In Praise of Lard
The use of lard in cooking is slowly being rehabilitated but the cultural shock of the stuff hasn't diminished in the slightest.
There I was at the store buying just two products: lard and salt. They sat on the black conveyor belt awaiting checkout at the store. The guy behind me — something like this happens every time I buy lard — asked incredulously: "what are you going to make with that?"
So my routine lecture began. I use lard for making biscuits. Sometimes I fry those lard biscuits in lard, and these I call "hot puffs" and eat them with honey. Lard is essential for pie crusts. It makes great chocolate chip cookies. I can't imagine frying potatoes in anything else. It is excellent for chicken. Pancakes and waffles are never better than when made with lard. Popcorn not fried in lard (air pop? please!) is noticeably inferior. Cakes are wonderful with lard. The refried beans you eat are not authentic if they do not include lard. All that amounts to nearly a bucket per week of lard use. I admit it.
All the while as I'm giving this list, the interrogator is looking me up and down and check whether I look fat and unhealthy, with a slight upturned lip of disgust. Look, I really don't know if lard is unhealthy as compared with vegetable oil or butter or peanut oil or some other poor substitute. I do know that when I fry with lard as opposed to vegetable oil, there is more lard remaining in the fryer, from which I conclude that less is in the food. And don't even talk to me about that fake lard product called "shortening."
I also know that lard has a very high smoke point, so it is cleaner and makes less of a mess. Also, lard, which is nothing but rendered pig fat, has been a staple of the Western diet for many centuries. I see no reason why I must automatically adopt the widespread prejudice against it and regard it as a poor-person food. Nor do I trust what some government expert says. As regards dieticians, you can find one around who will endorse or condemn anything you want. And do I need to point out that Crisco has recently come under fire for its trans fat content — a problem that lard does not have?
What I do find interesting is that the campaign against lard began during and after World War II, when lard was put on the list of rationed items in the United States and England. Every government intervention is an opportunity for some private company to come along with some substitute. Sure enough, this was when margarine and shortening began to be pushed on the American diet. Somehow, butter made a solid comeback many decades later. But lard somehow never did. I can only credit a very effective marketing campaign by the shortening producers.
Are we going to let government's wartime central planners control our lives 70 years after the fact? I don't think so. Not in my case anyway, regardless of what my fellow shoppers say. Sometimes embracing a life of freedom involves taking risks and paying the price. You can have my lard when you pry it out of my cold, dead fingers.