Friday, August 6, 2010

The Blind Pig

It might not be evident these days, but I used to be quite the book worm when I was younger.  I don't know that I could describe my 'taste' in literature, but it ranges from more serious, science-y type books to entertaining beach reads.  A friend of mine recently gave me a copy of The Blind Pig by Elizabeth Dougherty.  It satisfied the scientist and foodie in me and I couldn't put it down!!

Since I really enjoyed the book, I hope you will too!  Luckily I was able to interview Beth and am going to give away a copy of the book!   Read the interview below and contest details at the bottom of the post.  It was great to get to know Beth a bit more, and I think you'll get a good taste of what the book is about from her answers.

What made you decide to write The Blind Pig?
I had just started working as a science writer in Boston and I was pretty blown away by how quickly genetic engineering and synthetic biology were moving.  I was also overwhelmed by the public health problems that medicine is trying to solve.  At the same time, I lived way out of town in a 200 year-old farmhouse, so there was sort of a culture shock between my work-life and home-life.  Out here, things are quiet and we worry about whether or not the tractor is going to start more than about whether the country will go bankrupt taking care of an unhealthy population.  That's not completely true, but you get the idea.

Anyway, I had a 2-hour (each way) commute on the train, so I just started writing, kind of as therapy.  I used to be an engineer, so I'm a natural problem solver, and my brain just started applying all of these incredible new discoveries and technologies to solving our public health problems.  Once I had the idea for the NArc, the cultural tension between the modern city and the old-fashioned country helped me find the plot.  And once I had some momentum, I kept going because writing this book was really a lot of fun.
How did you come up with the title?
I'm embarrassed to say that I got the title straight out of Wikipedia.  I had this idea to have speakeasies play a role in the book, so one day I just looked them up to start learning more about them.  When I saw that a 'Blind Pig' was another name for a speakeasy, it just clicked. It worked on so many levels but didn't hit you over the head.

At the time, I also was in the middle of an obsession with lard.  I was baking with it -- biscuits, pie crusts -- and rendering it myself.  I was visiting pig farms and small slaughterhouses to learn more about pigs.  The whole story in the book about the tubs of lard the USDA researchers tipped over that Herb tells Angela is actually true.  And in a completely non-scientific taste test I did with friends, the lard-based pie crusts were voted flakiest and tastiest.  Did you know that the pig is considered to be 'nature's refrigerator'?  People used to use pigs as 'larders' -- they'd stuff them with food to fatten them, then eat them over the winter.

But maybe that's just too much information!
What was the most surprising/disturbing thing you discovered when doing research for the book?
I think I'm most disturbed and surprised at how often people have forwarded me news articles about things happening right now that foreshadow some of the futuristic things in the book.  People are growing artificial meats, they are linking engineered organs together to make working bodily systems, they are growing gardens on the sides of skyscrapers, and they are making health-monitoring systems that people carry with them everywhere and that report back to doctors.  People are even developing expert systems to help doctors interpret personal genomes for patients.  It's eerie.  Of course, we have no idea what the future may hold, but if we aren't paying attention, we might not like where we end up.

Have you changed the way you eat since writing the book?
Yes!  During and since writing this, I've spent a lot of time growing food myself.  I enjoy it and it tastes good.  I have also developed an appreciation for just how hard it is.  I cannot imagine being completely self-sustaining.  I also sometimes buy meat from local farmers.  It's a challenge because cooking this food is more work than cooking convenient cuts of meat from the grocery store.

At the same time, I've been thinking a lot about how food affects me -- especially since I'm a runner -- so I've sort of NArc'd myself.  I did an elimination diet and now I actually have a pretty strict diet because certain foods -- especially sugar and wheat -- just get me down.  This is a drag, since I love making pastry, but I allow myself to cheat sometimes.  Luckily the only fine I pay is in feeling bad!  So mostly I eat pretty simple food.  Meat.  Rice.  Quinoa.  Vegetables.  Fruit.  I really should move to a place where almonds, apricots and olives grow because they make up a huge part of my diet.  South of France, here I come!

And since you're a runner...  what's your favorite way to fuel for a long run?
Geez, you had to ask that, didn't you?  Ok.  I'll admit it.  For a long run, I eat engineered food.  Specifically, Clif Bars.  Peanut toffee buzz is my favorite.  I actually think they're pretty yucky, but they are filling enough to keep me going.  I sometimes make oatmeal, but I don't like to do anything that gets me feeling too cozy before a long run.  There's a risk I'll just curl up on the couch with a book instead, especially if it's snowing.  And during any run that's longer than 90 minutes, I eat Clif Blocks and bring water along in my CamelBack.  The blocks are also pretty gross, but they are, in my opinion, thousands of times better than goo.

Wow, so articulate.  I guess I should expect that from an author ;)  Thanks Beth!!

To enter to win a copy of The Blind Pig, all you have to do comment and tell me your favorite book of the summer!  Contest will run until 10am Sunday August 15th.

Do you know what you're eating?


brandi said...

Dang. I'm sure I won't win since i'm the first comment, but oh well!

This book sounds so interesting, and what a fun interview to do!

Putting this in my Amazon cart just in case I don't win :)

Elina (Healthy and Sane) said...

Interesting. My favorite book I've read so far this year is The Ethics of What We Eat. Mind-blowing.

Alisa said...

Wow, that sounds like a fantastic book!

I wish I had a favorite summer read, but i have to review so many cookbooks that recipes and forewards are all I've been reading this year. I would happily dive into something new!

We used to eat Clif Bars too for long hikes and such, but I started making our own bars, which we like much better and they are easy. If your friend would like a recipe or two, just have her email me.

Joanne said...

Oh I SO want to read this book! I just need to read more in general, but especially foodie books. Awesome interview AND review!

Alyssa said...

Beth gave me the opportunity to read The Blind Pig before it was published, and I recommend it to anyone interested in food and technology. It's a gripping murder mystery that foreshadows a dystopia where people can no longer savor the simple pleasure of a delicious meal.

Kerstin said...

Sounds like a great reader! My favorite book I'm read so far this summer is The Help.

Rosiecat24 said...

Oh, I hate picking favorites! It seems so unfair to the other books that don't get picked.

But I'll take a deep breath and dive in here. Since this is a food blog, I'll cast my vote for my very first raw foods cookbook: Ani's Raw Foods Essentials by Ani Phyo. The strawberry sauce made with just strawberries and dates is insanely good!

We Are Not Martha said...

This sounds awesome! I haven't heard of it, but now I'm totally interested! I read all the Stieg Larsson books and loved them. My sister just gave me The Sparrow to read and said it's awesome, so I'm starting it tonight!


janice said...

this is totally on my list. i may even move it to the top! loved that you got to interview the author. i always like hearing an author's own words.

this summer's favorite read is Born to Run. unfortunately, it's also my only read so far. :( it's been a busy summer. can't wait for winter because i actually read a lot more then.

thanks for sharing the book.

Diana said...

Artificial meat?! EEEEK! Scary stuff.

Hmm...fave book this summer? Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. It was the first thing by her that I've read and I looooooved it. Reads like a novel!

Dewi said...

Good review Shannon, sounds like this book is really a must book to read for summer. Wish I can run like you do :(

Cara said...

As a fellow science geek and foodie, I'd love to check this out!

My favorite book so far this summer was the Time Traveler's Wife.

Jenni said...

Favorite book this summer hands down is Born to Run. Along the lines of the book you're recommending though, I would suggest the movie, Food, Inc. I just watched it the other day and found it very interesting to see where our food comes from. Definitely is making me rethink what to spend our food dollars on.

Teri [a foodie stays fit] said...

Wow, this book sounds aweomse.

My favorite book this summer (so far) is Water for Elephants.

Anonymous said...

Hey SG - thinking of you. Just tried a recipe for country style ribs that I think will be a major fail. Needing your help/inspiration for a good (non-bbq) way to cook these bad boys up!

I'm reading a book that I picked up from a bookstore that was closing. It's called the Ginger Tree and I'm fascinated by it's diary style approach! It's about a Scottish girl that moves to China.


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