Bringing Lard Back into F(l)avor

When writing the blog “The Culture of the “The Other White Meat”, I was impressed by the massive campaign put forth by the National Pork Board to convince the average meat eating American that pork should be lean and pale. They literally spent millions of dollars toting pork as the “Other White Meat”  and even developed pigs that have less body fat than a chicken. Just think about that, an animal that can easily reach 600 lbs or more has less body fat than a  6 lbs chicken. The National Pork Board was aided by support from a study that linked the consumption of red meat with heart disease.This study was then disproved in by a Harvard study in 2010. Turns out it isn’t fat that is the problem, but cholesterol and even THAT is a moving target.

However, the campaign against pigs, pork, and lard started well before the 1980s. It began nearly 100 plus years before when William Procter (a candle maker) and James Gamble (a soap maker) formed a partnership. Both their products were heavily dependent on a steady supply of lard which worked well considering their base of operations was established in Cincinnati, Ohio aka Porkopolis. This was up until post-Civil War when there was more demand then supply for lard and Procter & Gamble realized that they needed to innovate and control their supply line. It was decided to faze out candle making as they could see that electricity was quickly being adopted and switched their focus completely on soap products.

This further increased their need to create a soap that rivaled the much lauded clean smelling white European soap. Instead it further spurred them to look for an oil that would create a similar look and feel, but without the cost. The answer arrived with the purchase of the Buckeye Cotton Oil Company. Cottonseed oil replaced lard as the key ingredient for soap making. All of this is simple and logical enough, a business requires materials to make a product, but when did the making of soap become a campaign against lard?

It happened by accident really. They were looking for an easier way to store the cottonseed oil and were approached by a German scientist, Edwin Kayser, who had found a way to make a solid from a liquid. We know this process as hydrogenation and P&G purchased the US patent so they could further their own experimentation. The end result was a white substance that looked remarkable like another white substance… lard. Only this was not lard, it was plant based and much easier to make since it bypassed the whole raising an animal to get the oil.

An Aside: It should be pointed out that at one point lard had become such a commodity that pigs were being raised solely for its production. Meat was considered to be an unfortunate by product.

Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil does not sound overly appealing, but after a few failed attempts to find a name that resonated with a consumer, they came up with Crisco. Are you having that ah ha moment?

Introducing the first of its kind, a vegetable based product that looked and cooked like lard. To make their product succeed, they needed to make sure it was purchased. This is where the campaign against lard began. In June of 1911, Crisco hit the market and oh boy did it hit the market. P&G put the marketing and advertising umph of J. Walter Thompson Agency on the job and the agency came up with a campaign like nothing anyone had seen before. Today we are used the massive advertising and marketing rigmarole right before a new product is rolled out, but that was not always the case and certainly not in 1911. This was the first time any company put so much into selling a single product. They tested various markets with a variety of strategies to see which one would be eventually rolled out. The winner was that with each purchase of a tub of Crisco the purchaser was the recipient of a cookbook. Each of the 650 recipes had one ingredient in common, Crisco.

In 1912, they sold 2.6 million pounds of the stuff and by year four they were up to 60 million pounds. They did not sit on their laurels, but continued to find ways of convincing housewives that Crisco was their very best option. They did this through advertisements showing women in white lab coats working in labs (it is modern and clean), cooking classes, updated cookbooks, and clever slogans. As a new century was getting underway, they tapped into the desire for modernity as exemplified by scientific advancement. “Clean food from a clean factory” was one of their advertising slogans from 1915.

“It’s a vegetable, it’s digestible” was another. Remember this is also when health claims did not have to be backed up by scientific data so they claimed that Crisco was healthier than lard. They could attribute all sorts of benefits to Crisco while saying that butter and lard were unhealthy. Touching strongly on purity and cleanliness, they implied that any mother cooking with lard was not being the best mother to her children as she was not providing them with the healthiest upbringing. Instead she should use Crisco to be the best caregiver. P&G was incredibly good at recognizing and targeting specific groups to maximize their marketing.

Crisco found unique champions in the Jewish community. Due to dietary restrictions, Jews are not allowed to eat anything coming from a pig which means absolutely no lard. Even using butter can be problematic since cooking with dairy (butter) and meat is strictly forbidden, too. Enter Crisco. It cooks like lard, but did not cross any food boundaries since it is plant based. Realizing they had tapped into a unique market, P&G made sure to tailor much of their marketing towards the Jewish community. They brought in rabbis to ensure that Crisco is kosher and had a seal of authenticity. They began advertising in Jewish publications in both Yiddish and Hebrew. They even released special edition of their cookbook in 1933 in which the recipes are in both Yiddish and English.

By the 1950s, Crisco was King.

Fast forward to today and the tables are starting to turn back in favor of lard. The fictional days of the “The Jungle” when men could fall into the rendering vats and be liquefied are blessedly behind us. The CAFOs are coming under scrutiny as consumers wonder why their pork chops are pale and tasteless. Today many more people are becoming aware of their food sources and making the choice to find animals, ingredients, recipes, and foods from the past. The words ‘traditional’, ‘heritage’, and ‘heirloom’ show up more and more regularly on menus and at farmer’s markets.

One ingredient that is starting to cast off the negative connotations of the past is lard. This has much to do with the discovery of trans fats and their contribution to health issues. Turns out when you add that hydrogen in during the hydrogenation process it alters the molecular structure. Yes, it is still edible, but it does not affect the body in the same way as the naturally occurring fat. There have been studies to show that it contributes to diabetes, obesity, blood pressure, and heart diseases. The findings have been so disturbing that in 2013, the World Health Organization stated that trans fats should make up only 1% of of a person’s diet. The average American consumes far more than that.

When looking for an alternative to hydrogenated oils, lard stands out. Unlike Crisco and its cousins, lard is 45.10% of monounsaturated fat, 11.20% of polyunsaturated fat, and 39.20% of saturated fat out of a total fat of 100 g. It has no trans fats. Added benefit is that because of the saturated fats, lard will not go rancid as quickly as most vegetable based oils. Turns out a lot of the vegetable oils we purchase at the grocery store have already turned even before arrival. Flax oil for example is usually only good for up to a month under very controlled conditions. I had a bit of an ‘ew’ moment when I found out that what we consider normal tasting olive oil is very different from freshly pressed olive oil because it has gone rancid in the time it took to get to my kitchen.

Hydrogenated oil has only been around for a little over 100 years whereas humans have been eating animal fat in its natural and rendered state for as long as we have been hunting. Our bodies are designed to get the most out of the fat. Not only do we get the right kind of fat, the right kind of cholesterol, we can also get a number of our vitamins too. Lard is the second highest food source for vitamin D next to cod live oil. One teaspoon of really good lard (lard from a pig who has been outside) can contain as much as 1,000 IUs of vitamin D. Since vitamin D is fat soluble, you are getting it in the perfect delivery method.

For those of us who really like good food and tasty is paramount… All those recipes included in P&G’s cookbook were not created by trail and error. They took recipes that had already been made for generations using lard and altered them to include Crisco. Do they act similarly in recipes? The answer is….yes… ish. They both get the job done, but for those who bake pastry, most will argue that you get a fluffier lighter pastry using lard. When it comes to frying, again, you can use both, but one of the wonderful things about lard is that has a high smoke point of 370 F in comparison to coconut oil (350 F) and olive oil (320 F). Your fried foods fry faster and less greasily. I have experience using it to bake pie crusts and biscuits and as much as I love using butter, I can honestly say that with lard, they were fluffier.

It may sound like the soap box is already being stood on, but up until this point it has pretty much been a history lesson. This is where my own personal views are a little stronger. Crisco is not longer made with cottonseed oil. “What was garbage in 1860 was fertilizer in 1870, cattle feed in 1880, and table food and many things else in 1890” (Popular Science magazine)  has been replaced by soy and palm oil. Most of the soy grown in the USA is genetically modified and has been heavily sprayed with pesticides. It is one of the many mono crops which are damaging the farming world. Take soy and multiple it by a thousand on the badness scale and you have my feelings on palm oil. Palm oil which is made by destroying orangutan habitat WHILE the orangutans are still in them. I look at product ingredients and if palm oil is listed it immediately is returned to the shelf no matter how much I might want whatever it is.

Lard on the other hand is sustainable. There is a reason that pigs were so popular as a meat and fat source. They do well in all sorts of climates. As omnivores, finding and consuming food is rarely an issue. They are good for the land as they clear out underbrush, rototill the soil, and introduce healthy fertilizer back into the ground. Unlike ruminants, they did not require pastureland and grasses to be sustained. Pigs like digging around roots and think a meal of acorns is the best. Even better is when they are able to live in exactly this manner. They soak up the sunshine which is converted into vitamin D. They enjoy a diet in trace minerals which are ingested into their bodies. Their meat is richer and darker. With longer life spans, the fat in their bodies becomes intramuscular rather than just an insulator. When you consume their meat and fat, you are receiving the same health benefits. Lard is paleo and gluten free, too!

As one parting note, this blog is not suggesting that you go and consume HUGE quantities of lard. Moderation is key to keeping happy and healthy. However, you may want to do a little more reading/research and consider if lard is perhaps some thing with which you want to experiment. The further caveat is to be very careful where and from whom you purchase your lard. Not all lard is made equal and some of it can be quite nasty based on how it is processed and the condition of the fat. Consider finding a source of fat back/leaf lard which is from pigs raised on pasture or woods and rendering your own lard. Find out the diet of the pig since that can also play into the quality of the lard. Best of all is if you happen to be near a farm that is Certified Humane and specializes in the rearing of heritage pigs. The quality of the animal’s life will be reflected in the quality of the lard.

Sources for both this blog and additional reading:

Crisco Advertisements at the Dawn of the 20th Century by Sukai Kato-Hopkins

Crisco and the Kosher Kitchen Culture by Sally Edelstein

Kosher Cooking with Crisco- Hanakah, 1911 by Library Blog (Yeshiva University)

How Vegetable Oils Replaced Animal Fats in the American Diet by Drew Ramsey and Tyler Grahm

Trans Fat  and Lard on Wikipedia

10 Reasons to Bring Lard Back by Lauren Geersten

10 Reasons You Should Be Cooking With Lard by Julie R. Thomson

If Vegetables Don’t Make Oil, What is Crisco? by Meghan Telpner

Lard by Denzil Green (lists the various types of lard)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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