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A Pinch of Parang Soca

By Terry Joseph
December 19, 2003

Decades before pharmaceutical corporations thought up expensive treatments for acid-reflux, Trini dipsomaniacs discovered a readily available elixir for dealing with gastric disorder at large-a pinch of salt on the tongue-adjusting dosage as appropriate for special challenges like Christmastime excesses.

The Mighty Sparrow's "Well Spoken Moppers", a comic 1963 narrative about Christmas Day visitors to his home, touched on the concept. His counterpart, Chalkdust, later immortalised it in "Something Salt", a song touting alkaline imperatives for alleviating alcohol-induced discomfort.

Parangsoca pioneer, Crazy rendered "Yvonne", lamenting not so much milady's insensitivity, absconding on Christmas morning without preparing food, but his consequent deprivation at a time when Trinis must have "Something Salt" to fend off liquor intake.

King of that musical hybrid, Scrunter, emphasised the craving in general terms with several songs, including "Leroy", "Madam Jeffrey" and "Eat Something (Before You Go)"; narrowing his focus to the popular preference with "(I Want a) Piece ah Pork".

Indeed, for reasons well outside the spiritual realm, pork products became the agreed salt-carriers on the Trini Christmas menu, indigenous songs of the season going the whole hog (Marcia Miranda's "Bring Out the Ham" et al), exalting the pig as virtual centerpiece of the celebration.

It is not a habit of local origin. From time immemorial, the roasted wild boar-later replaced by domesticated suckling pig -adorned the head table at lavish Christmas feasts, set in the middle as a piece d' resistance, replete with apple in mouth.

Trinis added Christmas Eve flourish. Preparing the ham became a family event, right down to spiking the finished product with cloves to help preserve the intrinsically unstable meat, knowing it had to last all season long; not just for the house but as "cutters" for expected hordes of freeloaders.

During visits on which the ham was not presented with suitable dispatch, a chorus sprang up: "Somet'ing soyt (salt), somet'ing soyt, somet'ing soyt to put in mih mouth," embarrassing the host into producing thick slices, which moppers would further marinate with savoury condiments. This method is said to work extremely well for those who "Drink a Rum and a Puncha-crema" in far too rapid succession.

Although the custom has long been frowned upon by Jews and Muslims who, during the second half of the 20th century, were joined in the no-pork crusade by Rastafarians, some Christian sects and persons with health concerns, it not only rallied well but, on the evidence, ham consumption has risen.

Speaking last week at the inauguration ceremony of the Pork Association of the Caribbean, Agriculture Minister Jarrette Narine told us local pig-farming annually contributes over US$5 million to GDP coming from the agri-sector, topping poultry by a whopping 60 per cent. "Pork," he said, "accounts for one quarter of all meat consumed by Trinis."

Well ahead of us in per capita pork consumption are Jamaica, the original home of Rastafari and Barbados (the latter presumably due to a temporary shortage of flying fish). Minister Narine said we lagged because of pricing, limited promotion and what he called "cultural and religious taboos." He hoped local producers would redress the situation through innovative promotion techniques.

Minister Narine did not elaborate on just how pork producers should go about dismantling the "taboos" to which he referred but it would be interesting to hear his approach to the religious prohibitions or, for that matter, those who refuse pork on the basis of scientific findings about "the other white meat."

We should hear from Health Minister John Rahael as well, since much of the argument from the non-religious boycott is based on concerns that impact his portfolio, especially the proven hazards of ingesting two parasitic zoonoses, trichinellosis and systemic cysticercosis; both of which can be life-threatening and their prevention during pig-rearing particularly difficult.

Of the additives used in curing pork for preparation of ham, bacon and sausages, nitrites convert to nitrosamines, already shown to be carcinogenic in animals. To be fair, the exact risk for man is not known and indeed, nitrites are present in many other foods including vegetables and sometimes even in drinking water.

There is, however, no dispute about prepared pork decaying rapidly in the tropical environment (hence the cloves on ham), although it is said to last a lot longer when doused with jerk seasonings. All the same, no self-respecting Creole Christmas lunch is proffered without a thick slice of pork as a meat option.

Enshrined freedom of choice allows for such preferences, and is equally accommodating to those among us who no longer eat pork products nor host their preparation, so don't come visiting expecting to literally pig out, hinting in parang from the gate about "Somet'ing Soyt" or "Piece ah Pork".

No offence to Jim Henson's feisty little Miss Piggy, Porky himself, the three little ones with comparative housing problems, nor all those who play the game about "going to market" with babies' toes but, if your Christmas visit to my home is partly predicated on availability of ham, you'll soon be singing a different tune, perhaps Ninja's song: "We Parang the Wrong House."

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