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Media Clippings: Lord of the Lard: A Foodie Tells All!

August 25, 2005 By:
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Several months ago, Corby Kummer, an editor at The Atlantic, outed himself, Jewishly speaking - at least to me. I'd been reading him for years in the magazine, and had assumed from his name that he was of patrician stock. But in a piece titled "Kosher Conversion," he mentioned that during his childhood, his family had tagged meat-related items with red tape, while blue was for dairy. You could have knocked me over with a feather. Or perhaps a spoon is more applicable.

I noted that it was heartening that a major, general-interest journal had devoted space to a clear, unfussy discussion of the rules of kashrut. And I also thought it was courageous of Kummer to do it with such forthrightness.

He'd made it clear that he no longer kept kosher, which would be difficult for a food writer at a national magazine. Still, I was shocked - even felt betrayed - when I read his opinion piece, "High on the Hog," in the Aug. 12 New York Times.

I don't feel that Jews in the public eye must keep strictly kosher or be shomer Shabbas. But I do believe they shouldn't defend all that's treif.

Responding to the fact that the New York City health department asked restaurants to stop serving food that contained trans fats, Kummer wrote a all-out paean to that "great misunderstood fat: lard."

He first went into raptures about the great services it has provided to culinary culture: "Every baker knows that despite lard's heavy reputation (it is pig fat, after all), nothing makes a flakier or better-tasting pie crust. Lard also makes the lightest and tastiest fried chicken: buttermilk, secret spices and ancient cast-iron skillets are all well and good, but the key to fried-chicken greatness is lard."

Despite the assorted offenses to those who keep kashrut harbored in that paragraph, Kummer was just warming up. The purpose of his piece was to de-demonize lard, since its position in American life is not high. Vegetable shortening was called into duty when lard was deemed harmful to one's health. But, Kummer wrote, vegetable shortening "tastes like greasy nothing. And there is ample evidence, as the city health department knows, that it is anything but good for you."

He then went on to demonize shortenings like Crisco, and had the temerity to drag in his kosher-observant mother. Crisco, he noted, "was useful not just to kosher-keeping cooks like my mother but to city dwellers, who lived far from a reliable source of lard (any Italian cook will still tell you that the only trustworthy lard comes from a pig you know)."

Then he plunged the dagger in farther, saying that since trans fats are now considered the devil and vegetable shortening is worse than butter could ever dream of - let's hear it for lard!

Oh, if only Kummer had remained true to his literary tribute to kashrut, no matter his dietary habits.

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