Welcome to Porkland, Maine

Americans have been bacon crazy for a long time now. I’m waiting for this fad to pass onto the “meh” list, but it only seems to be intensifying, especially in Portland, Maine. The two items you’ll find on most Portland restaurants are Brussels sprouts and anything made with pork. How did this happen?  I mean, Lobsters R Us.

I couldn’t be happier about the sprouts. I credit chefs Dan Sriprasert and Bob Wongsaichua who own two great Portland restaurants, the Green Elephant and Boda, for spreading the Brussels sprouts religion. Most people wouldn’t have been caught dead eating Brussels sprouts as a kid, but now we Portlanders are gobbling them up like candy. This is good news, because Brussels sprouts are a cruciferous veggie associated with lowering cholesterol, guarding against cancer, and even protecting DNA.

But pork?  Masa Miyake’s restaurants (Miyake and Pai Men) do a marvelous job with Brussels sprouts but pork is their pride and joy. This is because they raise their own hogs at Miyake Farm. (They probably grow their sprouts there, too, but it’s the pork they crow about. Mixed metaphor?)

Sometimes for us non-meat-eaters, who have to navigate menus carefully for salads without bacon bits, the proliferation of pork items can seem like an assault. But when the dishes are in another language it’s not so bad. Pai Men’s Yaki buta or the Cotelette du porc next door at Petite Jacqueline’s, for example.

I recently visited the cute new restaurant on Dana Street called Blue Rooster Food Co. There were the required Brussels sprouts on the chalkboard menu. And there were, as expected, many pork items, all with very cute names. There was the Crafty Swine and the Three Little Pigs, and a lot of specialty dogs (i.e. pork and beef) with cute names like Barking Dog and Junkyard Dog.

From the Portland Press Herald, 7/29/13
From the Portland Press Herald, 7/29/13

Enough with the pork already. I am not out to change pork eaters into vegans, but yesterday’s Portland Press Herald had a story about a group of scientists and animal advocates who would like to make us think differently about pigs and other farm animals that we eat.

Lori Marino, at Emory University, is the lead researcher on The Someone Project, which is trying to illuminate the emotional lives of highly intelligent animals like pigs. It’s sponsored by Farm Sanctuary (which does want to turn you into a vegan), and the idea is to get people to reject eating pigs in the same way they would reject eating cats or dogs.

Personally I would love to see less pork on Portland menus. As much as I admire Masa Miyake, and am proud to have his restaurants in Portland, Maine, I am all for the Someone Project. I think these clever chefs could come up with some variations on Brussels sprouts that would be welcome, too. Cute names might help.