I had a great sandwich for lunch. I’m not the type to wax poetic about Danny Meyer’s culinary empire, or the type to use the web in that stereotypical way of announcing what I ate for lunch, but here we are all the same, with me telling you that on my way to the New York Public Library this afternoon, I stopped for chicken sandwich with bibb lettuce, green tomato, dijonnaise, and a side of jardiniere at Meyer’s new chicken, sandwich, and baked goods shop, Daily Provisions.
The sandwich was supposed to have bacon, but I asked for it without; and that’s really why I’m writing about my lunch on a blog that is supposed to be at least tangentially about life with my head most of the time in medieval Spain.
It’s well established that the preponderance of pork in Spanish food is residual (I mean, not the pork itself because that would just be gross, but the excess of it) from a time when many people were eager to prove that they were most definitely not Jewish or Muslim and did so, at least in part, by making very public displays of pork product procurement. Almost every year have my students read Inquisition testimony in which a woman explains that she ate a lot of fish specifically to avoid mixing milk and meat in violation of Jewish dietary laws but also to avoid not mixing milk and meat and drawing suspicion that she might be secretly Jewish. One anecdote has a qadi eat so many appetizers that he makes himself sick and vomits on the main course of pork so that he and his fellow cyrpto-Muslims at a dinner have a totally plausible excuse for not eating it. And a favorite interpretation of the description of Don Quijote’s Dulcinea del Toboso as having “the best hand at salting pork in all of La Mancha” is that she was trying to hide her Jewish roots with a public display of her talents related to pork preparation.
In fact, my undergraduate adviser, may she rest in peace, spent a lot of time trying to convince me (and later some other Jewish colleagues) that the most authentic way to be Jewish in Spain was to eat a lot of pork rather than to try to avoid it.
All of this brings me back to the sandwich. As I asked for it to be made without the bacon, I began to wonder how long, in the current climate of arsons at mosques and bomb threats at synagogues with no consequences for the perpetrators or for the politicians (and their daughters) who either encourage such activity or at least stand silently while it happens, how long asking a restaurant to hold the bacon will be a feasible thing to do. It has probably always marked me as Jewish to order a dish, hold the bacon, or to substitute pork for tofu in a Chinese restaurant, but I never thought about it until today. I never thought about it as a luxury to be able to go into any restaurant and choose any dish I want, even if it has bacon on it, and simply ask for the bacon to be left off without it becoming a clash of civilizations kind of situation. I wonder when we might have to stop ordering things without bacon, either choosing only dishes that do not contain pork products or making a show of eating something forbidden. As unlikely as it is to happen in New York, it is quite likely to happen some time, somewhere in the homogeneous middle of the country.
It’s not getting shot. It’s not having a visa revoked. It’s just a sandwich. Right now it’s just a potential fear of a future sandwich, at that; but it’s maybe one more little change we’ll have to make in the simplest ways that we live our lives just to protect ourselves from our fellow citizens. It’s one more reminder, one more step towards the revocability of it all.