How to Live to 100: eat pork

Posted on August 7th, 2012

During my time with the Blue Zones/National Geographic team, I had the highly satisfying experience of having something that I do instinctively, passionately and naturally confirmed as A Good Thing.

Ikarian lemon pork…and the rest

I learned that eating pork can make you live longer. Or, more scientifically, one of the dietary staples that the various communities in the Blue Zones around the world had in common is pork – read more on that here.

Pork is a protein-rich substance that clears the skin, protects the liver, detoxifies the lungs, even cleanses the system of cholesterol. Okinawans – lauded as the longest lived people on the planet – are the only Japanese to eat pork. The Japanese as a whole do not rate high on the life expectancy stakes. Only the pork eaters.

Dan Buettner and I talked a lot about meat consumption. He’s a reticent meat fan. But I think we agree: meat is great. But eat more… and less (see below), is my mantra.

Dan says:

“Pork is interesting. It’s an anomaly and I would not have guessed it, but I can’t deny it. One Okinawan scientist studied this. His theory, and I’m not sure I agree with it completely, is that because pig is the most genetically similar to humans, there’s something in the pork protein that helps repair arterial damage. What he cites is that in America we die of heart disease and the Japanese tend to die of strokes, but in Okinawa they have fewer strokes. This is part of the reason they live longer. The doctor theorizes that it’s because they eat more pork than any other prefecture of Japan, and pork protein serves almost as caulking.”

This trip I’ve celebrated pork everywhere. I’ve craved it, my body has benefited almost immediately from it, I’ve been thoroughly grateful for it. In Spain it was Iberian pork – roasted, as a prosciutto type tapas, as salami, in omelettes.

Suckling pig at Botin in Milan, the oldest restaurant in the world

In France, I ate pork trotters in a garlicky, gherkiny sauce. For my slow food guide to Provence, click here.

Back home in Byron I eat the famous organic Bangalow pork. Not in huge quantities. But respectfully. And always with a lot of appreciation. I also eat the fat, the marrow, the cartilage, and sometimes the bones. That’s what I mean by respectful. I don’t toss out bits.

Here in Greece, I’ve been eating pork as it should be eaten. Slow-cooked in it’s own juices and fat (nothing added apart from some lemon juice and oregano). Here the whole animal is eaten, not just the fashionable cuts. Respectful.

This is something I’m becoming increasingly passionate about: eating less while eating more.

That is, eating smaller quantities, but eating the whole animal. More on this later…

At the panygiri (the local village festivals), pork broth is consumed throughout the night. My friend Eleni told me this: always drink one glass of wine, one glass of water, one swish of pork broth. Do this all night and you stay sober and energised.

One hot afternoon we visited Eleni, Thea’s 85-year-old aunt. She bakes her own bread and grows all her own veggies. While we were filming, she whipped us up a little something to “snack” on…see the main image above. That’s how it’s done here. The recipe below is a version of it, albeit not using a fresh pig and fresh ingredients picked that morning. It’s one of those recipes where you’ll have to adjust things according to the type of meat you use. Either cook in a slow cooker or in a big pot in the oven.

Thea’s aunt had much advice…including never eating low-fat food. She also ate super slowly. And drank wine with every meal.

Icarian lemon pork

1  kilo pork, preferably shoulder or collar, cut into stewing size pieces, or about 6 pork chops

1 onion, sliced into rings

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup water or stock

salt

juice of 2 lemons

1-2 tbls cornflour or arrowroot

Place the meat in the slow cooker (only remove REALLY chunky bits of fat…you need to leave quite a bit of fat on to really get the full Greek flavour), pour the stock/water, half the lemon and the oil over the top, and place the onion and garlic on top. Sprinkle with plenty of salt. Cover and cook for 6-8 hours on low. When done, ladle out some of the juices, mix with a tablespoon or two of cornflour and the rest of the lemon juice and pour back over the meat and stir. Cook for another 30 minutes. Serve with horta (greens), salad, olives, cheese and wine.

Let me know how you go with this one. Remember, the point is that the pork cooks in it’s fats and juices. Don’t overtrim and make sure you buy some cuts with plenty of fat!

 

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  • Rose

    Hi Sarah, I’ve recently started to re-think pork. I used to eat salami, etc growing up being of italian background but was never fussed on the rest of it. My dad and I were recently chatting food, the type when he was growing up in northern italy. He said that pork was pretty much the only meat they ate. They had cows but that was only for the milk for making cheese. I do have a bit of a query though. I’ve started to buy free range pork which has been grain fed. I thought grass fed was better but then thought it might be different for pork. Are they supposed to eat grains?? Thanks for the post.

    [Reply]

    eskimojo Reply:

    Hi Rose

    My understanding is that grass is better; a ‘wild’ pig likes to roam in a forest, eating grass/shoots, digging up roots, eating dropped fruit etc, so a farmed diet that mimics that is what’s going to be best.

    [Reply]

    Julia Reply:

    Hi ,I am a heritage breed true free range pig farmer from far north Qld.Eating pork that is not pasture raised and true free range is of no benefit to your body at all.This is because any pork that is breed free range which is actually raised in a shed or full caged gets no sun and no chance to forge for worms ,grubs and grasses which contain omega 3s and vitamin D.The meaning of pasture raised is that the pigs have actual pasture to substuite their diet.You also have to ask your free range farmer if they feed their herd commercial feeds,as these are full of fish meal,meat meal and antibiotics.Which if the pigs are feed a well balanced diet of grains only they do not need to eat meat or be force feed antibiotics.In a farming situation is is not possible to let the pigs just graze as there would in the wild as there would not be enough variety in the field to sustain a healthy diet.By the way Bangalo pork is NOT ORGANIC OR EVEN FREE RANGE.CAll them and ask.We believe that you should only the best meat,veggies and fruit you can get your hands on and your body will thank you for it.

    [Reply]

    Sara Reply:

    Thanks Julia, even though I don’t personally eat pork my husband loves it so it’s good to know the best options.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.dramaclub.co.nz Bridie

    Hi Sarah, this is really intriguing!!

    One question that I’ve been itching to ask: do many of the people in Icaria eat bread or pasta? Is eating wheat a part of their diet?

    I’m sorry if you’ve already answered these questions and I’ve missed it.

    Thanks for all the great posts.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    THey do eat bread, but made with low gluten flour from what I can tell. Not much pasta at all. Mostly their diet is vegetables and dairy and some meat.

    [Reply]

    Bridie Reply:

    Thanks for your response Sarah. Best of luck with your travels.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.sparrowandsea.com Jess @ Sparow + Sea

    I recently read a book called ‘Healthy at 100′ by John Robbins, which was amazing. He investigates and analyses the dietary and lifestyle habits of four groups of people with insanely long (and *healthy*) longevity. This includes the Abkhasians from the south of Russia, the Vilcabambans of South America, the Hunza of Central Asia, and the Okinawans of Japan.

    His conclusion regarding dietary factors is to keep meat and animal products to a minimum. Yes, the Okinawans eat meat, but by no means do they eat a lot of it… I would be interested to hear more of what you have been learning Sarah, as Robbins research compellingly leans towards a diet that is at least 90% fruit and veg for longevity.

    Regardless of all of the above, I love how you say that pork feels ‘instinctively, passionately and naturally’ right for you. I love that feeling of unexplainable certainty that us human creatures can sometimes experience if we just listen properly to our bodies!!

    (Also, as an aside, one of my favourite parts of the book is the emphasis on *love* being super-important for health and longevity. Social networks and support systems and loving relationships are apparently The. Most. Important. Factors…. Aaaaaaww!!)

    [Reply]

  • Mia Bluegirl

    That’s really interesting. I wonder if you take pork away from it’s natural environment, and into a country like Australia where it is not suited, if this would have any impact on the longevity factors?

    I do love pork but rarely eat it, and only when I go out… but am still happy to eat shoulders, knees, feet, any part of them. There are some parts of the world where they will serve you the whole head, apparently! That would be a challenge, for a Westerner like me who is, unfortunately, urbanized beyond the point of being useful and removed from her food chain.

    The best meal I ever had was a pork knee in Prague, with inch-thick fat and beautiful dripping juices. SO lovely, I nearly got teary over it.

    [Reply]

    nelly Reply:

    Haha! Love that you too get teary over your food… Sometimes i have to laugh at how emotional reeeeallllllly good food makes me!!

    [Reply]

  • Emily

    Isn’t pork eaten all over Japan? The tonkotsu broth for ramen is a pork broth, and served with pork slices, isn’t it?

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Reply:

    Yes. I lived in Fukushima for two years – pork is widely eaten all over Japan, mainly because they’re smaller and easier to raise than cows are there. You can drive by pig farms in little towns and hear all the oinking!

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    I think Dan’s observations that pork isn’t a main part of the traditional diet

    [Reply]

    Ashley Reply:

    But the traditional diet isn’t adhered to anymore, at all. I’ve lived in Japan for four years, and pork is in everything it seems… seen more often than chicken, beef, etc. Nowadays you’ll see a lot of fried, processed, etc., food in everyday diets here in Japan. And all that white rice… at least half a meal’s worth. I think in Okinawa that’s quite a bit different.

  • http://cinnamoneats.wordpress.com Naz

    I’ve had to slowly get used to eating pork over the past few years. It wasn’t something I ate much of when I was growing up as traditionally with my background it’s usually lamb or beef that are the main meats that are eaten. When I met my husband it was completely different, he grew up eating pork (Hungarian background) and so when I would go over to his parent’s house I’d be served pork there and at first it was hard for me to eat. Since we’ve been married I’ve slowly gotten used to eating it more and more… I’m sure he’d be happy reading this and would probably tell me ‘told you it’s good for you!’

    Luckily there’s a Farmers Market down the street from us that sells pasture raised pork so will be shopping there for sure!

    [Reply]

  • Bern

    Great article Sarah! I enjoyed a very similar recipe for dinner last night, pork shoulder in the slow cooker with cumin, fennel and lime juice :)
    Does anyone know where to source pasture fed organic pork in Perth, WA?

    [Reply]

    Mia Bluegirl Reply:

    Hi!

    Try Mondo Butchers, or (my personal favourite) Gregory’s Meat and Poultry in Karrinyup. Gergory’s is where I usually go, the butchers there are really friendly and informative and they also have organic beef, chicken etc. Their organic bacon is out of this world!

    [Reply]

    Bern Reply:

    Thanks so much Mia, I will check them out x

    [Reply]

  • http://samiascloset.wordpress.com/ Krista

    Hey Sarah!
    What an interesting post. I’m commenting from Finland.
    For me pork, nor other kinds of meats have never been good. So I can’t really say anything good from own experiences.
    But…
    Eating a lot of pork has been linked to aggression and gout to name a few issues…
    Either eating excess amounts of pork or eating bad quality pork. Pork as in pig, that has been stressed too much releases hormones that aren’t good. Aggression also transfers to the meat…
    Someone told me that humans and pigs are surprisingly similar, in genes, hormones, behavior, emotions etc. So maybe this is the reason for why pork suits humans and why sometimes eating pork can be harmful.
    So eating only “happy” and stress free piggies. Happy animals, good food, happy humans, good health…

    [Reply]

    michael Reply:

    With you on this Krista
    Little too close to us on the food chain for my liking and I find most animal fat repulsive.
    Full disclosure .. I am a meat eater .. but pigs are a little too bright for me to want to eat them. Plus their eating habits are a bit of a turn off as well.
    And living to 100 isn’t a burning desire either ..

    [Reply]

    Mia Bluegirl Reply:

    You raise an interesting point re. intelligence, I don’t eat octopus for the same reason. Not sure how I justify pork. I’ve always admired the ability/ desire of pigs to eat anything and everything, even humans or other pigs if there is no other food available. I admire their tenacity.

    I’m not sure I want to live to 100 either, but the idea of extending the healthy, young part of my life has me fascinated…

    [Reply]

  • Sam

    Hey Sarah – that’s very interesting, I’ve always loved pork but kept it to a minimum because ‘fat was bad’. Since I gave up sugar 9+ months ago, I’ve increased my intake and I too literally crave it and could eat it everyday. Although I’m not as brave as you in being able to eat all aspects of the pork yet … I’ve found since embracing this way of eating that my ‘cravings’ are becoming more and more instinctual as to what feels like the right food/drink to nourish my body with.
    Sam

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Tell me Sam, have you put on weight from eating fat?

    [Reply]

    Sam Reply:

    Hey Sarah – no, I’ve lost weight, after I quit sugar and lost 13kgs doing that f