon-wrapped, maple-syrup-soaked date at Pix on Hawthorne. She offered me a bite. I reflexively declined, before remembering my goal: to be a more adventurous eater. I tried the date. Holy shit, it was great. Bacon—who knew?
The next week, I went for pork chops. Cooked slowly over low heat, they were moist and delicious. Fast forward three months: I've enjoyed prosciutto and sopressata, pork belly, pork loin, pulled pork, porchetta, and pork sausage. Turns out pork's pretty freakin' great—especially in the Northwest, where it's easy to find pigs raised as well as Patsy and Marv's. And so much for taking it slow: Pork—the gateway drug—has already led to beef, rabbit, salmon, and buffalo. Mission accomplished.