The first time I heard the words ‘pulled pork’, I was in LA. It was two or three years ago, it was a balmy, blue-skied day – as it always is in LA, although this particular day was a spring one, so as well as the sunshine there were pastel blossoms everywhere; blooming on tree branches, floating about in the warm breeze and dusting the pavement like confetti, except, thankfully, without a newly married couple anywhere in the vicinity, ruining the vibes. ‘I’m getting the pulled pork bun,’ my mate Tom said, looking up from his menu. We had gone for a late lunch – post-cocktails, pre-club, not quite late enough to call it dinner – and even though (or, more likely, because) I was half-cut already (what with the Bloody Marys and the margaritas and that massive mojito) I was momentarily distracted by Tom’s selection.
Pulled pork? I thought. Pulled pork? What’s pulled pork? It must be one of those American hillbilly foodstuffs, like grits and gumbo and ‘pudding’, which English people needn’t bother learning about because we’ll only ever come across them in Depression-era novels or on sitcoms, where a precise knowledge of what they actually are is unnecessary – we have grasped that they serve to evoke a kind of salt-of-the-earth, heavy, atmospheric domesticity, and that’ll do, for now. If I imagined anything when I heard the phrase ‘pulled pork’, then what I imagined was a giant pig carcass, de-boned and stretched taut, roasted thin and flat, over an open fire lit, perhaps, in a disused garbage can by filthy farm-hands with cowboy hats and mud-spattered faces, served crisp and crackling, skin on.
And then I forgot about pulled pork and concentrated on the tasks at hand. I ordered and ate my own lunch (the After-School Special: tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich – a poor choice, in hindsight), drank some more margaritas, fell asleep in a nightclub and continued my holiday as planned – i.e: singing along to La Roux’s Bulletproof at the top of my lungs as we drove along the Pacific Coast Highway with the windows wound down and the soupy wind caressing our faces. Bliss.
That was then.
Now, I long for those days when pulled pork was a mysterious dish from an unfamiliar cuisine. Now, the repulsive stuff is everywhere and I know exactly what it is. Soft, stringy slow-cooked meat that looks and tastes as one would imagine a pale, chubby baby might look and taste, if she were slow roasted and her cooked flesh was tugged off the bone with a fork – which is, as far as I can gather, the ‘pulled’ part of ‘pulled pork’. It is made edible only with the addition of coleslaw and sugary sauces. A pulled pork bun is the kind of meal you might eat for a laugh at a barn dance, or on a US holiday, but it is certainly not the kind of meal you expect to be offered irony-free in a gastro-pub, pop-up nightclub or cinema foyer – to select just three of the places I’ve come across pulled pork in the past fortnight.
I know American barbecue is a passing trend; it’s all the rage due to the bearded gentrification demographic needing to assume an identity and having only post-80s popular culture from which to fashion one. I understand that pulled pork, rib tips and burgers in brioche (for the record: brioche is a sweet, rich bread suitable for spreading with jam at breakfast and essential for a decent bread-and-butter pudding. Sandwiching beef between it is uncouth in the extreme, and also revolting) will soon be part of history, and we’ll reminisce to our grandkids about the days when you couldn’t socialise anywhere in London without the background stench of charbroiled animal, and it’ll sound nostalgic and glamorous. But I’d like to call time now because enough is enough. Not only is this relentless barbecue culture making me nauseous, it is also seriously hampering any possibility that I might one-day have grandchildren to reminisce with.
I’m pretty sure that I am currently without a husband or a boyfriend at least partly because men fucking love eating pulled pork and it makes them gross. How am I supposed to fancy a bloke when the mere fact of consuming fatty, bland, carcinogenic slop, with his shirt-sleeves rolled up, induces such smugness? When wiping his oily hands on his jeans instead of washing them makes him feel like a real man, from the movies? I know it can’t be all the men, but barbecue culture certainly gets the least desirable of them out in public – which, incidentally, is where I am to be found these days, if you’re up for a date. Or sex. I ain’t fussy.
*The image is ‘Meat Chunks’ by Serge Bertasius Photography at freedigitalphotos.net.