The First Branch, the Last Pork

Pork lovers are not expected to demonstrate outside Tiv Taam outlets. Many years of incitement did the trick and the local taste for pork is rather limited. I, for one, don't remember the last time it was served at my table. It has to be conceded: There is something off-putting about pork and its image. Even its fans prefer not to find it lying next to the kitchen sink. In a plate? Yes, that they are willing to have. Bacon on a plate sounds more logical and even tastier.

Sometimes a personal relationship to food develops. There are routine eaters who flee to another room upon the surprise appearance of fish. Pork, on the other hand, has a calming effect on the emotional diner. Its metamorphosis from "pig" to "ham" spares us from the piercing gaze dead fish direct at sensitive diners.

The semantic distinction between food in its initial form and its tastier final arrangement is especially meticulous when it comes to pork. B. Michael once wrote that already in the pen it looks like something fit to be placed in a sandwich. Between two slices of bread it loses its piggish-ness and is transformed into something very trendy. Even a drumstick sounds juicier than hairy chicken thighs.

The disgust stems from many years of preventive education. Only a few books featuring an endearing and kindhearted pig as the lead character have been translated into Hebrew. In George Orwell's "Animal Farm," Snowball, Napoleon and Squealer assume the roles of the bad guys, which make them acceptable to the Hebrew audience. Even the sounds used to form the Hebrew word for pork, "chazir," (chet, zayin, resh) do not make it any friendlier.

The salespeople in white smocks at the Tiv Taam outlet in the Carmel Market are certainly friendly. The store has been around for over 30 years. This is where Yehuda Treibitsch ran a small business selling non-kosher meat to stores and restaurants that was later transformed into a large retailer run by his son. Above the store, a "factory outlet" sign still hangs, but what factory it refers to is unclear.

The Tiv Taam outlet in the Carmel Market is hidden behind some clothing stalls. Its meat department is located at the end of a narrow and long room filled with products in the spirit of the retailer that was sold to Arcadi Gaydamak.

This week there was a lot of talk here about pork, but it was in Russian. In Hebrew, they are careful not to make specific reference to the product, and the pastrami, for example, is "white pastrami." But not far away is a butcher who caters to Asian customers and his sign fearlessly displays a smiling and proud pig.

Next to the checkout counter, the clerk regrets that "the owner isn't here." Since 6:00 A.M., they have been asking her what will happen. And what's her answer? That it will be okay, we will continue selling pork because "we're not part of the chain." She has no idea why Gaydamak decided to ban the sale of pork and recommends asking him directly. In a press interview, Gaydamak says pork will be removed out of concern for tradition.

The link between food and tradition is usually not a successful one. I have fond memories of the Passover seder, but the culinary part of the experience is small and unvaried. The memory of the Passover cakes is still too fresh in my mind to relate to them forgivingly.

The link between Gaydamak and traditional values, or values in general, also prompts suspicion. It is a suspicion nurtured in the meantime only by rumors and xenophobia that cannot be denied. Gaydamak is a foreigner, not one of us, and always looks like someone plotting something that we will all yet regret.

If only he would exercise restraint and not point to "values" as an explanation for his investment in Tiv Taam, we would be more relaxed because the connection between food and values is problematic. Someone, in the end, is slashing someone else's throat and then cooking the victim. It is hard to do something like that in a humane way, and there aren't many restaurants that serve beef from cows that died of old age. It is preferable, however, to ban pork for religious reasons than to force-feed geese, crowd chickens into coops or, in general, to slaughter animals.

At the meat counter in the Tiv Taam outlet in the market, a customer turns to me as a partner in misery. Unlike most of the cashiers and shoppers at this time of day, her Hebrew has no trace of a Russian accent. She is very concerned and asks what will be the end of it, what else will they take away from us. The tendency today is to look for someone to blame in the government. You lost in the Lebanon war, stole money and now you want to take away our pork?

Among customers, therefore, concern prevails. Among the pigs, on the other hand, as Uri Orbach reports on Army Radio, there is much happiness and even excitement over Gaydamak's historic step. Orbach, himself, in an exalted act, is calling for all pigs to be set free; from slavery to freedom and from enslavement to redemption. Until Orbach is declared the Balfour of pigs, they will apparently continue to proceed along the familiar path from the warm pen past a few character roles in animated films, to the frying pan.

Gaydamak, in the meantime, is proceeding on his own course and his interim balance is positive: the pigs were defeated, so god is on his side. He already has his hand in culture (see Beitar Jerusalem). And now for "high culture": The Israel Museum named after Arcadi Gaydamak? It sounds good, inexpensive and people will also say: What's wrong with that?