As I continue my first ever series, which happens to be about lard, the second edition here focuses on the history of this marvelous pork product and to some degree its future.
Starting in reverse, I first want to discuss how lard met its demise, because it’s quite interesting. Not merely by an accident, but by an ad campaign from a major corporation designed to kill off lard.
The story begins in the early 1900s, America was uneasy about the meat industry in general. Upton Sinclair’s novel, “The Jungle,” had turned the public’s head, but more importantly their stomachs. And readers of the bestseller were mesmerized by the portion of the book where Sinclair describes slaughterhouse workmen falling into giant vats of lard, dying there, and becoming part of the product moving out the packing house door and into the pantry of consumers.
While those consumers of 20th century America were worrying about the food dangers in the meat packing industry, the staff at Proctor and Gamble, the large corporation I told you about, were working on a solution to their own business dilemma.
The company owned multiple cottonseed oil factories and the oil, used in P&G’s candle production, began to amount to a surplus because, well, who needs candles when electric lights are beating out candlesticks. So with all that leftover oil and the recent invention of the process of hydrogenation, which is basically adding hydrogen molecules to unsaturated fats, the company looked to make something marketable out of it all.
The big break came when P&G discovered that the hydrogenated cottonseed oil will cook like fat, that it looks like fat, plus with the added bonus that it will store for longer, they knew they had something. Now to market the new fat-like product and wipe out lard completely from the map.
First, Proctor and Gamble needed to catch the public’s interest in this lab created fat and turn away from lard, which probably wouldn’t be that difficult, because of the unease in the meat industry created by Sinclair’s novel. But the ad-men for P&G went to town and these guys advertised the hell out of their new lard-killer product, Crisco, short for crystalized cottonseed oil.
Proctor and Gamble basically set the tone for the modern ad campaign. They hit the airwaves, the newly developed means of mass communication. There, they described the wholesomeness of Crisco all the while playing up the fear about the meat industry. P&G mailed out cookbooks touting new and healthful recipes for Crisco, they got schools involved in using it, really bolstered Crisco’s name and built a solid reputation for the new-fangled shortening. And lard, well, good old lard’s popularity wained, while king Crisco moved in replacing it.
So lard lost out in the coming decades. Numerous health studies were purporting the negative impacts lard has on health, studies that have since been rebuked. Why even the name lard itself became synonymous with gluttony and unhealthy lifestyles.
But looking back to pre-20th century, lard was immensely important and the fat was regarded just as highly as the meat of the hog. Like most things lard was probably discovered by accident, but eventually made its way into kitchens all across Europe, the Americas and China. Slaughtering the hogs was a chore usually done in autumn and no part of this valuable animal was ever wasted.
Pigs are not native to the Americas and traversing European explorers would leave the easily adaptable animal behind as a food source for return trips. These wild hogs bred and produced a good supply of meat and lard for the traveler. Eventually when the lands were settled and domestic pigs were slaughtered, their fat, which was highly prized to cook and bake just about anything and everything, was kept in the larder — an aptly named cool storage area for lard.
Indeed, a length of history and quite a story can be written about lard. But its future still looks bright as lard has taken on an artisanal distinction now, being sold throughout farmers markets, CSAs and trendy niche restaurants.
Some of the resurgence of lard has been brought about by new health studies, which have found that lard is not nearly as harmful as the public was told it was. [This was actually the first edition to this series.] And when compared to GMO vegetable shortenings and margarines lard is the best choice.
From lard’s humble beginnings to it’s new beginnings, I hope you have enjoyed learning a little bit more about lard.
So what are your thoughts on lard? Do you use it much, have you used it at all?