This is a great book. Here is a review which sums it all up better than I can:
A self-described "hamthropologist," Peter Kaminsky takes us from Andalusia to ancient Mesopotamia to modern-day North Carolina hog farms as he shares his quest for delectable pork in the book Pig Perfect: Encounters with Remarkable Swine and Some Great Ways to Cook Them.
Read this for the story of the pig. Kaminsky delves into history, and produces fascinating economic reasons why pork is forbidden to the Jewish and Muslim faiths. He discusses the role pigs and their ancestors may have played in shaping our landscape.
He travels to Spain, where the famed jamon iberico rules, and learns about black pigs and pasturing. Rare in North America, where they're a "heritage" type, these breeds are also very well suited to being farmed using time-tested methods.
Allowed to forage for a traditional diet of acorns, they are actually healthier to eat because their fat is monounsaturated. They're also tastier because pigs take on the flavors of their feed, and the meat is more thoroughly marbled with fat as the pig exercises as it forages.
These methods date from before pigs were mass-produced as "the other white meat." Pork is white because the pens in most modern farm systems don't allow pigs to move, and because they're slaughtered so young (just 6 months of age).
Kaminsky observes: pork can be deeply colored, with a corresponding increase in flavor, when the pigs have had a chance to exercise. In contrast, a modern sow might bear and suckle multiple litters of piglets and never ever see them because she can't turn around in her pen. When you think that pigs are at least as smart as dogs, indignation is natural.
However, Kaminsky never dips into sentimentalism. He describes the huge factory-like plants in North Carolina where millions of pigs are slaughtered, called CAFOs or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, but his arguments against them are logical and based on a wide variety of interviews.
As Kaminsky convincingly portrays them, they are bad for the environment with their acres of untreated lagoons of chemical-laced sewage; bad for the farmers economically and for the neighbors health wise; bad for the pigs themselves; and ultimately, bad for the consumer because the final product just doesn't taste that great.
He mentions that a lot of award-winning barbecue is made with pork from Sam's Club, but what kind of pork ambrosia would result if those techniques were applied to high-quality meat?
One of this book's real strengths is Kaminsky's rapport with people and his ability to capture their unique voices. He interviews a number of them, all diverse - competitive barbecuers in the American South, anthropologists, Spanish cooks and farmers, an energetic elderly woman living alone on an island filled with Ossabaw pigs (the descendants of the very first pigs brought over by Spanish explorers), food activists, French cheese makers and gourmands - and their personalities keep an already lively writing style hopping.
The other great asset Kaminsky brings to the table, so to speak, is his undiluted enthusiasm for piggy eating experiences. He actually ends up facilitating a network of like-minded pig aficionados, and connecting heritage-minded farmers with suppliers of Ossabaws, transporting some of the meat up to New York to meet with the hands of Italian-based ham-makers and the tastebuds of chef Daniel Boulud.
Overall, his book is not only a great read with a mouth-watering topic, but a thought-provoking look at how our food interacts with the world around it, and how it can bring people together.