Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bauchspeck Appearance in 1951 Film; Reflections on Yamamoto's Hagakure

Bauchspeck example in 1951 film.

I watched "Decision Before Dawn", a 1951 film about the waning days of World War II, 1945 - a full 66 years ago.

In one scene, a man offers the people he's riding with in the back of a truck, strangers to him, some "Bauchspeck".*

People are desperate, going without basic things like food. In the middle of all this, the man shares his precious Bauchspeck with strangers he'll never see again. The way the scene is composed, it looks like an advertisement for Bauchspeck - you are clearly meant to want what he's got in his hands. The people in the truck greedily take the food.

When I saw that Bauchspeck, I couldn't help but think more piggy thoughts like, "I'd eat that!" and "That's some good looking Bauchspeck, no wonder he's smiling!" and "Looks like he cut it really thick, that could get chewy."

Modern Bauchspeck from

In 1951, the time of filming, they still had decent-looking Bauchspeck. The modern stuff is much leaner, and can't taste as good.

In America in 2011, the product isn't nearly as common as 60 years ago, but foodies have it much better than in 2006 (when I hadn't imported the first Mangalitsa pigs to the Western Hemisphere). These days, if you want a really great version of that product, you can:

It is interesting to see that in 1951, the Bauchspeck shown in the movie didn't look like our Mangalitsa Bauchspeck or pancetta - it was a lot leaner. Just look at the 1951 Bauchspeck versus the Mangalitsa stuff to see what I mean.

Of course, the movie just shows one piece of Bauchspeck, not a bunch of typical pieces - but I assume that what they showed in the film was typical for the time.

It is interesting to think that back then, Americans probably would have recognized the product as a basic staple. Maybe they would have called it "salt pork" or "side" or "bacon". These days, most Americans wouldn't recognize the product - it is the sort of thing you trek to Eataly for, pay $34.80/lb. When it is all over, you feel like you've scored something really special.

That last paragraph isn't meant to deny the specialness - the stuff is ridiculously special. This is the first time in history that regular Americans have been able to walk into a retail store and by this stuff of this quality, produced entirely in the Western Hemisphere. Such stuff might have existed in the past, but people were too broke to afford it, and in any case, it wouldn't be so easy to acquire. Now you just need a credit card and a telephone or internet connection.

The world of 1924 - just 87 years ago.

Reflecting on the past reminds me of this passage from the Hagakure, by Yamamoto:
It is said that what is called "the spirit of an age" is something to which one cannot return. That this spirit gradually dissipates is due to the world's coming to an end. In the same way, a single year does not have just spring or summer. A single day, too, is the same.

For this reason, although one would like to change today's world back to the spirit of one hundred years or more ago, it cannot be done. Thus it is important to make the best out of every generation. This is the mistake of people who are attached to past generations. They have no understanding of this point.

On the other hand, people who only know the disposition of the present day and dislike the ways of the past are too lax.
There's no way we can go back to the days of ordinary people eating fatty pig products nearly every meal. It can't be done.

Nevertheless, I'm pretty sure that by importing the Mangaltisa to the Western Hemisphere in 2007, I made the most of our generation. I just can't imagine what else I could have done in that same period that would have had such a positive impact on so many people.

It should be clear too, that when we send Mangalitsa to Asia, we aren't returning to some glorious past where they ate really great Mangalitsa-like pork. Rather, we live in a new time when they are richer than they've ever been, and some of them can afford to eat really great stuff that is generally better than anything they've been able to eat in all of human history. By exporting our production to Asia, we are making the best of the present.

* Here's more on that product, if you want to make some of your own.

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