Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Tyrants Have it in for Ham

Apparently some Stalinist paperpusher has suggested that children should not be overexposed to ham sandwiches in case they become addicted and do hellish things to the nitrate content of their bodies. This I hear from Counting Cats and the Englishman, who links to this site, one I didn't know of, but which turns out to be very well informed on these matters, and puts the whole thing into perspective (fortunately, as the only thing I can remember about nitrates is that they're all soluble, which probably isn't relevant to the debate).

Now, this would just be one more case of some idiot mouthing off, and that's nothing new, except that governments have a habit of picking up on this kind of thing, and there is nothing politicians and petty bureaucrats love more than stopping us from doing things we might otherwise choose to do. The rant on freedom in a moment, first a few thoughts on ham.

There is an astounding number of things you can do with a pig, gastronomically speaking, there is almost no part of it that you can't eat, and in a number of different ways. The hams are the back legs, especially the rump, and there are, indeed, a number of favoured methods of preparing and preserving them; serrano ham, so delicious and so popular in my adopted land, is made by hanging the whole thing up in warm, dry air and waiting a few months (which is why it is common in the Spanish interior and rather less so in, say, Lancashire). Parma ham is made in a similar manner. York ham is boiled. The ham can be preserved by smoking or salting it, either whole or cut in pieces, and more than one of these methods may be combined.

You probably knew all that. My question is this- how does any of this count as processing, in the sense the word is usually given? And how does it alter the nitrate content? I would love to know why this person felt impelled to launch a crusade against ham, of all things.

Down here we eat a lot of the stuff, and we also eat a lot of the meat of the wild boar. A friend of ours spends many nights perched in a little nest that overlooks a route through his farm taken by the boar at night to drink at the lakes, and whenever he kills one it is butchered, made into steaks, other cuts, and part of it into 'tasajo'. Tasajo is also dry-cured, after being rubbed with salt, pepper and the spices of your choice, but you can't just hang up the whole ham, wild boar is too tough and the flavour too strong for that. It is cut into small strips and hung from hooks. Then, months later, you cut it with a very sharp knife and eat it if you have strong enough teeth. Mrs Hickory makes it herself from time to time, including the butchery, if required.

I may seem to be wandering from the point, but the thing is ham, and pig products in general, are natural, healthy, undergo very little 'processing', and are very cheap. We won't be fretting over our nitrate content here.

Just as we won't be worrying about smoking bans and minimum prices for alcohol. Manipulation of human behaviour is a favourite pastime of politicians of all colours, and they particularly enjoy manipulating one of the freest expressions of human behaviour, choice and interaction, the market. Placing a minimum price on alcohol in shops is grossly illiberal and, of course, will not work. The increase of private imports and the appearance of speakeasies will then provide the zealots with reasons to increase the prices and try other measures. Personally I shall construct a still in the garden shed. (It's not difficult, though it does take a bit of practice to avoid blindness and liver damage).

It's easy to say that pub landlords and customers should just have ignored the smoking ban, as hunters did the hunting ban, and it is true that they should have done, but the English habit is to obey the law, without judging it, and, of course, the nasty little types who promoted and who police this vile bit of oppression are not interested in justice, they would simply gang up, at random, on a few of the people who defy them, to try to frighten the rest. It's a very unpleasant business. I hadn't realized until now that they have even tried to apply it to private clubs, that is, groups of people associating freely on their own terms. Despicable.

I appreciate I'm a bit late to weigh in on the business of smoking in pubs, although the battle may not be lost, but change the reference to smoking at home, drinking in the presence of children, buying alcohol at a market rate (already impossible for many years, since most of what you pay goes to the government anyway), or even eating a ham sandwich, and you may have a draft of a post for next year. The best thing to do with politicians and other bossy, prodnose, self-important types is to ignore them, but we just can't seem to stop taking them seriously.

Down here on the farm we have a pump set up on a sort of bar counter, and we buy barrels from a wholesaler. Hardly any of us sees the inside of a bar in the summer. Instead we gather in the garden as the sun goes down, drink, eat and smoke as we wish, and as the nearest neighbours are three miles away and the nearest tyrannical little Hitler rather further away, in the village, all is freedom and peace.

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