Making a Guide to Better Bacon

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Photo by Ryan Stiner

I'm not really someone who makes a big deal out of the sort of single (or maybe it's "singular?") events that others are generally so fond of. I'm not bothered in the least by others making those sorts of celebrations into something more momentous. They're just not really my thing. I've never been to any of my own graduations; I don't really like going to weddings or parties, openings or the like.

What I do like a lot is doing the work that leads up to them and the work that follows from them. So while I certainly don't begrudge other celebrating up a storm at their events, I'm personally really much more from the "celebrate all the small things daily" school of life. It's really working on the project, working on life, or working on whatever that's as much fun and as exciting as any particular point along the way.

Which is why, while I'm all for appreciating the moment of the "release" of the new Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon book, it's personally not really particularly any more gratifying than all the other little events that have gone into making it the reality that it soon will be. Hardly anyone believes me when I say this stuff, but it's seriously true. I like the writing and the research, and I even like proofing, helping place illustrations, working on cover designs, rewriting and editing, and a recipe testing, too.

A memorable moment in the already three-year life (to date) of researching, writing, studying, editing, illustration, layout, typography and printing that makes a book.

Looking ahead, I like the stuff that's still to come--even once the book is out, there's all the good work that follows that; actually selling them and signing them and having people read them and cook from them and talk about the recipes and how they served the dish they prepared and all that good work, that, very seriously, also gets me going in good ways. It really is the small stuff--finding out that someone actually made one of the recipes, or tried a new bacon or got inspired to cook something unique and special--is just as big (actually bigger) deal to me as getting the book back from the printer or having a press party.

All that said, even I don't want to deny that last month, there was a memorable moment in the already three-year life (to date) of researching, writing, studying, editing, illustration, layout, typography and printing that makes a book. 15 good folks here got together to assemble the little pre-release, hand-done, 170 copies of the Anarchist Edition of Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon.

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Photo by Jillian Downey

If you didn't read the first stuff Corby put up there in his post a few weeks ago, the formal release of the book will be July 1 (we're self-publishing locally so it probably won't show up in most of the places that books are supposed to show up in). The idea to do this small extra edition came out of my interest in anarchism and in historical study of the late 19th and early 20th century anarchists who often put out small, self -published little bits of writing to promote their views and get their ideas out to the people in a grassroots kind of way.

Anyways, since the formal proper, bacon book wasn't going to be ready from the printer for another six weeks, and since I was speaking about the book at the Ann Arbor Book Festival this past weekend, and since I like hard to find, unique, different and interesting items, we decided to put this thing together ourselves. Cover silk screened onto Kraft cardboard, extra preface added in and printed on black paper (the anarchist color), extra recipe, numbered, signed and all that good stuff that I, at least, like a lot. It is of course, a cool thing that the book is finally "out" after all these years of work. But really the reason that Wednesday evening was so memorable for me was because of Jan Longone.

The Anarchist Edition of the book is dedicated to two interesting and exceptional individuals. One is Joseph "Jo" Labadie. He was a Detroit-based activist--known as "the gentle anarchist" for his non-violent beliefs--who donated his collection of anarchist writings to the University of Michigan back in 1911. I spent many hours while I was in school here reading the work in the Labadie Collection with the kind of relish that only people strange enough to really like totally obscure history could have for that sort of thing. If he were still alive, I'd have invited Jo Labadie to the book assembly "party," but since he passed away in 1933, other than spiritual presence that wasn't really much of an option.

Jan Longone, the other person to whom the book is dedicated, is very much present, alive, well and very much in action. I first met Jan back in the early '80s, around the time we opened the Deli. My partner Paul Saginaw had told me about this incredible woman over on West Madison Street in Ann Arbor who had an amazing collection of cookbooks in her basement.

Over the ensuing years Jan has been an incredible resource. Her knowledge of cookbooks and culinary ephemera is incredible. Her humility, her never-ending passion for learning, and her generosity of spirit have been, and continue to be, a huge inspiration to me. In 2004, Jan donated the bulk of her collection to the University of Michigan, where it now forms the core of the Longone Center for Culinary Research. (BTW, it's a very good place to contribute if you're looking to make a donation to a culinary cause.)

Anyways, being the generous people that they are, Jan and her husband Dan heard about our Anarchist Edition assembly party that Wednesday evening and wanted to come by to help. I hadn't told her yet that we'd dedicated the book to her so it was just one of those really nice so-called, but not really, coincidences that life lays out there.

Jan arrived just as we started to assemble the books. Not having seen it before she, understandably, immediately started to flip through the preface we'd added for this edition, only to find that it was dedicated to her. Which meant that, right then and there, I got to sign bacon book copy number 1 (of the 170) to her and put it directly in her hand.

Of the incredible number of rare books Jan has bought, sold, read and donated over her career, I'm sure this one is a miniscule spot in a very big bibliography. But for me it was a small way I knew that I could pay tribute to a woman who's life's work really has made a difference for me and for thousands of others in the food world. Jan's contribution, while quiet and little known outside a small group of those who study their food fairly seriously, really has been fantastic. Her work and her generosity, as I've said have inspired me. And as is her way and not at all surprising, there was she was coming to volunteer to help put books together for a business she doesn't even work in.

Which brings me back to "big events," or actually, my lack of enthusiasm for said celebrations. As I said, I don't get that excited about book release events or press parties. For me, being able to sign that first copy and just hand it directly to Jan in one of our offices over on Plaza Drive is really a lot more meaningful that all those others supposedly more prestigious moments that get associate with this sort of thing.

I don't know if it makes a difference to anyone else, but...for me, it was a cool thing. A small, singular moment in time, 60 seconds in an office on the south side of Ann Arbor on a modest Wednesday evening in the middle of May with a collection of fifteen people all at work on other things. But like I said, it really is the little things that matter most to me.