Introduction to Bacon & the Art of Living
The story of bacon is set in the late 1800s and early 1900s when most of the important developments in bacon took place. The plotline takes place in the 2000s with each character referring to a real person and actual events. The theme is a kind of “steampunk” where modern mannerisms, speech, clothes and practices are superimposed on a historical setting. Modern people interact with old historical figures with all the historical and cultural bias that goes with this.
The UK Letters
My Danish experience came to an end when I boarded a steamer en route to London. Minette had left for South Africa a month earlier. Andreas, his mom and dad, and Uncle Jeppe all joined us at the harbour in Copenhagen for an emotional farewell. In the year I have been in Demark I made giant leaps toward understanding the art of curing the best bacon on earth.
It was my first experience living in a completely different culture for such a long time. Well, it’s of course not a completely different culture, but it’s different enough from the Cape culture for me to notice a few interesting things. The concepts of our culture exist only in our minds were expanded when I realized that our entire experience of reality is a product of our brains. Denmark exposed me to two sets of systems. The one set is that which we design in our minds. Oake’s mild curing process and Phil Amour’s disassembly lines are brilliant modern examples of this where work is a metaphysical concept where processes are designed to maximize an outcome. In this way, we are able to say that one process is better than the other if we judge it based on the energy input and the sum of the output.
On the other hand, there is the construction of macromolecules like proteins which was achieved through forces of nature. There is the nitrogen cycle that governs the way that plant nutrients are extracted from the air, into the soil, through plants into animals, contributing to what we call nutrition. Judged in this way, we can say that chemical reactions, bacteria, and our digestive system transforms chemical compounds into simple new compounds (or more complex compounds in the case of oxidation reactions), forms that are useful for further processes. Like the concept of work that we toy within our minds, a basic premise of all-natural processes is that very complex structures and systems exist, predicated upon many very small and simple processes. The most complex system of nature is the sum total of many simple systems in such a way that the complete process becomes bigger than the sum of all the small reactions.
A new concept started forming in my mind. Very tentatively so that I will have to give this a lot more thought before I can say too much about it, but it seems as if we become more productive as we more closely mimic nature. As if the concept of work in nature, which exists not in our minds, but as a fundamental principle of life itself, is the blueprint for the most productive system, and the closer we mimic how work is organized in nature, the more productive we become. What is interesting to me is that mentally, we build concepts that exist in nature already. So, to improve on a system, breaking it down into the smallest possible parts is step one. To understand bacon curing, understand all the small reactions that make it possible.
Now we are off to England where an entirely different adventure awaited us. If Denmark was the lesson of nitrogen and protein, England would be the revelation of salt, sugar, and refrigeration. Minette and I arrived in London in January 1892. (1) A friend of Andreas, Kevin Picton, met me at the harbour. Excitement about being in London flooded my mind. Romantic images from my mental world as a child, growing up in Cape Town now takes on real-life shape right in front of my eyes.
An overload of visual images; sights, sounds, and smells rush through millions of neural pathways. Climaxing in a feeling of excitement in my stomach caused by the sudden release of an enormous quantity of endorphins. In the deep recesses of my mind, a faint plan still resided to make it to Calne as soon as possible. Calne was one of the centers of the bacon universe where the official bacon curers to the King of England were located. My host, Kevin, had other plans. I got to know him as someone who knows the art of living life and he freely shares this aptitude with every person who has the pleasure of acquainting him. It was lunchtime and the first order of business was the local pub.
That day I fell in love with Britain’s pub culture. Like the church back home, the English pub is central to life. It is where you go after work to unwind and play pool with other locals. The rugby and cricket teams meet there before a match and afterward, this is where triumphs are celebrated and defeats forgotten. It is the thread that keeps communities close and neighbours familiar with the comings and goings of all.
Over the next few months, my education in Bacon curing and in living life took on an entirely new dynamic! What follows is a series of letters I wrote from Calne, Peterborough, and Liverpool between 1892 and 1893. The revelations through these letters are explosive and offer a unique and intimate view of the development of the pork industry and curing bacon in particular. Bit by bit we start to unravel the multiple small and fascinating parts of what makes up the sum total of the art of bacon curing.
Back home in South Africa, Willem and James, Oscar’s brothers joined our bacon-curing venture. Will and James moved to Cape Town first to oversee the purchase of a small plot of land (2) in Woodstock where our bacon curing plant would be erected.
Will met with David Graaff and arranged for the purchase of the land directly behind Combrinck & Co.’s New Market Street site, bought to erect refrigeration works in case they are forced to move from their site at the Shambles. James is our financial manager. He worked for the Bank of the Netherlands in Johannesburg when Oscar convinced him to join our small band of fools.
While I was learning the art of curing the best bacon on earth, together they would nit the commercial fabric of the company. Soon Minette and I found ourselves on a train from Peterborough where Kevin and his beautiful wife, Julie live with their two kids, on our way back to London to board the Great Western Railway to Calne. It is the next major stop in my quest to discover how to cure the best bacon on earth. It is the single most exciting story on earth!
(c) eben van tonder
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1. We arrived in London on Saturday, 22 October 2011. We spend a day in London with Ivan Procter from Marel before we took a train to Peterborough where we met Kevin Picton.
2. The first Woodys site was at 7 Assegaai Road, Kraaifontein.
Figure 1: River Thames, http://www.victorianlondon.org/bibliography.htm