Praise the Lard!
In my career as a natural foods chef and cooking instructor, there were two things I came to know.
One, I must do the thing I’m scared to do.
Two, mainstream health and nutrition advice usually gets it wrong.
I learned these two truths from a tub of lard.
For years I’d known the merits of this scorned fat, having read Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions and other sources. Contrary to popular belief, lard is a gold mine of antioxidants. Its fat-soluble nutrients protect our cell walls, feed our brains, and steady our hormones.
I’d also been, for years, a secret devotee in the Cult of the Swine. As a health-foods chef, by day I touted the virtues of seaweed and flax seeds; after hours, I tied my napkin around my neck and face-planted into anything porcine: ham, bacon, chops, butt, even chicharrones.
But despite my book-smarts and gluttonous indulgences, when it came to lard Big Brother’s nutrition machine had me brainwashed:
Lard. Is. Evil.
To eat it would make me a morally inferior human. While other parts of the pig might be socially acceptable, lard is the purview of devil worshipers, carnal savages beyond redemption.
One day my sister sent me an article titled, “Lard: the New Health Food?” In it, the author details the erroneous slander lard has endured over the last several decades and describes his tentative foray into cooking with this forbidden substance.
Lard “is a fat of rare finesse…as voluptuous as a Rubens nude, but not as heavy.”
Emboldened by his example, I experimented with a batch of jalapeño-cheddar cornbread using a one-for-one switch of melted lard for vegetable oil.
When I opened the tub, the creamy, pearly texture signaled my chef’s instinct that here was a fat of superior quality. Whereas butter separates into milk solids and butterfat when melted, lard remains itself: glossy, jewel-like, shamelessly rich.
In the cooked cornbread, the lard gave a crumb and moistness and lightness that I had never known with any other fat. It lent gravitas to the final product while modestly letting the other ingredients take center stage.
Tears trickled down my cheeks as I ate. What other treasures of life have passed me by because I was too afraid, or because I was following bad advice?
My lard adventure drove home yet again that the things I fear most are just angels in disguise, beckoning me into a more opulent world. The trick is to open the tub and let the fatty richness out, even when all around would say otherwise.