Pig Roast, American Slow Food

At the Yale Farm, we make pizza every Friday, but we make pig once a year. Our tradition is only a year old, but I have high hopes that for generations to come, on the last day of classes, Yale students will celebrate by roasting a pig.

Right now we're in the planning stage, swapping recipes, debating whether or not to offer vegetarian side dishes (the general consensus: but collards just taste so much better with a ham hock!), and waiting for a local farmer to slaughter our pig.

By the end of the pig roast, we were charcoal-blacked and pork-perfumed, not to mention absolutely exhausted. But we were also exhilarated.

There's a lot of talk about the effete, European nature of the slow food movement, and I think events like pig roasts remind us of what Americans have had to offer the world of food.

Lately I've been reading a book enthusiastically titled America Eats!, which revives a 1935 WPA project that had impoverished writers around the US hunting down and recording regional food traditions. The events described--Booya feasts, chitlin struts, pancake breakfasts--tend to involve big, long-cooked meals that bring a community together, whether it's to celebrate a harvest or to raise money for the local fire department. At Yale, we roast our pig on the last day of spring semester classes.

curley apr14 pig2.jpg

Photo by Sean Fraga

It takes about five or six Yale students, working in shifts, to cook a pig: they watch it for the 20 hours or so it has to cook, making sure it stays around 250 degrees or so, adding the occasional shovelful of charcoal, and basting with apple cider and vinegar.

Four more are charged with cooking up the mountain of cornbread, coleslaw, and black-eyed peas that will serve the 200 or so Yale community members who stop by the farm to partake.

By the end of the pig roast last year, those of us who had been cooking for a crowd of 200 were charcoal-blacked and pork-perfumed, not to mention absolutely exhausted. But we were also exhilarated, because not only had we fed the masses, but we'd started a tradition, something Yalies love to do.

April 24, 2009, marks the Second Annual Jack Hitt Last-Day-of-Classes pig roast; if you're near New Haven, stop by the Yale Farm around 5pm.